Disunity: We Need To Call A Truce

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Nations rise and nations fall. Such has been the history of humanity. Studies have been done to determine causal and warning patterns. Books have been written on the rise and fall of nations that attempt to encapsulate and elucidate the research for the common reader. Yet none have summed it up as simply as Jesus Christ did about 2,000 years ago.

Jesus said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.” As we stagger along in Jamaica, trying to raise ourselves up, raise our standard of living, raise the rate of economic growth, raise ourselves from defeat, and get on to our independent feet, we seem to have forgotten this axiom — a country divided cannot stand.

If we accept this, if we believe it, then we must recognise that our seemingly perpetual inability to stand can be traced right back to our disunity. In some places there is disunity that results from the presence of different ethnic groups that are hostile. Jamaica doesn’t have this issue — we are approximately 92 per cent black. Although there have been levels of racial hostility here, let’s not fool ourselves that this is a major cause of violence in Jamaica.


The artificial divide

The plain truth, if we are willing to accept it, is that the disunity in Jamaica; the disunity that has brought us to our knees; the disunity that prevents us from standing today, is the political tribalism that grips so many facets of our collective life. It has been referred to by some as “warring tribes fighting for scarce benefits and spoils”.

On Thursday, September 14, Jamaica Observer columnist Michael Burke, in his article titled, ‘Violence did not start in the 1970s’, accused me of being selective with the dates I chose regarding the introduction of political, tribal violence in Jamaica. Michael doesn’t seem to understand that, regardless of the decade selected, or the chief instigators of the moment, the fact is that our divisive political tribalism is the primary cause and maintaining factor of our disunity. It is also the seedbed that feeds crime and violence. It has got to cease now, before it causes us to implode as a nation.

The insidious nature of this form of tribalism is that it has no real face. You can’t look at a member of either tribe and distinguish them as such because, in reality, they have much more in common than what is different. Perhaps this is why we became so keen on different party colours — they needed an artificial means to identify the groups that had been artificially divided in the first place.

A part of the great deception that I referred to last week Sunday is the fact that we have ignored the root problem of disunity and focused instead on the fruit issue of crime. Or, as some of my good column-writing colleagues do, focus on casting blame at the ‘other side’, even while being aware of the role that their ‘own side’ has played to accentuate the divisiveness.


Disunity, the destroyer

We usually refer to crime as the number one problem in the country. On closer examination, however, we see that the root that produces crime is division. Despite the fact that crime is a fruit or symptom and not the root issue, all the focus and resources are thrown at it, leaving the root to flourish and develop and keep contributing to the production of more fruit. It is disunity that is a destroyer!

This disunity, primarily reflected in political tribal culture, is reinforced by the political garrisons and donmanship system. Admittedly, the disunity is also evident in Christendom and in our ‘them’ and ‘us’, uptown and downtown stratified society.

It is disunity and divisiveness and the injustices that are a natural result that form the seedbed from which crime and violence flourish. The perpetrators or foot soldiers of crime and violence are simply acting out or reflecting the injustice they received and are perpetrating injustice on others. They become the most visible evidence of disunity as they commit their grievous acts of murder and mayhem. But let’s not forget that they are empowered, organised and mobilised for political and financial gain by the warring ‘generals’ who remain hidden in the shadows of government and business.


From undeclared war to peace

We need to come to grips with the fact that we have a death toll higher than many places that are actually at war. This validates the fact that we have factions warring against each other, and therefore we are at war. We have an undeclared war, and in truth we are not prepared to call it that — another indication of the great deception which I wrote about last week Sunday.

Historically, the leaders of the two political tribes have not acknowledged that they are in deliberate conflict, preferring to call the violence in our society ‘the crime problem’. Referring to it like this absolves them of their responsibility and locates the issue at the lowest levels of our stratified society — one stemming from and belonging to the poor classes. As a result, what we really have is a horizontal conflict (People’s National Party vs Jamaica Labour Party, garrison vs garrison, politically aligned gang vs politically aligned gang) masquerading as a vertical conflict (the ‘bad ghetto youth’ shooting, robbing and killing each other and the ‘good law-abiding citizens’. And so, our approach is: We need to control them or kill them.

The reality is, there is a war going on and the country cannot flourish in a time of war. We need to call a truce. But the foot soldiers cannot call an effective and sustained truce; only the generals can do so. But in Jamaica, the generals are still denying that there is a war going on. This may be either a part of a deliberate deception used as strategy in the war, or possibly they may be deceived themselves.

We need to arrive at a truce so that we can resolve conflicts and attain lasting peace. From peace we could then move towards unity. Imagine with me what the outcome would be if the two generals were to publicly call a truce and order all the foot soldiers to put down their arms. This would be the necessary first step towards unity.


Unite or die

Unity is strength. Only unity can adequately displace disunity. Do we believe this? Do our political leaders believe it? If they do, then breaking the back of the divisive political tribalism must become a priority. This is an element that they have control over, and the cost to deal with it is not so much financial as it is personal.

It is an issue of pride. Pride requires humility and love for others, as well as for self, in order to overcome it. Will our party leaders and parliamentarians be humble enough and loving enough to tackle this matter with immediacy? Will they admit the wrongs of the past, commit to a new direction, and exhort their people by example to unite and put Jamaica first?

No nation can develop to its highest potential, overcome the social ills, and lead its people into peace and prosperity while preserving a state of disunity. Disunity makes it easy for corruption to thrive and injustice to prevail, as there are not many hearts to care or ears to hear and respond to the cries of the suffering. It is clear that uniting the nation is an imperative and must become a priority.

We must unite for the sake of our children and their future. We must unite for the sake of self-preservation from crime and violence. We must unite for personal and national economic prosperity. We must unite to win and succeed.


What will it take to

Who can unite the nation? A man, an institution, a new political movement, civil society, the Church, the business sector, a mature political leader who is bold and can think outside the box? Is the honesty, humility, will and courage present to do this? I believe our two current generals would be more ready and willing to act if a credible mediator could pull it together. This process has to be led. But who will lead it?


Calling the Church

This is the hour for the Church to rise in maturity and take the lead. The Church should be a leading voice and player at this time. Some may question whether the Church itself is too divided, but in the Church we have more in common than different. The differences are, in reality, surface issues. The formation and continued action of the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches demonstrate that the Church is not as divided as it appears, and the majority can quickly mobilise when there is a cause.

Church leaders, is there not a cause? Isn’t a divided, crime-ridden, corrupt nation enough? What about a people suffering daily injustice, trapped in garrisons with a donmanship culture and poverty from which they cannot extricate themselves? Is that not a call for compassion and radical action?


And politicians, too…

Political parties play an important role in a nation, but they are not the nation. They must not lead the people into believing that their identity and hopes of survival rest in party allegiance. Such thinking is no different from a gang culture. Is this what we are determined to live with in perpetuity? I hope not, so let’s correct it fast.

Political identity is not national identity, so we must stop this message that party allegiance is more important than patriotism. We are Jamaicans first and foremost, and it should only be by choice that people support a party at any given time, and only because it is for the common good.

When the People’s National Party and Jamaica Labour Party are seriously ready to deal with this matter, here are some suggestions on what they could do:

• Host united public meetings in all constituencies, declaring a new way forward. Hold public meetings in garrisons with a new message.

• Identify the common messages so that they may be carried and repeated in every place, at every opportunity.

• We can reorder the society if there is the will to do so. We did it in the 70s and 80s. Let’s do it now and reverse the negative and set a positive course for us and our children.


Back on track

It took us only 43 years to fall into warring tribes and become the murder capital of the world. Let us determine to dislodge disunity by the opposite force of unity, and apply it in greater abundance and with intensity. It took us a generation to entrench the destructive force of disunity. Let us, in five years, aggressively remove and replace it with unity.

Our national development train was pushed off the track by disunity. We must now by unity get it back on track. For a people who are united, nothing is impossible. So, let’s unite the country now. We need a response on this matter from the generals. What say you?

Copyright © 2017 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.

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