Who is my neighbor?
In the House of Assembly yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced a $100,000 donation The Bahamas received from the Federated States of Micronesia. The country’s President David Panuelo presented a check to the prime minister after the former addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) last week.
Micronesia comprises 600 islands and islets in the Caroline Islands archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean. It is one of the smallest countries in the world, with a population of about 109,000 and a GDP of approximately $335 million. By comparison, the GDP of The Bahamas is approximately $12.16 billion. The budget of the Ministry of Education is larger than the national budget of Micronesia.
Micronesia is about 8,080 miles from The Bahamas. The flying time to the archipelago, with an average speed of 560 miles, is approximately 15 hours.
Few Bahamians have heard of the small island nation under even graver threat from the global climate emergency than The Bahamas. But this economically poorer and smaller country was moved to donate a generous sum to our country in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
In “Climate Change: The Single Greatest Threat to Our Existence”, Chad Blair describes the threat of the dire climate emergency on small Pacific island-states:
“Global warming may force the inhabitants of these far-flung Pacific atolls to move once again as the very land they live on gives way to rising tides, groundwater contamination and the loss of local fisheries.
“Global warming is bringing warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, more volatile storms, record droughts and torrential floods to the islands of Micronesia. And its evidence is everywhere. …
“‘When I was a kid,’ says Wilfred Robert, the chief of staff to the governor of Chuuk (a state in Micronesia), ‘I would go spear-fishing at high tide, and I would catch fish this big,’ indicating the length from his elbow to his hand. Today, he says, the catch is more likely to be only the size of his hand.
“For many Pacific Islanders, global warming is an issue of simple survival. As sea levels are expected to rise by one to four feet by the end of this century, risks include threats to water and food security, with freshwater tables becoming spoiled by seawater and flooding destroying the fields of taro and breadfruit — the ‘staple of life.’”
Because of their experience, countries like Micronesia are deeply empathetic to the existential threats we share as low-lying countries on the frontlines and coastlines of an overheating planet.
The donation by Micronesia is a double parable. It is a blend or parabolic alloy of the widow’s mite and the parable of the Good Samaritan. In both stories of exuberant and sacrificial generosity, it is the “least among us” who comes to the aid of “the other” in need, regardless of the latter’s status.
The widow gives all that she has. The Samaritan, one of the more marginalized in their society, gives succor and comfort to the traveler beaten and left for dead at the side of the road.
The bourgeois priest and Levite, reminiscent of some of the smug Bahamian elite and middle and upper middle class, do not want to spoil and soil their gated privilege with the needs of the less fortunate in the body of Christ: the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner and the others they prefer to hear about in the Gospels but whom they often disregard in daily life.
After Hurricane Irma devastated our neighbor and CARICOM partner Dominica, some, like Pineridge MP Rev. Frederick McAlpine, vehemently opposed schoolchildren from the ravaged country enrolling in schools in The Bahamas.
When asked the moral question: “Who is my neighbor?” following the devastation in Dominica, the reverend and others responded: “Not the people of Dominica!”
It is a moral rejoinder that defense force officers from other Caribbean nations are in Abaco helping to rebuild damaged infrastructure and Bahamian children stranded by the hurricane are being welcomed into American schools.
Members of the Jamaica Defence Force helped to repair a government-operated school in Central Abaco. Our Caribbean partners are proving empathetic and good neighbors.
Reportedly, among the first world leaders to call Dr. Minnis after Dorian’s assault, was Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, whose country has also pledged funds to The Bahamas despite still struggling to recover from Irma’s wrath.
The immigration laws of The Bahamas must be vigorously upheld. The country cannot allow unfettered entry of illegal migrants. There must be a clear but humane policy of repatriation.
Successive governments failed to address the problems in shantytowns, including on Abaco. Many Bahamians were complicit in exploiting or using the labor of illegal migrants.
Illegal migrants from Haiti who were in Abaco during the hurricane should be given a certain amount of time before being repatriated. Some of them have lost loved ones and all of their worldly possessions. They should be given time to mourn.
Sadly, the virulent and often vulgar, uncharitable, un-Christian venom against Haitians following Hurricane Dorian is a moral stain on our country.
Too many Bahamians believe that they are superior to Haitians, similar to the mindset of many whites in America, who believe that they are superior to black people.
There is deep psychological substrate to the prejudice and hatred by some Bahamians toward Haitians. Some of us are rejecting and struggling against our own black identity and some are lashing out at their Haitian ancestry.
Haiti’s defeat of the French army 200 years ago inspired black liberation movements worldwide. But it came at an extraordinary cost.
The Western powers of the day feared the success of black Haiti would inspire slave revolts across their territories. For a time they would not trade with Haiti.
Extortionary reparations were forced upon Haiti by its former colonial master France, money it would take the country more than a century to pay back.
Haiti was also invaded and occupied by the United States multiple times in the 20th century. We owe respect for a revolution and a people upon whom our emancipation and liberation struggles also rest.
We should respect this legacy as we craft a humane and just immigration policy regime as a country, shunning the demonization of others that is the hallmark of much of the Donald Trump era in the United States of America.
The Minnis administration should adopt an immigration policy that adheres to our laws, but is also humane and compassionate, upholding the human dignity of migrants.
The bellicose pandering rhetoric by some government ministers and others is noxious and disgraceful. The world and posterity are marking the manner of our bearing.
In tone and substance the government must be balanced and careful in addressing the complex issue of illegal immigration.
No administration should govern fueled by the hysteria generated by social media posts, many of which are fake and some of which are purposefully designed to foster hysteria, including by some political operatives.
Echoing the alarm sounded by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley during her UNGA remarks, Sir Ronald Saunders wrote recently of the increasing number of climate refugees, which will grow dramatically.
Following devastating hurricanes in Antigua and Barbuda and in The Bahamas, citizens and residents of the affected areas in these countries had other islands or areas in their respective countries to which to relocate after Barbuda, Ragged Island, Abaco and swaths of Grand Bahama were devastated.
But what will happen when New Providence is eventually devastated by a behemoth like Dorian? What will become of the residents of Nassau when we are the climate refugees after losing loved ones and homes?
Perhaps we will understand the sting of our own xenophobia, prejudice and venom when we are demonized and reviled in the very manner we are doing unto others.
It is depressing how smug, self-absorbed and arrogant are many of the residents of New Providence, who in attitude and language, especially through social media, have demonstrated unkind and un-Christian behavior, especially after Dorian.
A post of a distressed woman at a shopping plaza recently made the rounds on WhatsApp. How is it that we are so cruel that anyone would record the incident and then pass it on? That distressed lady is also our neighbor. She could be our sister, mother, relative or friend.
How do we go to church to worship and ask mercy from the Lord of life and then rush out of church to resend the vilest and latest memes, many of which are falsehoods and lies? Where is our conscience?
Sadly, the anger and negativity resident in many Bahamians is the expression of the dark, unsettled and unhappy interior lives of many.
The late Monsignor Preston Moss often expressively noted: “If someone doesn’t transform their s***, then they will transmit it to others.”
In the poem “Creating an Enemy”, poet Sam Keen describes the process of demonization:
“Start with an empty canvas
Sketch in broad outline the forms of
men, women, and children.
“Dip into the unconsciousness well of your own
with a wide brush and
stain the strangers with the sinister hue
of the shadow.
“Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed,
hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as
“Obscure the sweet individuality of each face.
“Erase all hints of the myriad loves, hopes,
fears that play through the kaleidoscope of
every infinite heart.
“Twist the smile until it forms the downward
arc of cruelty.
“Strip flesh from bone until only the
abstract skeleton of death remains.
“Exaggerate each feature until man is
metamorphosed into beast, vermin, insect.
“Fill in the background with malignant
figures from ancient nightmares – devils,
demons, myrmidons of evil.
“When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.
“The thing you destroy will have become
merely an enemy of God, an impediment
to the sacred dialectic of history.”
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