Guyana: The critical Muslim vote: Race and democracy – commentary

Guyana: The critical Muslim vote: Race and democracy
Published on January 31, 2015 – Caribbean News Now
By Ray Chickrie and Shabnam AlliThe Muslim minority of Sri Lanka’s electoral power was instrumental in the removal of the autocratic government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was accused of human rights abuse, intimidation of the press and disregard for minority rights in that country. With the announcement of Guyana’s poll on May 11, Guyana’s strong Muslim minority should take a lesson from what happened in Sri Lanka and vote their conscience instead of race and take stock of their social, economic and political space in Guyana.

ray-chickrie.jpg
Raymond Chickrie

They should know that Guyana will not always be governed by the Hindu Indian dominated Peoples Progressive Party (PPP). The Indian electorate of Guyana is dwindling due to mass migration. As well, more and more young Guyanese are not yoked to the ethnic voting pattern, nor do they subscribe to the one sided narrative of the Burnham era. Further, Guyanese are assimilating more now. Two young Guyanese tourists I met in Suriname some weeks ago remarked, “We don’t recall Burnham’s rule; let’s talk about the PPP who has been running the country since 1992.”

In Guyana, politicians have been allowed to use mimbar (pulpit of the mosque) without being cautious of the characters that they allow to grace the religious space of Muslim Guyana. These politicians want to use Islamic institutions to garner the Muslim vote by offering little handouts to these groups. Often we hear complaints that Muslims groups are aligning themselves with the government, an accusation that they fiercely deny.

But this is not only true of Muslim groups. It would be unfair to say that this alignment happened since 1992. It has been an ongoing issue since the 1960s during the dark period of Muslim Guyana when the most powerful Islamic organisation, the United Sadr Islamic Anjuman, was penetrated by politics of the Cold War era. This led to the demise of that group.

Civil organisations in a weak democracy like Guyana are few, lack resources and find themselves aligned with the sitting government in office. If this is the case, it is not healthy for the well-being and negotiating power of the Muslim electorate of Guyana. This is why the PPP leadership once remarked, “With or without the support of the Muslim leadership, we will get the Muslim vote.” Naturally, the PPP was arrogantly confident that the Muslims, who are mostly Indo-Guyanese, will support their own race by voting PPP.

Muslims and Muslim groups should ask themselves how to avoid being pawns of any government — PPP, PNC or AFC. How much tokenism should be accepted or should Muslim leadership institute offices that will advocate the interest and well people of the people they assert to represent by ushering in a new era of Muslim political swagger?
The masjid and madrasas (Islamic schools) should be utilized to enlighten Guyanese Muslims on social, economic and political issues like it has always been in the Islamic tradition since the Hijra (start of the Islamic Calendar).

Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: “Search for knowledge is compulsory upon every Muslim male and Muslim female.” (Ibn Majah). Many young Muslims are interested in listening to different subjects when they attend the mosques. Some are surprised that local issues such as politics are not covered. Civic duties, such as elections and voting should be covered from the pulpit of the mosques. Young Muslims need guidance in this area as well.

Educating Muslims how to vote is not alien to the mosque, the Friday Khutba (sermon) and in the madrasas. However, as election approaches, hopefully politicians will not be allowed to use the mimbar to “preach” as to which party the congregation should support. However, the masjid should guide their followers objectively and void of the racial undertones.

Muslims globally are a collection of people of many different shades — from Balkan-Europe, Asian Indonesia and Black Africa, the only Muslim dominated continent. The birth place of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Arabian Peninsula, was always populated by people of African origin. It’s not rare that most families from the Jazeera-ul-Arabiya (Arab Peninsula) have a black ancestor somewhere in their family and if one looks at the soccer teams from the Jazeera, they will get a fair idea of the makeup of the people of the Arabian Peninsula.

This colourless message of brotherhood should be taught and encouraged in Guyana. Hence, why in Guyana Muslims continue to vote race and not for the best platform offered by different political parties. Why have they not spoken out against the suspension of parliament, corruption, racism, freedom of press and inclusive governance? Some say suggest that Muslims are a minority and should sit on the fence and not be involved in politics. But are they truly non-political?

After facing stinging criticisms and threats of possible sanctions from the US, Britain and Canada, and the European Union (EU) for suspending parliament and not holding local government elections for more than two decades, President Ramotar has finally buckled and announced that national elections will be held on May 11, 2015. Strangely, no Islamic or Hindu groups have raised their voices against the suspension of Guyana’s parliament (only the Christian Church did).

It is worthwhile for Guyana’s Muslim minority to take note of Sri Lanka’s election and vote on issues rather than on race. They should be aware by now of the accusations leveled against the PPP, which has governed since 1992. From accessing the reports of corruption and nepotism tied to the PPP regime of Guyana, it can be perceived that they represent the interest of a small minority of the nation, which includes the PPP’s immediate families and friends, while they (the PPP) have no interest in improving the socio-economic wellbeing of the rest of the nation.

The PPP regime asserts that they “own” the Indian votes (including the Indian Muslims) and as such they expect Indians to vote for their own kind — no questions asked. This is why the PPP lashed out at the AFC for stealing “their Indian votes.”

The opposition parties and the international community have accused the government of spending money without the approval of parliament and threats of violence against the media. Besides, the country it plagued by armed banditry, kidnapping and has become a global drug trafficking hub. In fact, the European Union has withheld development funds from Guyana because of the suspension of parliament.

Muslims in Guyana can’t deny that that they have not been embroiled in the race-based politics and ethnic conflicts that have dominated the history of Guyana. The Indian controlled government of the PPP has been in power since 1992 and, prior to that, the Afro-Guyanese dominated APNU was in power from 1966 to 1992. Afro-Guyanese, the second largest group in Guyana, and who are traditional supporters of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), have accused the PPP government of ethnic marginalization and the accusation has merit. The APNU and AFC are now in coalition talks.

The PPP lost its majority in the national assembly at the last election and its popularity with its East Indian based supporters is dwindling. A third party, the Alliance for Change (AFC), took seven seats from the PPP at the last poll and especially from its East Indian supporters. And now that elections are fast approaching again, Muslims in Guyana should heed the message of Islam — “Knowledge is treasure, its keys are questions. Continue to ask about knowledge because by asking one question four persons are rewarded — petitioner, learned, listener and who loves them” (Abu Naeem) because the Muslim vote can decide the fate of Guyana.

Born in Guyana, Raymond Chickrie was a teacher in the New York City public school system and has also taught in the Middle East

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Comments

  • Thinker  On 02/01/2015 at 4:59 am

    Since when does Islam triumph over ethnicity? Certainly not in Pakistan nor during the last stages of the Ottoman Empire. In pre-Independence India, Muslims couild unite in a Muslim League through fear of Hindu domination but that didn’t ensure unity between West and East Pakistan nor even in present day Pakistan. In Guyana where the fear is Afro-Guyanese domination, no one can be surprised that ethnic affiliations will matter more than religion.

    In Sri Lanka, Muslims speak Tamil and they do feel somewhat alenated from the majority Buddhist Sinhalese so no one is surprised about how they are likely to vote. Not the same situation in Guyana, so the article is a prime example of comparing apples with oranges..

  • Thinker  On 02/01/2015 at 5:34 am

    On another point, let’s not overdo it in talking about the black peoples of the Arabian Peninsula. While it is certainly true that the first people to occupy thew Peninsula were black and there was some admixture with groups coming from Asia, the presence of Blacks in the area has a whole lot to do with Arab slavery over 1,400 years. Furthermore throughout the Arab world they are reviled.

    Ayatollah Khomeini famously stated that Islam is nothing if not political. However he didn’t have in mind the relatively petty politics of places like Guyana. Islamic jurisprudence under Sharia was what he was referring to. Guyana isn’t “ready” for that.

  • de castro  On 02/01/2015 at 6:12 am

    Thinker
    Your name says it all….
    History has taught some ‘little or nothing’ and yet some live in denial
    of historical facts.
    Guyana is ready for political change but hopefully for better.
    Guyana s political dilemma ‘mirrors’ events elsewhere.
    India has an Hindi president.
    China is more capitalist than america.
    Russia is now more ‘Stalinist’ than ever.
    Euro is in ‘limbo’ politically.
    Africa is still suffering from neocolonialism.
    Arabs will have to wash their ‘arse’ with oil.

    My dreams are all coming true
    Three worlds
    One people
    Americas (north + south)
    Asia (India + China)
    Euro (Russia + Arabia)

    Remain optimistic for the future.

    Kamtan in Granada Spain visiting

    • Thinker  On 02/01/2015 at 9:09 am

      Just for the record, Kamptan. Ramotar is mainly of Indian origin but also has Amerindian and African forebears. He is not a Hindu and has described himself in the past as an atheist.

      • de castro  On 02/02/2015 at 5:30 am

        Thanks the update on el presidente…..
        Atheist….whatever.!
        My god is nature ….good bad and ugly !
        A natural one….respect !
        Scientists should spend more time proving there is a god ….
        but that may be down to ‘belief’ and too simple.

        Not long to go before elections and electioneering.
        Change is the theme these days….let’s hope for better.

        Enjoy the day wherever u r.
        Am in Granada Spain enjoying glorious sunshine in 17° c.
        Back in UK march.
        Kamtan

  • michael  On 02/01/2015 at 7:22 am

    Are you the type of person that erases racial harmony.
    What’s your agenda? Using religion for power?

  • de castro  On 02/01/2015 at 7:51 am

    Michael
    Most confuse religion politics and economics.
    When one can ‘seperate’ the symptons the diagnostics becomes
    simple….the cure possible.

    Confused.com
    Kamtan

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