Fire in Babylon

Last Sunday, I was running with our running group, the Mall Crawlers, when my friend Peter mentioned a great documentary that he had recently seen called ‘Fire in Babylon’.  Peter thought it would be something that I would enjoy and he was absolutely correct.  According to the summary provided on fireinbabylon.com, it is the story of how the West Indies triumphed over its colonial masters through the achievements of one of the most gifted teams in sporting history.  In a turbulent era of apartheid in South Africa; race riots in England and civil unrest in the Caribbean, the West Indian cricketers, led by the enigmatic Viv Richards, struck a defiant blow at the forces of white prejudice worldwide. Their undisputed skill, combined with a fearless spirit, allowed them to dominate the gentile game at the highest level, replaying it on their own terms.  This is their story, told in their own words.  Do download it from the site – I highly recommend it!

Released a few months ago, someone commented online that it is now mandatory viewing for all West Indies cricketers.  As you would imagine, there is much commentary online, including facebook and YouTube, on the Awesome Foursome, Packer, the IPL, Lille / Thomson and so on.  I have to confess that I am not the biggest sports fan but the insight into our society and regional identity was and continues to be, undeniable.    

The film rightly suggests that regional cricket was a response to the colonial experience and as one cricketer commented – “cricket was all we had”.  So in a way it makes sense that we may be at a stage where we seem to be revisiting this identity in an effort to (re)define ourselves on our own terms.  As I have said on many occasions, I see us, as Naipaul suggested, as an archipelago of ‘half made’ societies.  But I do not say this condescendingly.  Rather we are evolving slowly but surely into a more confident and cohesive people, with a greater pride in who we are and what we have to offer the world.  We have come a long way since 1962, but there is still a long road ahead of us.  Now please consider with me, these three seemingly unrelated issues.

Firstly, there are still some former colonies, Trinidad included, that continue to cling to the Privy Council which a senior figure in the British judiciary has described as a "minor public scandal".  He publicly commented that judges in the UK's top court spent almost half their time on business "of no interest to anyone in the UK".  The gentleman logically concludes that "if they didn't spend time in the Privy Council, the Justices of the Supreme Court could hear almost twice as many cases coming up from the UK legal system."  Ironically, the Caribbean Court of Justice is headquartered here in Trinidad, and I and reminded of this every time I drive pass the building in Port of Spain. 

Secondly, intra-Caribbean visitors have been ‘allowed’ to decline from a high as 1.5 million visitors to 566 000 in 2010.  I say ‘allowed’ because there is a system in place that effectively discourages regional travel through airspace protectionism, taxes and poor treatment of our CARICOM neighbours at each others airports.  For nothing but short term, short sighted benefits, regional tourism is not just stymied, but we sometimes treat each other as competitors rather than recognizing we are tiny economies that need to cooperate to survive in the longer term. Fatca Banks Singapore

Thirdly, last month there was a poll done by the Jamaican Gleaner which suggested that around 60% of Jamaicans believe that their island would have been better off if it had remained a British colony.  Only 17% of respondents disagreed with this view and the poll had a margin of error of 4%.  I wonder what an equivalent survey would reveal here in Trinidad and Tobago?    

For me what these three seemingly unconnected stories have in common is this – confidence.  People ask me why I do not write more about politicians and their antics.  My response is that our elected leaders simply reflect us, so to spend a disproportionate amount of time blaming them is inefficient.   The deeper issue is simply the confidence of our people.  We cannot (re)construct a regional identity as ‘West Indians’ until we first come to terms with our individual island identities.  Until then, we will continue to get the leaders we deserve.  

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and my region.  As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.   Email me on derren43@yahoo.com 

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