Tuesday, July 27, 2004

TT: Remembering the Jamaat Al Muslimeen attempted coup, July 27, 1990

FOURTEEN years ago on this date the country's democracy, and its way of life, were violently assaulted through an arrogant attempt to seize power by a bunch of men whose zealotry got way out of hand.

The Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, led as it still is by Yasin Abu Bakr, a former police officer, stormed the Parliament which was in session at the time and held hostage a number of its members, including the Prime Minister and several government ministers. A supporting group also seized the country's only existing television station at the time, and made unsuccessful bids to capture as well the then Radio Trinidad and Radio 610.

For six dreadful days the country remained in the grip of this unwarranted and unwelcome attempt at a coup d'etat. When it was officially over with the signing of an amnesty that today remains a bitter pill for many in the society to swallow, the official loss of life was put at 24. This included a Member of Parliament and several innocent citizens who were working in or around the precincts of the Parliament building at the time. Property worth hundreds of millions of dollars was destroyed in the looting, damage and destruction set off in the wake of this failed adventure.

Almost a decade and a half later, as the nation remembers those events, the enduring lesson is that we must never forget what happened then, and renew always our commitment to ensuring that such utter madness is never let loose here again, in the full knowledge that mingling among us are agents provocateurs of various stripes, including those who would use religion as the cloak for their disruptive and destructive schemes.

It is a lamentable truth that the observance of this day has not gathered the momentum it should from the society at large, with succeeding governments barely acknowledging the permanent blot it has created on our democratic record.

What is undeniable is the need to rededicate our efforts at preserving our democratic traditions, even as we continue to seek substantial ways of building upon them for the wider national good. The several discussions across various sectors of the society for constitutional reform, for example, thrown up by the stalemate in general elections three years ago, are about as good a place to start as any.

Wider participation by a greater percentage of individuals, groups and organisations is necessary, and must be encouraged, with partisan positions not being allowed to unduly overshadow considerations vital to the national interest.

Trinidad and Tobago has had a great escape even though we still remain prey to the destabilising effects of that time when men, following "foreign gods", sought, by force of arms, to create a Trinidad and Tobago in their distorted image and likeness. Their intent was to circumscribe the democracy. Our mission must be to widen it as far as possible by not only preaching but implementing the "participatory republic" so long called for by Lloyd Best, arguably, the Caribbean's most original and relevant thinker.
Not a year goes by that I do not remember July 27, 1990. It sticks in my craw. It makes my stomach roil. It gets me angry that the man who was the agent of the Libyan effort to destabilize and Islamicize TT won a $6M judgment against the government and walks free to continue proliferating his poison. Oh, yes. I remember.


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