Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 20th 2015 Contents A21
Saturday, June 20, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
British comedian John Oliver
struck upon something he
thought would make for a
good laugh on his TV programme.
The prospect of someone buy-
ing airtime to exact retribution
against enemies must seem a little
peculiar to an outsider.
Oliver guffawed with incredulity
at Jack Warner s purchased
address to the nation, taking issue
with the content. While not
exactly the same thing, Oliver
should spare thought for the
those who live in glass houses
Just as an aside, he works in an
industry in which individuals with
agendas in the US needn t pur-
chase airtime, but have a nightly
platform to practise character
assassination, openly peddle racist
rhetoric and spout homophobic
ideology. And yes, I am talking
about the Fox network. But then,
I suppose John Oliver would say
he s British.
Still, we ought to be thankful to
Oliver for reminding us of the
true nature of our television
industry. We don t have an indus-
try per se, but businesses com-
mercialising what we breathe.
In response to Jack Warner s
media outreach, John Oliver inad-
vertently ridiculed us for choosing
to watch Mike and Molly, one of
the many foreign programmes on
the TV6 line up.
There is nothing intrinsically
wrong with Mike and Molly.
There will always be a market for
mindless entertainment. The obvi-
ous difference between other tele-
vision markets and ours, is choice.
In America, if Keeping Up with
the Kardashians isn t your thing
you can immerse yourself in lush
PBS documentaries which explore
everything from history and
nature to politics, art and culture.
PBS recently broadcast the epic
Ken Burns documentary The Roo-
sevelts: An Intimate History. This
seven-part, 14-hour film examines
an American political dynasty and
their lasting impact on the
geopolitics and economic founda-
tions of the US.
The picture is much the same
on British television. There is light
fare; comedies with piquant sexual
overtones or more pedestrian buf-
foonery. While several British net-
works carry foreign TV shows,
they also invest heavily in docu-
mentaries and factual program-
ming. Through the magic of
streaming, whenever my rubbish
Internet feels up to it, I can watch
a documentary on the BBC about
the ecology of the River Ganges in
India or the history of British
wartime Prime Minister Winston
Churchill and discover how his
brilliant career began with
astounding failure and defeat at
Gallipoli in World War I.
By contrast, in T&T, without
cable, Internet or other means of
distraction, your choices on the
local stations are limited to cloned
news programmes, numerous bor-
ing chat shows and foreign junk.
Anything else constituting local
content has to be intricately con-
structed around sponsor products
if the producers mean to make it
to air. Consequently, such fare is
culturally vapid and, ultimately,
unwatchable. Television stations
aren t charities, but in entering
people s homes with this most
powerful medium, it shouldn t be
business as usual either.
Local stations are granted
national broadcast licenses to earn
obscene amounts of money with-
out any deference to contributing
to a more enlightened and con-
templative society. It isn t simply
a question of what s on television,
but what we feed our minds.
In France, considered a society
predisposed to profound thought
and analysis, intellectuals are so
revered they are given time on
television and in the newspapers
to bolster what is an interminable
process of national edification and
A Professor of politics at Oxford
University, Sudhir Hazareesingh,
examines the function of intellec-
tualism in French society in a new
book. In it, he observes that
French thinking uses history to
influence reasoning. Particularly
noteworthy is the reference to
nation and collective identity.
The French are guided by a
sense of who they are and where
they ve come from. Sound like
anyone you don t know?
As a people we ve broken from
our historical moorings with little
or no understanding of our past.
As such, there no is grasping how
this ignorance perpetuates our
With television stations failing
to mirror the society (other than
reporting on unedifying events
such as spiralling crime and polit-
ical collapse) there is no fulcrum
to pivot the society into the post-
independence evolution that
A nation of non-thinkers will
only ever be able to produce a
revolving door of political smart
men, happy to wait their five-year
turn to feather their nests.
A nation of non-thinkers will
never understand that "all ah dem
does tief eh, but dis PP guvament
take de cake!" is not a rational
stance on the problems of gover-
nance. In my experience, the tele-
vision stations make all the right
noises when it comes to local
content. Many of them seem keen
to see improvements. In the end
though, it comes down to money.
Their reluctance to invest in local
programmes is further compound-
ed by reticence in the corporate
Ideally, our television industry
should be a leader in the develop-
ment of the sort of national con-
sciousness we need to escape this
muck. That, sadly, is unlikely to
happen in my lifetime.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we
don t think, therefore we aren t
very much of anything at all.
During the third century AD,
while the western half of the
Roman Empire struggled to main-
tain order against civil wars and
Barbarian incursions, its provinces
in the east formed a splinter state
centred on the prosperous city of
Palmyra, in what is now Syria.
Though its independence was
short-lived, the city remained a
major hub in the region until 1400.
It has since been declared a Unesco
World Heritage Site.
Now, more than half a millen-
nium later, what remains of that
once great urban centre---its
archaeologically significant ruins
and the history it represents, faces
complete obliteration at the hands
of a new breed of barbarians calling
themselves the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
But, to paraphrase the French
writer Voltaire, they re neither
Islamic, nor a state.
The senseless destruction of
Syria s historical heritage as a result
of the country s ongoing civil war
and the rise of ISIL trouble me,
both as an Arab Trinidadian and
a student of classical history.
I used to make the off-colour
joke that the difference between
Syria and Lebanon was that while
the former was a country of ruins,
the latter was a country in ruins.
Ironic how the tables have turned.
The cost in human lives is
undoubtedly the more tragic aspect
of the conflict, and a pile of aged
and weathered stones does not
compare to that.
However there is truth in the
maxim that a people deprived of
their history is one deprived of
their identity. And the victors,
whomever they turn out to be, will
be left with a land that is more
cinder than soil.
My grandfather was an emigrant
from Syria, making me a second-
generation Arab-Trinidadian. Our
local diaspora of Arabs hail pre-
dominantly from Syria and
Trinis either don t recognise or
understand the distinction, refer-
ring to us all collectively as Syrians .
Being fairly recent arrivals, our
connection to the homeland is
still well maintained, even though
our lives are here.
Amalgamating our culture with
that of sweet T&T, an eye is still
cast towards the distant land of
our ancestors. That eye is filled
with tears, caused by heartbreak
and uneasiness over what is taking
place in Syria.
Part of me is relieved that my
Jido , the Arabic equivalent for
grandfather, did not live to see
what is happening today. At the
same time I can t help but wonder
whether he would have supported
the Government, or backed the
It is a question that has resulted
in a stark division within our com-
munity. None of us endorses vio-
lence from any side, but we have
vigorous debates about the change
that may come and the shape it
may take. It s public, it s private,
and, often unseen, it is impas-
Some reckon that it might be
safer to bring their family members
in harm s way to Trinidad than
leave them to an uncertain fate,
caught between the army, the
rebels, and ISIL fighters.
Others feel that sending them
aid is perhaps the next best thing.
A big fund-raiser was carried out
in 2013; a cultural extravaganza
where music, food, and flags were
provided to all the donators.
What may have been billed as
a humanitarian event, free of polit-
ical bias, appeared to many,
uncomfortably, like a pro-govern-
ment rally, complete with glowing
speeches and portraits of President
Bashar al-Assad in the unmistak-
able cult of personality style.
Not everyone feels that way
about him, of course, but why
some do, is something I will try
to shed more light on next week.
to grips with Assad
LOCAL TELEVISION: PABLUM FOR THE PEOPLE
OWTU President General
Ancel Roget places a
wreath at the gravesite of
labour hero Tubal Uriah
"Buzz" Butler during Labour
Day celebrations in Fyzabad
PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH
HONOURING BUTLER ISIS, Syria and the Syrian-Trinidadian view
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