‘One cannot fight fire with fire’

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The head of the Roman Catholic Church here has warned that “code words” used during the Rwanda genocide are being used in Trinidad and Tobago and urged the country to step back from this “very destructive” path.

“Code words that were used in Rwanda that created genocide are starting to be used in this nation. This is a serious moment, a moment where we have to stop, where we have to pray, and where we have to call out people who are being racist,” Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon said in a message to the nation at the end of a Mass on Thursday.

In 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a rebel group composed of Tutsi refugees, invaded northern Rwanda from their base in Uganda, initiating the Rwandan Civil War.

Genocidal killings began the day after President Juvnal Habyarimana was killed on April 6, 1994 when soldiers, police, and militia executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders.

The scale and brutality of the massacre caused shock worldwide, but no country intervened to forcefully stop the killings. Most of the victims were killed in their own villages or towns, many by their neighbours and fellow villagers. Hutu gangs searched out victims hiding in churches and school buildings. An estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, about 70 per cent of the country’s Tutsi population.

There has been a racial outburst on social media following the defeat of the United National Congress (UNC) in Monday’s general election. The preliminary results released by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) showed that the People’s National Movement (PNM) had won 22 of the 41 seats. But the UNC has since called for a recount in five constituencies.

Many supporters of the Indian-dominated UNC party have taken to social media to vent their positions regarding the victory of the Afro-dominated PNM, and in one instance, Ramsaran’s Dairy Products (RDP) said it had dismissed a relative whose racial outburst on social media had resulted in a boycott of its products by leading supermarkets and the general public.

In his message, the archbishop said, while all those engaged in the racial slurs have to be called out with the population, urging them “to cease and desist”, it must be “from a place of love and mercy because one cannot fight fire with fire”.

“We cannot have a place for racism in this nation,” Archbishop Gordon said, appealing to citizens not to start fires.

Archbishop Gordon said that it is “absolutely” clear that citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are “blinded” by race, and reminded the members of the population that they are all, firstly, citizens of one beloved nation, regardless of which boat they came on or which trip they made.

“Any hyphenated description you want to put about your being Trinidadian has to be second to the fact that you are Trinidad and Tobago, and you are citizens of this nation,” he said, recalling the words of the country’s first prime minister, the late Dr Eric Williams, that there cannot be any Mother India, Mother Africa, Mother China, or any Mother Syria, because a mother cannot distinguish between her children.

“There can only be one mother — Mother Trinidad, Mother Tobago — and a mother must love all her children equally,” he said, urging the population to allow the constitutional and judicial systems to take their courses in dealing with electoral situation.

“The process must be allowed to take place. Let it come to its conclusion and let us live with whatever the result is,” the archbishop said.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ) is calling on all citizens to denounce racism, which it described as a “a vile worm” that eats at the very soul of the individual and nation. It said racism is a sin and should be eliminated in all its forms.

“Let us not forget the impact of racism on the lives of our ancestors,” CCSJ Chair Leela Ramdeen said in a statement, adding that as the country approaches its annual Independence Day celebrations on August 31, citizens should reflect on ways in which each may have, wittingly or unwittingly, through thought, word or action, “fed this socially constructed, hydra-headed monster”.

“And let us commit to root out this evil from our hearts and minds. Indeed, the heart of the matter is in the human heart.”

The statement referred to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says: “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men and women have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity. The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it.”

It said that as long as racism exists, justice and peace will never become a reality.

“The time is long overdue for us, as a people, to reject racism and embrace and promote unity in our diversity. We ignore, at our peril, the call of all right-thinking people to do so,” the statement said.

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