Post 378.

Neither elder nor younger Abu Bakr is a card-carrying member of the PNM, but both sought and say they were promised a chance at a seat under the party banner.  Party leader, Keith Rowley, would have had to convince constituency party groups and the whole PNM to include another political entity (the New National Vision) for the first time in history. 

This, from a go-it-alone party that finds coalition offensive and demeaning. This, from a party that only accepts cross-overs if they come from marginal constituencies and effectively combine insult with injury to the Opposition, or are voters. This, from a party that believes its inheritance is post-independence, patriarchal authority. It would certainly not invite in a contender to strengthen itself on PNM resources in order to aggrandize a cabal.

The party is aware that disaffection at its poor handling of the economy abounds, and every vote matters. It is inconceivable that it would risk inclusion of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, an organization which a vast population born before 1990 still associates with violent state take-over, death and destruction, and collective willingness to hold a terrorized nation to ransom.  It is unlikely it would be threatened by the Jamaat’s control over votes in Port of Spain South. 

Even if they feel abandoned by the PNM, are all those “young Africans” (Abu Bakr’s term) going to vote for Mrs. Persad-Bissessar? The UNC is a Trojan horse for Indian men, aspiring for greater status, power and wealth than their fathers, to secure their influence over the political-economy. In the competition among patriarchies, they would be perceived as now ruling over African men with less status, power and wealth. 

Surely, the People’s Partnership State of Emergency and its criminalizing (and eventual releasing without charge) of such young Africans is hardly forgotten. African youth might find ways to rebel as a more politically-educated generation did in 1970. They might not vote, but it will be a grim day in fairy tale land for them to vote UNC.  Whether they will vote for Fuad, now re-throned as political leader of the NNV, we will see.

I’m fascinated by the Abu Bakrs’ audacity in publicly playing garrison politics with the nation. Garrison politics is best understood from Jamaica’s experience of politicians making alliances with dons, or male civilians who ‘control’ gangs, communities and organized violence, in order to secure the votes of urban, poor communities. As Rivke Jaffe writes, dons became power brokers as contracts, housing, jobs and money (and weapons) were distributed through them. Later, as the Jamaican state hit recession, dons “came to replace members of parliament (MPs) as community patrons who distributed largesse” and provided health services, schooling and policing. Empowered to secure urban order, dons became effective and accepted co-rulers (with politicians), in turn demanding “a steady flow of state funds and a measure of protection”. Demanding a seat inside government is the next, logical step. 

While not a don in the Jamaican sense, the Jamaat al Muslimeen is governed by a strongman leader who cares, invites loyalty, builds comraderie, promises ethical/religious certainty, establishes justice, and provides for basic necessities where the state has failed on all counts. Gangs perform the same function of creating a sense of value and belonging to a familial order, particularly for young Afro-Trinidadian men who feel alienated, abandoned and under threat. 

In Anna Ramdass’ Express story from May 31, 2020, Abu Bakr described the Jamaat as “responsible for the decrease in gang warfare, especially in the Enterprise, Chaguanas area”. He continued, “they ain’t kill no women because we make a law in the community”. Having locked off “gun warfare”, Abu Bakr boasted that only he holds the combination to the lock. Regarding Fuad, he promised, “Anywhere he go he will win, I is he father, I does rule the streets”. And, because manhood and sexual command over women is social capital in politics, elder Abu Bakr cast Fuad as “a sweet boy, he’s them girls sugar”. 

Elder Abu Bakr is, however, threatening as much as he is promising. If he can decrease crime, including domestic violence, he can allow its return. If he can bring in votes, he can bring down the government. This is the modus operandi of the don: to offer protection to politicians, but only if formal state institutions and representatives recognize and secure his rank and power.   

Fuad may want to represent grassroots youth, but what we witnessed was his play for power however his father brokers, knowing that he inherits patriarchal right over the Jamaat and the vote bank it can lock down from among genuinely disaffected communities. Rowley agitated such garrison politics by refusing to agree to the Abu Bakrs’ high-stakes game in king-making using “young Africans” as pawns or collateral and using a general election to secure a dynasty.

Entry 286.

Beyond the Bullet.

I met Caron Asgarali under the hot sun on International Women’s Day this year. We were standing amidst booths in Woodford Square when she told me her story of being shot in a robbery; the bullet shattering her jaw. Its path missed her heart, but near fatally pierced her soul. Such horror stories crisscross our landscape today, like terrible scars.

I glanced at her face while she spoke, seeing only an incredibly beautiful and courageous woman. Somewhere in a corner of my mind, I thought about how we associate beauty with flawlessness and perfection, until we meet those individuals who show us that it is far more a light that shines from within. It was a reminder to pay attention to and respect unexpected lessons.

Caron spoke with the gentleness of a lamb, but the fierceness of a lion and I imagined how I may never have had the privilege of meeting her. You never know which person next to you is the walking wounded or whose force of spirit can hold you rooted to the spot while all you do is listen. Maybe you have to feel it to know how humbling it can be to simply look someone in the eye.

I learned about her efforts to establish Project R.A.R.E. ‘Raising Awareness on the Ripple Effect of gun violence: promoting peace and building resilience’ is the longer title, and ‘transforming hurt into hope’ is her vision. I have a huge amount of respect for groups like this, led and sustained by citizens from across the country, who are individually committed to helping us all develop empathy, humility, forgiveness, respect, gratitude, and personal and community responsibility.

Connecting to her seemed to open a door to connecting with other survivors. On Monday, RARE organized a forum on gun violence at UTT. I came in just in time to hear the testimonies of Kyle Phillip of East Mucurapo Secondary School, and Jeremiah Ferguson of El Dorado Life Centre, run by Servol.

Both young men told stories of having family members shot at and killed. Kyle himself lost a cousin the night before his speech, and broke down at the microphone, his grief holding his audience still in their seats with its oppressive weight.

It’s such singular stories that pierce your heart because violence and its scars seem in our day and age to have become so ordinary. It’s worse to hear those stories from youth still in school uniform, and to understand that they can’t carry the future of the nation in their school bags if we callously break their spirit and strength.

“Guns are like cell phones in my community”, said Kyle. He described “serious peer pressure from youths in my community that are in my age bracket to get involved in that life”. It was clear that he knew that only education could get him out, though he was “not sure to be here tomorrow”.

“Even now a scratch bomb still sends me into a panic”, said Jeremiah. “The youth of this country are traumatized. The national as a whole is traumatized. It is almost like we are living in a war zone. Is this how a war zone feels?”

His advice is worth repeating: “Youth, if you want to lime on a block, make the library your block. If you want to steal, steal words from a dictionary. You will learn some new words and their meanings. If you want to kill, kill all your negative thoughts. We need change. We need to create opportunities for youth so they can choose other pathways. I lost my brother. Because of a Gun”.

We need to think about gun and gang violence not only as problems, but as solutions for many boys and men who want to access status, respect, money, brotherhood and other markers of real manhood. This is particularly true because poverty emasculates, creating both pressure and temptation to live and die by a gun in a glamourous and profitable, but dehumanizing and wasted life. The traditional association between manhood, toughness and authority, in which we are all still invested, is the real problem. It’s an ideal we teach which is also toxic to boys and men’s souls.

Until manhood becomes also about nurturing, care, emotions and equality, schools will churn our shooters who have found shortcuts to manhood and power, rather than brokenness and failure. Recognising this one day, we will have to forgive them as we forgive ourselves for not quietly listening to this humble truth.