Sunday 4th June, 2006

Dana Seetahal
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A rose by any other name?

The issue of the renaming of the Trinity Cross has gained momentum following the decision of High Court Judge Jamadar in which he held the naming of our highest national award the Trinity Cross was discriminatory.

The judge opined that national awards must bear symbols that are embracing of all creeds. Plainly he shared the views of the applicants Maha Sabha and Islamic Relief Centre that the designation Trinity Cross was skewed towards Christians.

In the light of this it was of interest to note the response of the former librarian with the Central Library Services, Wilhelmina McDowell-Benjamin, to the controversy.

She was, it appears, instrumental in the design of the cross (not necessarily in its name) in the early 1980s. She claims religion never entered her mind at the time she did the design.

She researched the matter thoroughly and found there were many meanings to “cross,” one of which was as an ornament in the form of a cross, worn as a distinction by knights and people of exceptional merit and bravery.

Mrs McDowell-Benjamin may be perfectly sincere but she misses the point. What is important here is not so much what informed the design but what informed the name of the award.

In any event does it matter that she did not consciously think about religion?

Many people behave in a particular fashion or do things in a particular way perfectly unconscious at the time that they are behaving in accordance with their own socialisation or acculturation.

To a Christian person, therefore, the concept of the cross might be so ingrained, that person might well be promoting it as a part of our national being without any conscious consideration of the fact.

Reverence and respect for the cross in a Christian is automatic. That the cross does not have the same significance in other faiths cannot be doubted. Representatives of the Hindu and Muslim groups certainly made that clear to the judge.

Consider the meaning of “cross” in the Concise Oxford. There are several meanings of cross in the dictionary. The first two pertain to the literal meaning of the actual thing “a mark, object formed by two intersecting lines; an upright post used in antiquity for crucifixion.”

The third meaning reads, “The Cross on which Christ was crucified” and it is significant to note that of all the several dictionary meanings of cross this was the only one that was in upper case (capitals).

It is true, as Mrs McDowell-Benjamin suggested, one of the other dictionary meanings is that of “a cross-shaped decoration awarded for personal valour” or indicating rank in the order of knighthood.

And if one did not live in a vibrantly multi-ethnic and multi-religious society the possibility of religious identification with this national award might not have been in issue nor would it have become an issue. One could have ascribed the name as indicative of personal valour or the like and there would be no contention.

We, however, live in a country where it cannot be said with assurance that 50 per cent of the population belong to any one religion. It is necessary, therefore, that the Government should be equally sensitive to the feelings and concerns of all religious groups.

If the term Trinity Cross (with a capital C) invokes the crucifixion of Christ it may be viewed as exclusionary in its intent by these groups. With that in mind it is perhaps necessary to change the name of our highest award to something more reflective of our diversity in race and religion. After all we boast in our National Anthem that here “every creed and race find an equal place” and this is what we would like to ensure, both in perception and reality.

There are some who might wish to posit there is no need for a name change; that Trinity refers to the country of T&T and that cross has a wider meaning (as indicated by Mrs McDowell-Benjamin). They may see it as catering to some form of religious imposition by changing the name of an award we have had for over 40 years.

That view in my opinion is short-sighted and it is evident the Government in vowing to adopt the judgment of Justice Jamadar does not share it. If so many people in the country feel excluded, discriminated against or even insulted by the current designation of our highest award that it causes an annual almost bitter controversy why not change it? Why not?

Those who argue against the change are not the ones who feel sidelined so why should they oppose it? In other words, unless the new proposed name turns out to be discriminatory to them, they really have no grounds for complaint.

The only argument I have heard held out that may have an iota of substance is that if the Trinity Cross is renamed what about all other names, including that of the island of Trinidad.

In other words where will it all end? This approach is confrontational and really does not seek to understand the issue.

Trinidad is a name coined over 500 years ago. In those intervening hundreds of years any original linking of the name Trinidad to the concept of the Holy Trinity would have become merely a historical fact at a time when no ancestor of any of the current inhabitants of this island lived here. They came long, long afterwards. In a way it would be presumptuous of any of us today to seek to quarrel with the name given in 1498 (albeit in Spanish).

In contrast, the Trinity Cross is an appellation chosen at a time when we were actually in the process of forming the independent nation we are today, a nation of many creeds, races and religions.

We should have had the foresight and sensitivity then to designate our highest award by a less exclusionary and more “all-inclusive” name. We did not. It is not too late to correct that faux pas.

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