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A Time To Break Silence

BAHAMAS – we need a soul check. For the last several weeks, I watched my country at the hands of its government, go to and fro about an incident of gross abuse our government knew happened on Bahamian soil to human beings – not to inanimate objects, not to objects with no soul – to living, breathing human beings.

In a revolting haze of political expediency, corruption, indifference and prejudice, Bahamians were riled to anger and confusion; though not because of the question of man’s inhumanity to man, but through a false sense of patriotism and the cancer of blind political allegiance.

The current Cuban detainee issue that got so many of us riled up is not about politics. This is about human lives – human lives created by the same God you say created you. And it is about what happened to those lives in a country we love to tell the world is a Christian nation.

It’s the end of the week – a Friday, and a good enough time as any for a soul check.

Answer this question truthfully and honestly in your heart and mind: if you have a child, mother, father, sister, brother, lover or loved one in a foreign country and they get assaulted, and everyone who you’ve tried to reach out to there won’t respond to you, and on top of it the powers that be there are saying your loved one wasn’t assaulted at all – how would you feel and what would you do?

No excuses. No political arguments. Just keep it real – how would you feel and what would you do?

We’ve watched our Foreign Affairs Minister and then our Prime Minister – two natural disgraces to the offices they hold – toss out story after story, excuse after excuse, keeping Bahamians in the dark about matters that have now impacted the reputation of all Bahamians, no matter where we stand on the issue.

But Bahamas, remember this – everything happens for a reason. It was no incidental turn of fate that Prime Minister Christie spoke at America’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington.

What the Prime Minister surely didn’t know, was that speaking engagement and his presence there opened the door for Dr King’s own words to become a prophetic open rebuke and exposure of him and the deeds of his government.

Shameless was Mr Christie’s pride, standing in the cradle of Dr King’s legacy extolling freedom for Americans, while withholding from his own people, freedom of information on what was taking place in their own country.

There he was, speaking on a world stage about human liberties, while presiding over his government’s lies to that same world about human liberties abused in his own country; and not just of recent Cuban detainees, but of persons including Bahamians themselves, who over the years have been trampled on by their government or who have been physically assaulted or even killed while in the custody of the State, and for whom justice has yet to be done or seen to be done.

Mr Christie, who along with his Ministers routinely lambastes anyone who chooses to stand against their unjust actions, stand rebuked in this hour by Dr King’s words of protest against the actions of his own government pronounced back in 1967, ironically the same year we now officially recognise as the anniversary of majority rule.

Taking a stand against his government’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Dr King in his famous speech “A Time to Break Silence” said: “A time comes when silence is betrayal. Men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness so close around us… We are called upon to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

Bahamas, if you’ve just read that quote by Dr King, I invite you to read it again; for these words are so deep, so profound and so perfectly relevant to what’s happening in our country right now that I can end my column at this stage and the on-time message for our country would have been delivered.

Silence Broken, Report Released

“A time comes when silence is betrayal. Men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.” Dr King’s war reference was to a live battlefield, but in life there are wars and then there are wars.

Our war in this country is against a government that has determined that at all costs, it will keep us in the dark about our rights and keep us in the dark about the decisions they are making in our name.

And in our culture generally, we are fighting a war of the ingrained mindset that says keep silent, turn a blind eye, don’t call out wrongdoing, see like you don’t see and hear like you don’t hear.

Do you know which battlefields that mindset has created in our modern-day Bahamas? Our homes and our streets, where the culture of silence about wrongdoing has mothers crying, children dying inside and everyday Bahamians drowning in tears of social ills asking life “why?”

When you keep silent in the face of wrongdoing, that silence does not protect the victim you know, it protects the people who already have more than enough power to protect themselves. Look at your own life – if you are being violated and mistreated right now and you stay silent about it, who gets protected – you or your abuser?

In my column last week, I named the biggest abuser in this entire disgraceful affair – the ones who have more than enough power to protect our country, its reputation and the rights of those in the custody of the State – our government.

This charade of silence our government has been playing with us for months through withholding the truth on what occurred at our Detention Centre in Nassau was all about trying to protect themselves, their political reputations and their political legacies. It never had a thing to do with protecting The Bahamas.

But their charade of silence got shattered this week, through the leak of the Detention Centre report that for months the government arrogantly refused to turn over to the Bahamian people.

The power was stripped from their hands and put into your hands through the release of the report that now proves our government has been lying to us all along about what really happened in this Cuban detainee controversy.

This week became “a time to break silence” for Prime Minister Christie and his government – just like Dr King declared. This week, Mr Christie and his government stand judged before the Bahamian people and the world, and it brings to mind one of Dr King’s best known quotes: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Mr Christie’s Foreign Minister spent weeks amping up the rhetoric about who our “enemies” were in all this. But now in this, their week of judgment, our true enemies have been exposed, and they are seated right around that Cabinet table.

From now throughout the recorded history of our country, we will as Dr King said, not remember the impassioned words of protest by those they said were our enemies, but rather the silence of our own people – our government – who knew the wrong that occurred and not only remained silent about it, but went to great lengths to hide it and lie to us and the world.

Their silence was betrayal – betrayal of us, betrayal of our trust, betrayal of the rule of law and most of all, an atrocious betrayal of humanity, decency and justice.

What Would You Do?

It’s true that nobody likes their country’s name to be talked badly about – even when we deserve it – but what deeply disturbed me about how many of us reacted to this incident is how we as a nation almost completely overlooked the fact that this issue is about actual human beings.

Dr King’s “break silence” speech said: “…for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

This is something that I pray to God Bahamians who call themselves Christians or believers in God would learn. A piece of paper, be it a visa, work permit, citizenship, etc is what many of us use to view people as less than important, less than entitled to basic human rights, less than our brothers, less than human.

Does a lack of an entry visa make a human being God made, less human? Do those documents “from human hands” as Dr King said, make a man less than part of mankind? Do you realise that many of us devalue human beings just because they don’t have a certain “document from human hands”?

We allow our frustrations about illegal immigration to cause us to react toward migrants as though they are less human than we are, and thus whatever happens to them in our eyes, doesn’t matter. Which God taught you that?

Jesus said that what you do to the least among you, you do to Him. So every time you look down on or devalue another person simply because of a piece of paper or lack thereof, you do the same to the Christ you claim to believe in and/or serve.

Dr King said, “…We are called upon to speak for the weak, for the voiceless…”. At the moment those beatings were occurring at the Detention Centre, the victims were both the weak and the voiceless. And not one Bahamian spoke for them during that time, with the government calling anyone who later would “traitors”.

For those who believe in Scripture, you know Jesus said if you as His creation refuse to praise Him, “the rocks will cry out” in your place. What Christ was saying to us was that if we refuse to declare what is true in the earth, He will cause that truth to come from elsewhere.

Since our government refused to declare the truth in this matter, the truth wound up being declared by “the rocks who cried out” – the family members and demonstrators in South Florida who began to call the world’s attention to what was being hidden by our inhumane and wholly corrupt government.

Our government as such, is a teeming ignominy to the Flag and to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas for which it stands, because it boldly told Bahamians and the world that The Bahamas is a country that covers up human abuses and is proud to do so because that’s what being a “good Bahamian” is all about.

All truly good and proud Bahamians ought to now therefore demand that every single government Minister responsible, in the words of Prime Minister Christie during a media interview last week, pays the immediate “political price” for putting this label and this shame on you before the world.

And as for Bahamians in the public service, in the uniformed branches and in the general public who knew of what happened at the Detention Centre and said nothing, as well as all other Bahamians who expressed no outrage as they watched the way their government handled this and handled us, I give you these words by Dr King: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

Prime Minister Christie, the silence your government has perpetrated has been broken, and in Dr King’s words, “…we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness so close around us.”

Sharon Turner,
Tribune Column

Posted in Opinions

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