Trinidad & Tobago is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world. Our population of 1.5 million is comprised of people of African, East Indian, Chinese, European, Mediterranean, Arab and Native American descent. We boast of the many churches, mosques and Hindu temples which dot the landscape of our tiny island. Racism, though ever so slightly present in politics, is not a true problem which plagues our society. Trinidad & Tobago a veritable paradise – a land of oil and money, Carnival and calypso, rum and calypso, beautiful beaches and sweeping skyscrapers, if only for one thing: Trinidad & Tobago seems to be under the "curious spell of anti-Semitism without Jews." For while our people adhere to the faiths of almost every major world religion, Jews and Judaism is largely unrepresented here. In total, the entire Trinidadian Jewish population accounts for only about 100 persons. Many of them are well-known figures, but their Jewishness is not something which they broadcast – and for good reason. Anti-Semitism is growing in Trinidad, in no small part thanks to the efforts of the approximately seventy thousand Muslims who call Trinidad & Tobago home.
Once there was a flourishing Jewish community in Trinidad – with over 5,000 Jews calling Trinidad home and terming themselves part of the "Calypso Shtetl". Unfortunately, the Black Power uprisings of the 1970's forced many of these Trinidadian Jews to migrate to Canada, Barbados and the United States. I was privileged to meet one of these Trinidadian Jews, a wonderful lady who, because of diplomatic reasons, returned to Trinidad to live for a few years. A true Trinidadian, born and bred on these very shores, this lady was the first to put into words the disturbing increase in anti-Semitism. She said in an e-mail to me: "In Trinidad, it is easily explained by 3 reasons: the Syrian population, the American black Nation of Islam influence, and the Muslim followers of Arabs. All of these groups are, by tradition, anti-Semitic." Truer words were never spoken, and it dismayed me to learn that anti-Semitism was rising in Trinidad.
On Sunday January 4th, 2009, the IBN (Islamic Broadcasting Network) Channel 8 in Trinidad & Tobago hosted a show discussing the current events unfolding between Israel and the terrorist group, Hamas, and it was here that I first learned of the anti-Semitism which exists in my country. Naturally, as was to be expected, many callers-in spouted venomous, hateful, anti-Israel sentiments - among which they called Israel "an aggressor", "prideful", "evil", and called for the boycott of Israeli products. Of course, since we live in a democratic state, they were most entitled to their opinion, but likewise, since it is a democratic state, I felt compelled to call in and offer my dissenting view.
While the other callers greeted the show hosts and the Trinidad & Tobago public with the proper Islamic greeting, I chose not to do so since I am not Muslim, and I simply said "Good night", before starting to say what I had to say. Perhaps that was my first mistake, for IBN is not known for being particularly open-minded with people whose views clash with their own. While they are greatly sympathetic to non-Muslims who call in to agree with their views, they aren't likely to be that understanding with non-Muslims who don't agree with them.
So I called in and said the following: "Good night, I'm calling in response to the last caller. Now we have to put things into perspective here: Israel has it's borders with the West Bank relatively open, because the West Bank isn't under the control of a terrorist group, and Hamas is a terrorist group in control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas quotes the hadith which speaks of Jews hiding behind trees and stones and those trees and stones calling for Muslims to kill the Jews. It's in their very charter which I've read, and -" at that point, my call was immediately disconnected and the show hosts went on a tirade to explain that the hadith I quoted didn't exist, and that Hamas was not a terrorist group, by any stretch of the imagination. I had obviously dreamed it up in my head that Hamas was a terrorist organization, because obviously I was deranged. Why would I think that? Hamas never called for an end to the state of Israel; Hamas' charter doesn't proclaim that all of "Palestine" is Islamic Waqf - land conquered exclusively for Muslim use, to be governed by Muslims; Hamas was not termed a terrorist organization by the EU, by the US, by Israel and many other countries; Hamas didn't say it would never negotiate with and/or recognize the Jewish state's right to exist, nor did Hamas ever say that it would rescind on all past agreements the PLO/PA made with Israel!
I was completely wrong on all these points!
What Hamas actually was, you see, was a peace-loving organization which was being treated unfairly by Western media and that aggressor country - ugh, Israel.
Doh! Get your facts straight, Mr. Jagdeo!
But just in case - in the mere chance that those presenters were wrong and I was right - I'd like them to know this: you can argue from now til thy kingdom come and you get your 72 virgins about why the sky is not blue - but that doesn't change the facts: the sky is blue, Hamas is a terrorist organization and the hadith does exist and it does say clearly that Muslims will get help from trees and stones in locating and killing those terrible, evil Jews. But if I'm wrong and Mr. Inshan Ishmael (the show's main presenter) is right - then slap me silly and call me Wakim, because I will head straight for the nearest mosque (I won't even bother to stop at "Go!" and collect my $200) and become a Muslim.
(Before we continue, may I stop here just to quote the hadith, which I was told did not exist. The hadith is as follows: "HADITH Sahih Bukhari [4:52:176] Narrated by Abdullah bin Umar: Allah's Apostle said, "You will indeed fight against the Jews and you will kill them to the point where the rock and the tree will say: 'O Muslim! O Abdullaah (slave of Allaah)! There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.' Except for al-Gharqad for it is from the trees of the Jews.' " So there ya go. Either I am crazy, or Abdullah bin Umar was crazy, or maybe – just maybe – the shows presenters were the crazy ones. I'll leave it up to you to decide).
The point of my rambling here is not against IBN or against Islam. While I was very discomfited by the way I was treated that night, I didn't expect any better from that particular television station. After all, whenever they have a chance, they are ever-ready to make subtle anti-Israel and somewhat anti-Semitic remarks in their shows, and regularly broadcast subtle propaganda aimed against Jews and Israel. Subtle, because they are well-aware of the dangers of inciting people, and God knows they are somewhat wary of losing their broadcasting license in Trinidad & Tobago, so they resort to finding subtle means to dig at Israel, to dig at Jews and to further validate themselves (cause God forbid, Islam tries to exist without invalidating everyone else around it, especially Am Yisrael). For instance, they regularly broadcast a particular cartoon featuring a group of young Muslim-American scout-like boys who travel to Turkey and are caught up in the intrigue of fighting against "the Evil Star Organization" - a most devious, treacherous club, whose leader is pictured by a very pale, stooped-over gentleman, with a huge nose and the greediest, most money-grubbing personality you can imagine. You need not be any sort of Einstein to figure out what the Evil Star Organization represents and who the leader is a caricature of. And also, a couple weeks ago, on the weekly IBN show "Let the Quran Speak", the esteemed Islamic scholar Mr. Chote, was very clear in saying that the problems in the Middle East stem from not an Arab/Israeli conflict, but rather, a Muslim/Jewish one. Mr. Chote quoted the aforementioned hadith (which I was told, did not exist) to back up his argument and argue for a united Muslim front against Jews (though it must be said, Mr. Chote was very careful in choosing his words and did not exactly call for physical violence to be perpetrated against Jews or Jewish interests). Mr. Chote continued on to say that "Palestine" was a land belonging to all Muslims and not just Palestinians. Of course, I was mightily surprised by that statement. Apparently Mr. Chote seemed to think he had some sort of claim to the land of Israel as well, and only by the collective effort of the 1 billion Muslims in the world could the Jewish problem be solved. Oh well, just when I thought the only claimants to the land were the Jews and Palestinians, up comes Mr. Chote throwing his 2 cents in and staking his claim as well. Well, well - all I have to say is this: though the Moshiach may tarry - I believe in his coming. You just wait, Mr. Chote.
But as I was saying, I truly did not expect IBN to be open-minded, especially given its history of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish rhetoric. What really disturbed me was the level of hate of the callers. It wasn't simply a "we don't agree with Israel" - it was a constant, never-ending supply of "Assalam u alaykum", followed by "we hate Israel etc., etc., etc." I've a somewhat morbid sense of humor, so I could not help but find the irony that callers would greet the show hosts in the most syrupy-sweet voices wishing them "Peace unto you" (which is what "assalam u alaykum" literally means), and then go on to proclaim their hate for Israel, the funniest thing in the world. But that's beside the point - after all, everyone is entitled to their opinion. What really got to me was the unfairness of the situation. It upset me to my core. I was frustrated that I had not been given the time to talk about Hamas' constant barrage of Qassam and Katuysha rockets (one of the show presenters called it "Falusha" rockets, "or something like that". No my friend, Falashas are a derogatory term for Ethiopian Jews. Like I said, they know what they're talking about. I don't - so Falusha rockets it is) into southern Israel - over 10,600 rockets, to be exact. I wanted to yell out that Israel didn't have to do a ground invasion - Israel could've just attacked from the air, bombing their targets from the safety of their planes, and not risk the lives of their soldiers, but they chose to go in, putting the lives of their soldiers in jeopardy, in order to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.
I wanted to yell out many things, but I didn't... because I'd been disconnected, most unceremoniously, from the show. After all, I didn't know anything: Hamas is not a terrorist organization; there is no hadith which says trees and stones will help Muslims locate and kill Jews; and Falusha rockets were what the Hamas was hitting Israel with.
Ah - you learn something new everyday.
The many callers - all of whom who declared their united hate for Israel and her aggression on those innocent, peace-loving Hamas members - sickened me. The abundance of ignorance on the issue among the Trinidadian public sickened me to my core. And it wasn't just the callers-in to the IBN show who sickened me. My growing sense of nausea had begun to grow earlier that very day. On that particular Sunday, before I tuned in to IBN, I'd read some articles in the newspapers by local columnists who were only too quick in their leftist views to denounce Israel as the poster country for all things evil. You know how it goes – Israel drops a bomb and the entire left begins their tirade against Israel and Zionism. Blah blah blah. It's the same story every time and everywhere. It's no different here in Trinidad.
So I felt sick - down to my very core. The leftists, the extremist Muslims, the uninformed – just too many haters… all springing from my country. I was ashamed – it was not what I expected, especially from a people who are famous for not being racist…
Now I'm the biggest Zionist ever - and perhaps, a little right-wing in my views: yeah, I'm a Jerusalem-should-not-be-divided, Bibi-loving, don't-give-land-unless-you're-getting-a-sustainable-durable-permanent-peace, don't-negotiate-with-terrorists kind of guy (oops, Hamas aren't terrorists! Didn't they teach me that on Sunday? Silly Nick!), but I am willing to listen to other points of view - if you would let me voice mine as well. But right then, it seemed that no one wanted to listen. At that point, it seemed to me that everyone in Trinidad & Tobago was as stubborn as the most hardened donkey out there, unwilling to look beyond the scope of the present and superficial, unwilling to dig down into the history and the deeper, ideological problems that simmer below the surface.
The whole thing hurt me awfully - because the truth is, I take things personally - and everyone dissing Israel and not giving me any space to stand up for her frustrated me, hurt me and really made me ashamed of Trinidad. I hadn't expected Trinidad to be so full of leftists, so full of anti-Israel sentiment, so full of hate and ignorance and a refusal to learn the history of the situation before they jump the bandwagon and start calling for death to Israel. It just seemed to me that everyone was too quick to just look at the here and now, presented to them by CNN and the ever-anti-Semitic BBC and judge Israel unfairly.
But two things happened which changed my dissatisfaction with my country; two things which made me proud of my people, and reassured me that they aren't all leftists, or extreme Muslims. Those loud voices are drowned out by the majority – and the majority came out and spoke and reassured me that my Trinidadian people are a most intelligent people who aren't all anti-Israel and aren't all unaware of the truth of the situation.
On Monday January 5th 2009, a friend of mine in Jerusalem sent me a link to a site where one can contribute to assist IDF soldiers in the war against Hamas. The site (http://www.stogether.org/gaza) asked for a simple contribution of US$18 to equip individual soldiers with little necessities which the army couldn't afford to give to them. Knowing my Zionist ideologies, my friend sent me this link cause she knew that I would want to help in any way I could, since I am currently so far away from Israel. Naturally, I immediately went onto the site and did what I had to do there, but I wondered, "Hmm? I wonder if there's anyone in Trinidad who'd want to help out as well?", so I clicked the forward button, and with the Zionist fervor bubbling in me, I forwarded that son-of-a-bitch e-mail to every Tom, Dick and Harry I could think of.
And boy was I surprised by what happened.
I'm no official representative of Israel, but people wrote back to me saying how they wanted to help, but didn't know how to - and this was a good idea of mine to send this to them. They SUPPORTED Israel! My e-mail, which had been forwarded to people I don't even know, made a bit of a ripple, and my humble GMail inbox was somewhat inundated with e-mails from a wide variety of folks: Christian evangelicals, everyday citizens who were well-educated about what's going on and in full support of Israel, and even an lady who "couldn't bear the thought of those poor soldiers not having any comforts, even though I don't know head or tail about the situation over there."
It warmed my heart - honestly it did.
And then, to further compound this warming in my previously hurt little heart, I clicked on the Facebook group I'd joined, "I support the Israel Defense Force in preventing terror attacks from Gaza", and checked the list of friends I had in it who I'd invited to join - and to my pleasant, most heart-warming surprise realized that from only 3 friends yesterday, this number had grown to 25 - including a hijab-wearing acquaintance! It was the the best feeling ever. And that's the point of this note - I know it's been long, I know I've rambled alot, but here's the long-awaited point: I forgot that while there is opposition to Israel – opposition to Israel's current war against terror, and possibly, opposition to Israel's very right to exist, there is also support for Israel, from varied, surprising and not-so-surprising sources in my country. There are Muslims who are fair and rational in my country, there is a huge evangelical Christian population in Trinidad (approximately two hundred and fifty thousand by some sources) who support Israel almost to the point of absurdity, and there are members of the intelligentsia who aren't leftist and biased against Israel. My very own Prime Minister, the Honorable Patrick Manning, while I don't always agree with him, was courageous and bold enough to say to hell with Caribbean's silly neutrality on the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and he established official ties with Israel and broke ground by being the first head of government of a Caribbean country to visit Israel in an official capacity in November of 2005.
So thank you, my wonderful country of Trinidad & Tobago.
Thank you for being open enough and intelligent enough and educated enough and caring enough to give your support to a country which is only trying to do the right thing, but whose name is being dragged through the mud because the world is a harsh, unfair place. Thank you for not feeding in to extremist Muslim and Arab propaganda; thank you for throwing yourselves behind Israel so firmly, so faithfully and so steadfastly.
Thank you, Trinidad & Tobago for making me proud of you and reinstating in me a pride in my country... you've thrown your support behind my other country, Israel, and I'm proud to be a part of you both.
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