What Jamaat's bossman and Guyana's PNC share? By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
September 29, 2002

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THE appealing call last week by Erica Williams-Connell for Caribbean peoples to celebrate their similarities or diversity rather than emphasise and exacerbate our differences, is particularly relevant at this time to two CARICOM states - Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

The relevance assumes a particular significance when examined in the context of what the religious/political organisation, Jamaat-al-Muslimeen of Yassin Abu Bakr, and the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC) in Guyana seems to share in common.

Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are both multiracial societies, where national elections often serve to heighten social tension and polarise along ethnic lines.

Currently, Guyana is experiencing a mixture of destabilising politics, orchestrated by the PNC, and a nerve-wracking criminal rampage. Just last Wednesday night, four more people were shot to death and eight others wounded by armed criminals while socialising at a popular liquor restaurant in the city.

That was followed by the chilling spraying of gunfire at the Prison Officers Club and the Georgetown Prison, almost simultaneous with an armed attack on the Vigilance Police Station.

In the words of Martin Carter, "this is the dark time" - a time when party politicking must speedily give way for bold decisions to save this society from disintegrating at the hands of armed criminals, some of whom had originally been nurtured by those who found it expedient to cry "discrimination" and "marginalisation".

In Trinidad and Tobago, with the intensification of campaigning for the October 7 poll has come a disturbing, arrogant stance from the man who had led the abortive July 27, 1990 coup, Imam Abu Bakr.

It was a troubling statement of Abu Bakr and a threat last week by Guyana's main opposition party, currently on a boycott of Parliament, that brought a reminder of the warning by the philosopher George Santayana that "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

Not willing to say sorry for past wrongs against a society, or show some kind of remorse, poses the threat of recurrence in the future that could be worse than before.

First, the Guyana scenario, where the PNC is yet to apologise, or in any way express regret, for its gross misrule over some 24 years of successive governments that were rooted in documented electoral fraud.

During that period, assassinations (remember Walter Rodney?); serious erosion of the independence and integrity of the judiciary, the police force and the army, as well as the throttling of press freedom were abominable features.

`Rev’ and `Rabbi’
It was the time of `party paramountcy’, a doctrine hitherto unknown in any of the countries of Caribbean Community, and proclaimed by the PNC under the dictatorial regime of Forbes Burnham, under whose rule there was that horrendous tragedy at Jonestown in the Guyana hinterland where some 914 perished.

So dangerously overwhelming was the influence of the PNC in all facets of Guyanese society, while thousands voted with their feet to metropolitan centres and Caribbean lands, that it facilitated another cult, `House of Israel’, under the hypnotic leadership of another foreigner, `Rabbi’ Washington, to terrorise opponents of the PNC regime.

Until, that is, when the Roman Catholic priest Bernard Darke, a photographer for the 'Catholic Standard', was murdered by a member of `Rabbi’ Washington's `House of Israel’. Recognising it was riding the proverbial tiger, the PNC was at pains to distance itself from the 'Rabbi' and his organisation.

In opposition since 1992, when electoral democracy was finally restored, the PNC was, however, to further affect its reputation by the manner of its tributes at funerals of fallen criminal elements, at the hands of the police, and its threats to make Guyana "ungovernable".

By last week, while the people of Trinidad and Tobago were considering the implications of the language of abuse and threats from the Jamaat's Abu Bakr and his disciples at a public meeting, the PNC again stayed away from parliament and threatened non-cooperation with consultations involving civil society, government and political parties.

It did so, rather than participate in last Thursday's sitting of the House of Assembly to debate a package of anti-crime legislation at a time when the criminals continue to be on the rampage, killing and terrorising people in various communities.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Abu Bakr, famous for switching political loyalties as he deems expedient in his own self-interest and that of his Muslimeen group, was reported by the 'Daily Express’ of September 18 that he could give "no assurance" against a repetition of events of July 27, 1990.

That arrogant stance was in reference to the coup launched by the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen in 1990. Among the hostages taken was then Prime Minister ANR Robinson.

Instead of any apology, or expression of remorse for that reckless grab for power by the gun, Abu Bakr, as if to rub salt in the wounds of a nation, mockingly claimed that he and President Robinson "are now friends again".

That proved too much for the President, who last Thursday issued a firm denial of any relationship or meetings with the Jamaat's leader, clearly wishing to convey no wrong impression to either the public in Trinidad and Tobago or in the Caribbean region where he is very well known.

Now, even as Prime Minister Manning's PNM desperately manoeuvres to distance itself from Abu Bakr - while the Jamaat's leader continues to campaign for the PNM's return to power on October 7 - Trinidadians, as well as Guyanese, must be reminding themselves of Santayana's warning.

For calling on Abu Bakr to apologise for the 1990 coup, Keith Rowley, one of the leading party and cabinet colleagues of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, was given a tongue lashing by the `Imam’ who spoke of him in derogatory terms as "a bald-headed uncle Tom politician".

Manning's Dilemma
Prime Minister Manning, focusing more in fighting off allegations from Basdeo Panday and his United National Congress of alleged "conspiracy" between the PNM and the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, had not, at the time of writing, specifically rebuked this personal attack on Rowley.

Surprisingly, after somersaulting on his plan to give state land to the Jamaat, Manning was, nevertheless, to welcome the declared election support from Abu Bakr for the PNM.

The Jamaat's leader seems to find virtue in being defiant with threats against all those he perceives as his "enemies", including the media.

Intriguingly, last week, while the police were still working to bring kidnappers to justice, Abu Bakr was disclosing how he had engineered a "truce" with alleged gang leaders in depressed communities that may have had a positive impact in the reduction of the spate of armed abductions.

How much does he really know about such `gang leaders’ and the criminal activities that have brought such deep fears to so many?

What Abu Bakr's Jamaat and Guyana's PNC do seem to share in common, is a callous refusal to apologise for any of their respective notorious misdeeds of the past which can only be forgotten at the expense of the future.

This is as relevant a reminder as Erica Willams-Connell's warning of racial conflagration by political parties seeking to exploit what divide a multi-ethnic society, rather than encouraging celebration of our "similarities".

Such "similarities" are quite in evidence in the culture and politics of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.