Friday, June 30, 2017

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

If you’re like me, you were disgusted by what you saw in Anthony Bourdain’s show ‘Parts Unknown’, featuring Trinidad and Tobago. Some twisted person took Anthony Bourdain for UWEE Doubles. Why didn’t they take him for roti by Hott Shoppe while they were at it? Or go looking for aloo pies at Adam’s Bagels? It seems most people are busy being outraged by comments made by Mario Sabga-Aboud. Mr. Aboud had the temerity to tell Mr. Bourdain over dinner that Syrians, despite being a racial minority, were the “most powerful” group of people in the country. A statement that would surprise any Trinbagonian, who is currently living on Mars.  

Another guest at Mr. Sabga -Aboud’s dinner party fearfully informed Mr. Bourdain that T&T suffers from a serious gang problem. And that a dwindling middle class eroded the “security” between the haves and have-nots, which could lead to “civil commotion”. This also enraged the public. Every self-respecting Trinbagonian knows you don’t tell foreigners the nation’s private business. If CNN asks, you’re supposed to say that T&T is a paradise, offer them a roti and tell them you don’t know anything about a problem with ISIS fighters. Just like the Government does.

The public furor over Mr. Bourdain’s show has ironically helped to showcase the real dish Trinbagonians love to sink their teeth into; racial resentment, with a helping of victimhood and economic conspiracy theories. There has been little rational conversation had about how racial minorities like Mr. Sabga-Aboud view themselves in relation to Trinbagonian society. As history has shown us countless times, it is not unreasonable for racial minorities to be concerned about their safety if they are viewed with suspicion and scorn. But rational conversation is as appealing to Trinbagonians as low fat doubles. So instead, most of us used Mr. Sabga-Aboud’s off the cuff remarks to simply reinforce the stereotypes and prejudices we already hold about the Syrian community.

Growing up in Chaguanas the only things I learnt about the Syrian community were from my uncle Lalchan. He told me Syrians were very rich, kept to themselves, lived in posh areas around Port of Spain and controlled business in the country. He also said the only reason he started drinking at 8am every morning was because “the Syrians put some kind of obeah” in the beer they sell. All observations about Syrians which I’m guessing may not be too far removed from what most Trinbagonians themselves see.

What is really telling though are the other comments in Mr. Bourdain’s show that have received little to no attention. Like those of reporter Mark Bassant, who described how he had to flee the country after his investigations into the still unresolved murder of Dana Seetahal prompted death threats. The police service is perhaps treating Seetahal’s high profile murder like a good wine; the longer it takes to solve the better. 

Then there were the comments by singer Muhammad Muwakil who said he knows people who went to Syria to join ISIS and that he thinks there are more Trinbagonian ISIS fighters than the official figure of 140. Mr. Muwakil even suggests that these ISIS recruits are not joining ISIS due to religious reasons-like they themselves claim- but because of “social exclusion”. That explanation seems rather far fetched and flies in the face of research into ISIS recruits. But research is probably a Babylon thing

Many Trinbagonians view the country and the world like a zero sum game. In other words like a fixed pie, with a finite amount of slices. If someone appears to be better off than you, it’s because they stole an extra slice that they didn’t deserve. This is the thinking that has governed economics in T&T since its independence, and is the source of our racially polarizing politics. But zero sum games are a fallacy. The inequality that exists in Trinidad and Tobago is not rooted in one group taking away from another. It’s due to decades of bad government policy which has killed private entrepreneurship, breed dependency on the state, and facilitation of criminal gangs via corrupt make-work projects.

Mr. Sabga-Aboud actually apologized for his comments on the show. It’s a move  unlikely to satisfy his detractors.  In Trinidad and Tobago, the appetite to find a convenient scapegoat to blame our problems on is huge. And it forever needs feeding.


Unknown said...

Damn amusing piece....I had a good laugh especially the part about “the Syrians put some kind of obeah” in the beer they sell.

gunpundit said...

Good piece. Indeed it is ridiculous that more people were concerned about the Aboud-Sabga family than they were with ISIS and the very insightful interview with Muwakil. Scapegoats and Carnival have long helped us avoid deeper reflection and constructive conversation. On another note, I thought they sent Bourdain to Ali's doubles (which is very good) and not UWEE.