Silly or sober season?
HEART TO HEART
With Betty Ann Blaine
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
So far the election campaign is living up to the name, the "silly season". From the uninspiring and scripted messages of past achievements to the advertisements portraying pictures of "duppy", Jamaicans are once again being fed a steady diet of shallow and substance-less rhetoric.
Quite frankly, what we are seeing and hearing is an insult to the people of Jamaica, but who cares? Those within the population who are more learned -- the "intelligentsia" -- are busy jockeying for contracts, consultancies and connections, and the Church remains in a state of "collective coma". Like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' time, the religious elite of Jamaica are making sure that they too have access to the seat of power, and by extension, to the "frills of fiefdom".
In the midst of the "silliness", many Jamaicans are probably unaware that the Honourable Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, paid a visit to the island over a week ago. He too had a strong message for the Church, chiding our religious leaders about wanting to get into the "big house" and for not fighting hard enough for the poor and the dispossessed. Farrakhan also had a message for the wider society. He warned about the dangers of divisiveness, and called for Jamaicans to tear down the tribal and class barriers so that every citizen can achieve a good quality of life.
The Muslim leader's main theme, however, was his call for regional unity which, he believes, is the only way for Caribbean peoples to withstand the onslaught of Western economic and cultural imperialism. It was clear from Farrakhan's very frank and sometimes personal presentation that his trip was carefully and calculatedly planned to promote the message of regional co-operation and collaboration. After Jamaica, Farrakhan was headed to Haiti and then, we were told, he would head to Cuba.
For a man so highly embraced in the past by certain political leaders, I was surprised by the lacklustre official response to Farrakhan's trip. Even more surprising was the revelation by the minister himself that his intended speech to students at the University of the West Indies was cancelled. He related to the audience that even when he was told that he could speak to a group of about 300 students (which would be a small crowd for a man of Farrakhan's notoriety), he accepted the offer because of how important it was for him to speak with the youth.
Farrakhan did not say whether an explanation was given for cancelling his speech, leaving many of us wondering what is going on at the university, and if there is any official word as to why a man like Farrakhan was denied access to the students. I would hope that the country is not back-pedalling to the dark days of Hugh Shearer versus Walter Rodney.
As the silly season intensifies, the most glaring manifestation is what I describe as the "poverty of ideas" and the absence of moral capital. Aside from the PNP's 'JEEP', which sounds more like a catchy acronym than a solid solution, there is nothing to capture the imagination of the people. As a children's advocate and social activist, the thing I find most tragic is that after December 29, many of the persons dressed in green and orange will be knocking on our doors for help to feed themselves and to send their children to school, and of course, we must respond, especially when those in need are vulnerable children. It would make our jobs a lot easier if we could refer them to government agencies for help, but that would, by and large, be an exercise in futility.
What Jamaica is experiencing is an election without a soul and leaders without vision. The Bible says that without vision the people perish, and Louis Farrakhan in his speech described some of those he saw "perishing" on the streets of downtown Kingston. He questioned why there was so much complacency about the plight of the poor.
Leadership devoid of values is unsustainable, and vision leads directly to values. When there is no vision -- no guiding moral compass that steers both public and private life, the people throw off restraint and invariably resort to lawlessness. Jim Wallis in his book, God's Politics, puts it this way... "a lack of vision in a society contributes directly to social unrest, lawlessness, violence and chaos. It may not just be poverty that leads to social breakdown, but also the absence of any compelling and credible vision articulated by public leaders and accepted by the people, that serve to hold a society together".
Wallis asks: "What is politics for? What is the purpose of our public life, its meaning, its shaping and guiding principles? Where do we want to go and why? What do we want to achieve? And most important, what is a good society? Those are all questions about values, and values will be the most important political question of the twenty-first century."
In this "vision-less" and "values-less" campaign, the role of the Church would be critical if only that institution could be aroused from its slumber. The late Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr found cause to criticise his own brethren when he wrote: "In spite of the noble affirmations of Christianity, the church has often lagged in its concern for social justice and too often has been content to mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities... Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and yet is not concerned with the economic and social conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is the kind the Marxist describes as 'an opiate of the people'."
It is truly disheartening that with so much at stake in this election, silliness seems to have overtaken soberness.
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