A sense of balance

Stabroek News
July 12, 2001

In his book 'The trial of Henry Kissinger' Christopher Hitchens convincingly argues that Henry Kissinger is a war criminal for acts like the bombing of Laos and Cambodia while he was National Security Advisor in the Nixon administration causing huge numbers of civilian deaths. Convincing arguments have also been published by legal academics to the effect that the judges in the Federal Supreme Court of America did not follow the clearly established legal precedents when finding in favour of candidate Bush in the recent disputed elections. In other words, even in the most powerful democracy in the world there are some very substantial distortions and blemishes.

While respecting the enormous achievements of the developed countries (which include the ability to tolerate devastating critiques of that kind) one must retain a sense of perspective. In our own incipient democracy though there is much that can be criticised about the quality of the content the forms are in place for an open society. There are several political parties, free media, a legal system in which basic human rights can still be upheld, freedom of movement, freedom of association, religious freedom and so on. The process now under way is working out what these inherited principles mean in practice, what conventions are involved, what the underlying assumptions are and whether we can in fact sustain them. Undoubtedly there will be adaptations and developments based on the exigencies of our own experiences, but we need to start developing a mature awareness of where we have come from and the type of society we are seeking to develop.

We need too a sense of patience and a sense of reality. We cannot achieve a settled, developed society overnight or even in the short term. The mature democracies we see abroad took centuries to develop. We can, however, try to recognise some of the steps we need to take to achieve a worthwhile future. Education is perhaps the top priority. We cannot get very far with present educational levels. This is leading to failures and incompetence in every area, from the professions to the civil service to business. And our politics is still immature and unduly confrontational. With few exceptions there is no vision beyond partisan squabbling and bitterness. No quarter is given, no allowances made, no generosity shown.

We must resist idle, apocalyptic visions of transformation and concentrate instead on building and improving what we have. Some structures are still in place, some good work is still being done in several quarters, what is needed is a firm and unselfish commitment to the future, and a sense of balance.