Resisting the Niemoeller syndrome By Ian McDonald
Stabroek News
July 14, 2002

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When a very nasty, frightening and extremely dangerous situation develops but is one which does not, for the time being, directly affect you or those very close to you, it is all too easy to find excuses to avoid involvement even to the extent of commenting. Per-haps it will pass - this storm of senseless hatred, vicious incivility and indiscriminate, brutal treatment of fellow human beings simply because of racial or political difference. Perhaps it will be enough to hope that all will be well and that what is so terribly happening to others will not happen to you or yours before the situation returns to good sense, normality and smooth sailing.

It is called the Niemoeller syndrome after the saintly and civilised Protestant pastor Martin Niemoeller who, to his eternal regret, took no stand against the vile actions of the Nazis in the 1930s in Germany until it was far too late. In a famous mea culpa he had this to say long afterwards.

“When they attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned.

When they attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, therefore I was not concerned. When they attacked the Communists, I was not a Communist, therefore I was not concerned. When they attacked the Trade Unionists, I was not a Trade Unionist, therefore I was not concerned. And then they came for me - and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

In the aftermath of the horrors of Wednesday July 3rd, at the Office of the President, in the fires and assaults in Regent Street, in the many cruel attacks in Georgetown and elsewhere which, lost in the greater mayhem, were never even reported - we are at least fortunate that the Niemoeller syndrome is not much in evidence in Guyana and among the friends of Guyana.

* Major-General (retired) Joseph Singh (article in Stabroek News, July 5th):

“The time has come for us to draw the line as national electorate and youth population and sincerely, objectively and conscientiously impress upon our leaders that they must now bring to an end their intransigence, grandstanding and egoistic attitudes. We must appeal to them, as I now do, for a display of reason, for manifestation of a profound sense of their national responsibilities at what should be a turning point in our history, for tolerance, basic human decency and respect for each other, and urge them, as I now do, to display that spirit of pragmatism, patriotism and unselfishness, and work immediately and for as long as it takes, to end this damned foolishness!”

* Kit Nascimento (commentary of July 5th):

“What is incomprehensible, is that a party possessed of the wealth of intellect, intelligence, political experience and quality of leadership that is to be found within the PNC, should even remotely consider that there can be any useful purpose at all in contemplating, never mind organising, the removal of a legitimately elected government, yet, it is exactly this that the PNC appears to be embracing.”

* The Central Islamic Organisations of Guyana (statement of July 5th):

“... the calls during Wednesday’s mayhem for more fire, for the destabilisation of the country, and for the defeat and the overthrow of the government, create an atmosphere conducive to violence and terror amidst the blatant disrespect for legitimate authority and the wholesale disregard for law and order, which are the cornerstones of a civilized society.”

* Joseph L. Hamilton (letter of July 6th):

“It is with deep anguish I write this letter condemning in the strongest terms the ‘mad men’ who sanctioned, encouraged, persuaded and led persons to overrun the Presidential Complex... any political discussions I will be involved in would only be those that address the core issue, that is how do the two major races (political parties) construct constitutionally a governmental arrangement that takes into consideration each other’s fears and aspirations. I reiterate, I stand ready and committed to play whatever role I can in this process, it is the only way out.”

* CARICOM heads of Government (statement of July 5th): Condemning the attack, the heads voiced regret at assaults on innocent persons, the loss of lives and the destruction of property. They restated their commitment to uphold the traditional democratic values of the community, noting that among these is the commitment to respect institutions of government and to the holding of periodic polls for the people to pick governments.

“In this context they recalled that CARICOM, along with a number of highly reputable international organizations and other entities had observed the last election held in Guyana and had found that it had been freely and fairly conducted. It was therefore their view that the results should be fully accepted.”

The heads also re-emphasised their repudiation of any bid to employ extra-constitutional and illegal means to supplant democratically elected governments. They noted that such actions were contrary to several international resolutions including the Inter- American Democratic Charter agreed to by all hemispheric states.

* Peter Ramsaroop of Reform (letter of July 8th): “None of us can sit back and allow our image, our integrity and the trust of the majority of our supporters to be tarnished. We are allowing a minority of supporters who like the streets and violence to speak for the majority of law-abiding citizens. It is time more of us speak out against the lack of focus by our leadership on both sides.”

* Raphael Trotman of the PNC/R (statement to Stabroek News on July 8th):

“The party should claim equal responsibility. [The events] were not planned by the party nor the party’s executive, but the party cannot divorce itself from the events...”

Trotman said the PNC/R was involved in some way in the mobilisation of the demonstrators even though the consequences were not planned. “The party has to be brave enough to accept some responsibility in terms of the loss of life and all the persons affected; they are consequences which flowed and therefore we cannot pretend we were in no way involved. The entire episode is regretted, particularly the loss of life and property.”

Trotman made it clear that at no time was the PNC/R involved in any plot to overthrow the government.

That so many are standing up for good sense is a huge relief in a time of anguish. I was impressed early on by the restrained anger and bitter concern of Major-General (retired) Joe Singh. I know of no Guyanese in whom dedication to public service and rock-firm personal integrity combine more strongly and he can be trusted to express what needs saying in a desperate and nation-threatening situation.

Perhaps because of all the strong voices raised in alarm we will be spared the gathering excesses, and culminating tragedy, which seemed to threaten on Wednesday, 3rd July. Every day that passes accomplished people of integrity - at the time of writing people.

Like Karen de Souza, Kester Alves, Sheila Holder, Haslyn Parris, David Yhann, Edward Boyer, to name some of them - add their voices to the growing chorus of those who feel that what happened on July 3rd was anarchy let loose requiring a great new effort to find a modus vivendi between the principal players resulting in beneficial governance for everyone in this nation.

One thing is sure: if ever the time was ripe for the Opposition to renounce “street protesting”, inevitably leading to violence, and re-turn to dialogue and Parlia-ment and for the Government to hold out a magnanimous hand of action-oriented cooperation that time is now.