“FREDDY” KISSOON AND THE COLUMN OF THE STREET By Nigel Westmaas

 “FREDDY” KISSOON AND THE COLUMN OF THE STREET

 By Nigel Westmaas

'Freddy' Kissoon

‘Freddy’ Kissoon

He mounts his charge, armour of steel and honour and his lance ready, the contemporary Don Quixote, except he slays not windmills, but real dragons clawing at the heart of a nation. Enter the combatant, with passion and fire of old time crusaders, against sins of omission and commission on themes of human decency, justice, and cleanliness in public affairs.

No Guyanese newspaper columnist in recent times has personified and combined the impulses of social activism, and figure of controversy than Freddy Kissoon. He has contributed more than any other individual in the media in consistently and flambouyantly exposing corruption, Guyana’s foibles and the nature of contemporary Guyanese society.

The moniker “Freddy” supports the iconoclastic image and symbolizes the everyday friend of the man and woman in the street – and this acts as an entry point that takes many forms. In the process Kissoon appears as the public’s neighbour, and friend. He is the shaggy Wortmanville boy and concurrently the comforter in chief and critic in chief.

Surprisingly, in spite of his everyday presence in national debate, there has been little or no independent reflective assessment or acknowledgment of the content and effect of Kissoon’s column over time. It is no surprise there is a degree of silence about his journalistic contribution in Guyana. Part of the reason derives from the nature of the columnist himself – one who does not take prisoners from any political corner and has no permanent political friends. The other reason is the development of a much broader cynicism to things Guyanese and the simmering social rage over decades manifest in despair and a weary retirement from engagement with the totality of a crisis that is Guyana.

Nonetheless, the scale, focus and response to the columns, letters and the public activity of Frederick Kissoon over the last two decades deserves more contemplative analysis than afforded by the trenchant dismissal of his enemies and the uncritical praise of his followers and friends. This modest effort to probe the content and impact of the contribution of the controversial columnist is designed to both acknowledge Kissoon’s contribution and open up conversation about the role of criticism and debate in contemporary Guyana.

 Kissoon first started writing publicly for the weekly Catholic Standard in 1988. This sojourn was followed by a stint with the Stabroek News and now the Kaieteur News where he pens an almost daily column –a remarkable output by any standard.  His daily and then five days a week column in the Kaieteur News has been at the crosshairs of political and social debate in Guyana and a recourse of many readers, local and abroad to current events – especially those that contain the sharp edge of Guyanese politics. And his column exemplifies the public’s frustrations with the failed modern Guyana state and defines the current Guyana era unlike any other singular journalistic contribution. His column’s bravura depicts and updates with fresh analysis and boldness ofthe existing state of affairs in Guyana – subjects that other interest groups and media outlets either fail or “fear” to report. Kissoon, in his own distinctive style and approach, frontally addresses the follies and foibles of this society with an earthiness that both attracts and repels depending on the reader or recipient in all corners of the Guyanese political and social environment.

His column content and style is effusive, direct, and iconoclastic along with other significant markers. His garrulous writing style may not enamor him with the writing purists and there are ups and downs in his analysis. As with any regular columnist he makes errors of fact and at times contradicts his own erstwhile positions. He has also been accused of ranting and giving delusionary attributions to people, persons and events. The evidence of his column suggests there is a measure of truth in this perception of the material in some of his pieces. His tendency to personalize (judgment of people and their motives) is useful but always courts the danger of being unfair. Kissoon often repeats an angle of analysis or fact.  Yet repetition is inevitable and mandatory in Guyana given the stifling recurrence of excess and the failure of movement and progress But again these omissions have to do with distrust in legacies of rule in Guyana and commensurate wariness with the long history of opposition failures in and out of protest and negotiation, especially with the PPP state. These faults aside the fact is that Kissoon’s unconventional prose works in the Guyana context. The evidence lies in the columnist’s popularity and continual responses from the aggrieved government official,  private sector spokesperson, opposition politician, or as seen not so long ago, a representative of the government of India.Forgive the occasional stumble, the fleeting element of self-righteousness, Freddie Kissoon, among current columnists, is in a class by himself.  To use a mechanical metaphor, he is not in neutral. If he were we would have no use for him.

COLUMN TECHNIQUE

The technique he employs, whether strategic, instinctive or reactive, involves short, direct sometimes hyperbolic attacks on organizations, policies, events and individuals. In performing its function, his column incorporates some of the classical attributes of other outstanding columnists: irony, anecdote, mimicry, analogy, comparison, passion, repetition, metaphor, humour and satire. Bolstered by a formidable memory, Kissoon challenges authority at every corner of the political spectrum but retains a high preponderance of his criticism for the current government and party in power since 1992.

Correspondingly Kissoon’s column engages a device of identifying friend or colleague on location that has proven extremely effective in bringing his readership closer to the “action.” So for example, Freddy met so and so in Fogartys,  on the picket line or court corridors. Irrespective of whether this is a tactic or an instinct written into the writer’s DNA- the identifications of select friends or colleagues in this form in the column serves to place both the recipient and the columnist in the zone of contact from which a kind of situational equality emerges. In a small society accustomed to “who knows who” the naming of associates provides them with the temporary halo of meeting a prominent and controversial columnist in Guyana today.  It also defines accessibility to Kissoon and highlights the “local” nature of the discourse in Guyana. Guyana’s capital Georgetown is a small place, and dialogue that would otherwise dissipate in London, Rio or New York, is alive in Georgetown. In sum Kissoon has brought the people of the street into his column and has taken his column to the streets.

Kissoon in jail

One of the factors most responsible for the militant atmosphere in the 2011 general elections was the court case involving the “King Kong” libel suit brought against Kissoon. Ably led by Nigel Hughes and Christopher Ram, the defense team unearthed through cross examination, the PPP regime’s callous disregard for ethnic balance and reconciliation in Guyana. The libel suit posted against him by former president Bharat Jagdeo was an unheralded turning point in the pre-election debate and election outcome. The exposure in court of the ethnic disparity as exemplified in the composition of Guyana’s diplomatic service was a telling indicator of where the PPP state stood in the social and political demographic is spite of the party and government boasts of social and economic progress and progress in racial unity.

 But the state and the PPP are not the exclusive targets of Kissoon’s unwavering and roving pen. His column and the regular letter to the press attacks the contradictions and follies in other parties, sectors and individuals, including the PNC, AFC, WPA, trade unions, police force, private sector, and foreign diplomats and interests.

TOPICAL RANGE

His range of topic is expansive: elitism, garbage on the streets, the PPP’s corruption and intractability, politically linked drug culture, PNC irrationalities, opposition weaknesses, conditions at UG, egregious or criminal behaviour of individuals; his ice cream choices, the “ugly” Berbice bridge,  sycophancy in the Republic, Pradoville, the African Indian divide; the follies of leadership, former President Jagdeo’s power excesses, private sector ‘cowardice’, Cuba and its contradictions, Dr Luncheon’s ambiguous language, Clement Rohee’s performance and public statements, the horrible disparities between rich and poor, his (Kissoon’s) own taste in music, and the new “drug and money laundering” rich and many other targets. Only occasionally does the column digress to international events or some philosophical issue off the shores of Guyana.

His criticism exposes not only the dislocations and crimes committed in the society but the lack of response to them. In the following example he connects the fears of the average Guyanese in confronting power:

Monday midday, I had just come out of the Hot and Spicy restaurant on Albert Street. As I entered my car, this gentleman came up to me and was in an emotional mood about the need to have a change of government. He went on and on. Then in a style untypical of me, I quietly said to him, “I have been in all the protests against this government for the past five years and I have never seen you even holding a picket.” He gave me a gargantuan smile that was supposed to mask his embarrassment. He promised me he will show up the next time.

The nature and frequency in which state officials and PPP pundits take to respond to Kissoon’s column, either directly through official sources or through unofficial sources like the phantom letter writers is a sharp indicator of his effectiveness. Indeed these letters and blogs in the Guyana press are legion. One such is a “Sultan Mohamed”, a faceless nom de plume  among others for whom Kissoon is expressively contemptuous. After an earlier tendency to engage these phantom writers, Kissoon’s newest tactic is to ignore them as he makes clear below.

I have urged Eusi Kwayana not to reply to a fictional letter writer, Sultan Mohamed. I hope he ignores this cowardly fellow. The mentality, character and mind of anonymous columnists and letter-writers are constant reminders of the thin lines that separate lower and higher animals.

Political pundits, opposition and government supporters and followers in the diaspora avidly read Kissoon in spite of their social or political position, because at some level they know and have experienced in real time one aspect or other of Kissoon’s interpretations, reflections, or conclusions.  The force of Kissoon’s day-to-day critique of anything to do with the abuse of power, crooked officials and contradictory existence provides a crucial service in a society where traditional means of protest have subsided or dimmed over decades by the rash of immigration, undemocratic practices, broken trade unions, political bribery, corruption and fear. But his other credo is controversy. His courageous exposure of the regime’s character has led to action been taken against him in various forms including open and subtle attacks in print on his character and employment. He has also been the victim of physical assault, and these assaults are not accidental.

One strategy employed by Kissoon’s fiercest critics is to place the popular columnist in the category of a mad, crazy writer flailing at everything under the sun.  But this depiction of Kissoon fails overall because he employs a sharp intellect, academic discipline, historical perspective, psychology, philosophy to penetrate the veneer of social and political conduct and keenly interprets the irrationalities of Guyanese society like no other. Take another example,

The Minister came in drunk, grabbed some pastries, devoured them, then loudly belched in my face and in the face of my wife and the others who were seated at the table. These people run Guyana. They are imbued with the psychological deception that they are superior to any and everyone in Guyana because they are from the PPP, the party of one of the “greatest” men in the world, Cheddi Jagan.

A fact not lost of any section of the society is the fact that Freddy Kissoon is an Indo Guyanese gadfly and iconoclast who reserves the majority of his critique for those political and social forces that unwittingly or strategically, receive their support from the Indian Guyanese electorate or public opinion. In more than one sense his advocacy provides hope to the other sectors and racial groups. In the course of his advocacy and criticism he has offered a bold reassessment of Forbes Burnham and a fearless re-portrayal of Dr Cheddi Jagan and their respective political roles and legacies.

Once what Kissoon frequently terms the “asininities” in Guyana continue, his column (and regular letters) will continue to expose, illuminate and encounter reaction from those fearful of his caustic and roving pen.

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Comments

  • Wycliffe Thomas  On 06/21/2014 at 9:07 pm

    Freddy is an idiot and therefore I do not read his column.

  • Deen  On 06/21/2014 at 9:30 pm

    I applaud Nigel Westmaas for a commendable article that candidly and credibly painted, what I consider, a realistic portrait of Guyana’s most brave, audacious and popular journalist, Freddy Kissoon.
    Undoubtedly, Freddy Kissoon is in a class by himself. II would safely assume that Freddy is revered not only by his peers, but by most of his readers who admire his fearless persistence in revealing the pervasiveness of corruption amid the political stream in Guyana.
    Freddy deserves a medal for his work as an outstanding and extraordinary journalist.
    And Nigel Westmaas deserves much recognition for this excellently well-penned piece.

  • gigi  On 06/24/2014 at 12:55 am

    “But the state and the PPP are not the exclusive targets of Kissoon’s unwavering and roving pen. His column and the regular letter to the press attacks the contradictions and follies in other parties, sectors and individuals, including the PNC, AFC, WPA, trade unions, police force, private sector, and foreign diplomats and interests.”

    I see the author conveniently leaves out APNU, which Mr Kissoon never criticizes. Hmmm… He also comes off as a fawning fanatic of the colonial masters he still worships.

    I do not read Mr Kissoon’s articles because he comes off as brown nosing for his handlers or those he hopes to curry favor with. Since Mr Kissoon claims to be a philosophy scholar, he may find enlightenment in this excerpt from Aristotle’ Nicomachean Ethics, or better yet, by reading the entire book.


    “Actions, then, are called just and temperate when they are such as the just or the temperate man would do; but it is not the man who does these that is just and temperate, but the man who also does them as just and temperate men do them. It is well said, then, that it is by doing just acts that the just man is produced, and by doing temperate acts the temperate man; without doing these no one would have even a prospect of becoming good.

    But most people do not do these, but take refuge in theory and think they are being philosophers and will become good in this way, behaving somewhat like patients who listen attentively to their doctors, but do none of the things they are ordered to do. As the latter will not be made well in body by such a course of treatment, the former will not be made well in soul by such a course of philosophy.”

    ( http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/WeirdWildWeb/courses/wphil/readings/wphil_rdg09_nichomacheanethics_entire.htm )

  • de castro  On 06/24/2014 at 10:48 am

    no further comment neccessary
    kamtan

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