Sunday 1st May, 2005

Ira Mathur
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Squeezed between corruption and gunplay

We have all felt it. An unnamed anxiety. It’s got to do with these tiny islands. Some people have called it the nausea of living in a fish bowl in which the cadavers of dead fish float.

Those immune to this anxiety live for shots of the endless round of spectacle, of holidays in which the waist moves and the head remains empty: wine at fetes, wine at carnival, wine at Christmas, wine at cricket, wine at demonstrations.

Our lives in summary:

Brutal executions; bullets in the head downtown; the bones of a brutalised teenager; unstoppable fires; filth on the streets and highways; 500,000 illiterate; 500,000 living below the poverty line; falling oil prices; oil and gas corporations easing out; escaping prisoners; mushrooming gun-toting gangs; a record murder high (averaging more than one a day); the everyday terror of kidnappings of children, women, men and the elderly.

The menacing underworld’s bullet-riddled, Government- supported, hand-out system (Cepep, URP); the highest incidence of Aids after Sub-Saharan Africa; discrimination so oil wealth is being poured down the drain to bribe voters to maintain the political status quo; no productivity; marginalising of an entire increasingly impoverished ethnic group, laid off by the thousands and systematically dumped out of the State’s safety net; an Opposition without moral authority; an even more corrupt Government; a brain drain that ranks third in the world, leaving behind dregs of only the tenacious and those without options to carry on.

Just this week at St Mary’s College, a 13-year-old boy sitting in his classroom calling his father after school hours suddenly saw black. A bag was put over his head and his cell phone snatched out of his hand. This is symptomatic of a country that shuts its eyes between taking a wine.

We can only live here if we pretend it’s happening to someone else on TV, if we tell ourselves the menace of the child rapist, contract killer, the gangsta children is mimic.

So what do the TV-mimic-unreal-wining-shutting-their-eyes-against-reality people do?

Remember Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s brilliant book on the adventures of Alice, which begins when she follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole? He is a messenger and a herald at the Court of the King and Queen of Hearts. He wears a waist-coat, carries a pocket watch and represents the “yes men.” Just as baffling is the bizarre logic at work in Wonderland.

Every creature can justify the most absurd behaviour, their defence arguments meaningless. Their strange reasoning is another source of delight for the reader and challenge for Alice. She has to learn to discern between unusual logic and utter nonsense.

We inhabit a country in which Mad Hatters from parties fling tea cups at one another, while a king screams “licks for all criminals” (who have escaped, are on bail and have already murdered and kidnapped, so licks are as ineffective as flies to them). Equally the queen speaks bafflingly of “breakfasses” and exposes children to a wining calypsonian during a march against crime, against her own king.

The king orders an investigation into the queen’s education kingdom. The challenger to the kingdom, the Cheshire cat, face fixed in an eerie grin appears and disappears at random, forgetful of his unrepresented people. The rest are a motley crew of knaves who stand accused of stealing the State’s tarts, a bribe in Tobago, a bribe in Oil, a bribe in Works, and instead of being held accountable, accuse knaves of the previous administration of misdeeds.

They all go free. No one resigns. The shrewdest lawyers gravitate towards bestial criminals. No justice.

Alice's challenge is learn the rules of each new encounter, but retain a sense of justice and survive the menace of and the idiosyncrasies of the creatures she meets. Ours is to do the same.

Decent law-abiding citizens are being squeezed in the wonderland from the top by corrupt politicians who divide with race, from the bottom by guns. No more cowering. Like Alice, we too can tower over those who will terrorise us. Our power lies in numbers. Think of what we can do with that.

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