Sunday 11th June, 2006

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Don’t get me (a) cross

“Language is a system of interdependent terms in which the value of each term results solely from the simultaneous presence of the others.”
Course in General Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure

The Trinity Cross is no longer this country’s highest national award. Amen. Finally the long arm of the law has plunged a secular wedge between Church and State to birth a true possibility for every one to find an equal place in this nauseatingly Christianised society.

The past two weeks will go down in history as one of T&T’s defining moments in its democratic evolution towards equality and respect for all.

On May 26, Justice Peter Jamadar’s 80-page judgment stated “the creation and continued existence of the Trinity Cross, given the historical, religious and sociological context of T&T…amount to indirect adverse effects of discrimination against Hindus and Muslims.”

Jamadar’s assertion on the need for “consensual” decision-making regarding the award of the nation’s highest honour underscores the requisite that everybody in this multi-everything society must be a part of the process of national meritorious commemoration.

Likewise, both its symbolic and corporeal representation—as a text semantically encoded with histories, experiences and significance—must be inclusive rather than exclusive, secular rather than religious.

Therein lies the value of the name.

Heroic Manning?

Of course, jumpy Attorney General John Jeremie was quick to declare victory, just as in the Barbados/T&T fishing dispute, in which nobody “won” but he nonetheless claimed victory.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s consequent announcement on June 2 that his “administration has an obligation to comply with this ruling” was less of an heroic act than merely fulfilling an obligation:

n The Maha Sabha gave the PM 21 days to correct the problem or face further legal action.

n Gopio hosted its own “national awards” in 2004 to counter the Trinity Cross discrimination.

n In the same year, the Inter-Religious Organisation called for the award to be replaced with a “non-Christian symbol.”

n In 1998, a committee chaired by Chief Justice (and Trinity Cross recipient) Michael de la Bastide urged its renaming since it found “the Trinity Cross was perceived as a Christian symbol.”

n In 1995, Dharmacharya of T&T Pundit Krishna Maharaj refused to accept the award because it was discriminatory.

n Former PNM senator Dr Wahid Ali, 18 years earlier, was the first national to refuse the Trinity Cross.

Strangely, Manning made an election promise to address the issue of the Trinity Cross. A year later, when affronted by Gopio, he called its award ceremony a “pappyshow” and categorically stated his Government had no intention of changing the name of the Trinity Cross.

And he has often brazenly declared that his personal (read: religious) “beliefs” guide him. That is why he refused to acquiesce to the national gender policy to afford women equity.

But Manning is an honourable man. Finally coerced by the legal judgment, public pressure and, perhaps, by his own embarrassing vacillation, Manning gave in, and in statesmanlike style.

I wonder how Jeremie must be feeling now.

Trinity vs Trinidad

It was Ferdinand de Saussure, the most esteemed man on words before Noam Chomsky, who said “reality is textual.”

Man has viscerally and necessarily ascribed everything a name, even the most fantastic of his intangible beliefs, such as God—who has a name, a sex (usually), a location and a purpose. Every word is a sign infused with meaning, history and raison d’etre.

And words are not isolated entities; they must relate to some other word or sign, otherwise they wouldn’t exist: hence the problem with “Trinity Cross.”

Some Christians’ supreme belief in themselves has now showed itself. The Trinity Cross is not something with which we should interfere. I wonder why? Maybe, to them, the symbol means more than the award.

Others are ignorant of and apathetic towards the issue. Perhaps if more Crawfords and Naipauls and Minshalls were bestowed with such honour, rather than the detached CJs—independence award favourites—citizens would take it more seriously.

I’m sure now they do.

And then the loutish Trinis are cackling about: well, they might as well change the name of the whole damn country, too.

But the difference is patent. the Trinity Cross, as the nation’s highest award, is vested with a meaning and purpose entirely different to the country’s name. As premier symbol of national merit, honour and gratitude, it must indispensably in its very nature be all-encompassing—national.

That is why the issue is not an Indian one, or a Hindu one, but a national one.

Unfortunately, throughout our political history a statistical majority has allowed successive governments to determine what each thinks is best for all. But it is invariably good only for a few.

This issue, therefore, represents an historical change in what we see as “national.” It is a momentous step forward in understanding our pluralistic selves and, indeed, what it means to be a nation.

This is secular, multi-cultural society. Our constancy is in peril, but our democracy is thriving.

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