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A call to action in T&T

Published: 
Sunday, November 19, 2017

History will record that the Islamic State caliphate—a bizarre pseudo-state founded on illusory goals, created by a global horde of jihadis, and enforced with perverted viciousness—survived for three years, three months and some eighteen days.” —The New Yorker (October 17, 2017)

In that period the self-proclaimed Islamic State “conducted or inspired” over 70 terrorist attacks in 20 countries not including Syria and Iraq. The fight against Isis reportedly cost Baghdad more than US$100 billion.

In recent months Isis lost huge swathes of territory including oil wealthy Musul, which financed its global terror, Raqqa, the nominal IS capital, and on November 9, the Syrian Army liberated the city of Abu Kamal destroying the last Islamic State in Syria.

And so the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. Not so fast.

In May 2017, an Al Jazeera documentary produced by investigative filmmaker Juliana Rhufus revealed that T&T had the highest recruits of IS per capita in the Western Hemisphere—officially 130, estimated higher, at 400, including women and children.

The documentary titled Caribbean to Caliphate mirrored us in a way that, we, in our practiced self-deception, murder fatigued selves couldn’t see.

Photos of blood splattered pavements, murderers defected to Isis, descriptions of the brutality of assassination; men in combat gear, assault rifles, practicing to kill; clips of people “wining” gormlessly; inebriated, people sitting enervated outside tatty rum shops; interviews in shabby mosques with the reporter, her head covered respectfully, with inchoate bearded gang members speaking with the self importance of men with big guns on tiny islands.

It was the great footage: classic cringe worthy, intellectually impoverished island of dumbed down brutality described by V S Naipaul in Guerrillas. Humiliating. Indelibly Third World.

The journalist saw, in plain view, that we have among the highest murder rates worldwide in a non-warring country. (By October 30 this year the murder toll in T&T was 405)
Rhufus asked the disingenuous question: “Why are young Muslims from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago being drawn to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq?”

Imam Abu Bakr’s view was the murder rate was spiralling out of control because the men are “going to a pool of unemployment. They sit in the ghetto and do nothing. The drugs come in. The guns are in.”

A gang member said the problem was not localised. “Politicians try to minimise the issue and say that it’s a small group of people who are criminally oriented who get involved in these things, and that is not true.”

The former national security minister Gary Griffith said local IS recruits “were in it for financial, mercenary gain,” rather than ideological conviction.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi dismissed the documentary as “poor journalism” lacking in “balance and content,” a “slap in the face,” a pre-written script, his own two-hour interview with the journalist omitted.

A National Security source had a third view. He said the threat is real because these men will be coming home with knowledge of terror and need somewhere to put it.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of ‘when’.”

He said the gangs in this country were a conveyor belt straight into IS. Many came out of schools where the illiteracy rate was as high as 30 per cent.

“They join gangs for respect, a livelihood, to belong somewhere, for a purpose. They want to be seen. They have nothing to lose, so they join a gang.”

Why did so many join IS? His answer was simple.

“They got all this and one more thing—Heaven.”

Al Jazeera ended the documentary with the caveat that “even if T&T refuses to allow IS recruits back in, issues at home need to be addressed.”

We’ve had an insurrection, an attempted coup: the end of IS in the Middle East is a call to action in a war here that can only be won with hearts and minds.

We’ve already lost the war on guns.