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Raffique Shah


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Leaders or Liars

By Raffique Shah
February 1, 2021

I prefix what I write here today with an article of faith that I have learnt to value, especially as I grow older: speak up, speak out, whenever I feel strongly about something, when I see lies being promoted as the truth, when I see evil portrayed as good, mine must be a voice of reason in a world that appears to be consumed by misinformation at a time when 'fake news' is ingested by herds of humans and regurgitated as gospel truths.

I am thankful to a friend—we were comrades at Sandhurst when we were young, full of life, adventuresome, daring—a wild Scotsman we called Jock-for forwarding to me a lovely poem by Brazilian poet/essayist Mario de Andrade (1893-1945), innocuously titled 'My soul has a hat'.

“I counted my years/& realised that I have/less time to live by/than I have lived so far/…I feel like a child who won a pack of candies/ at first he ate them with pleasure/But when he realised there was little left/he began to taste them intensely/…I no longer have the patience /to stand absurd people who/despite their chronological age/have not grown up/…I want to live next to humans/very realistic people who know/how to laugh at their mistakes/who are not inflated by their own triumphs/and who take responsibility for their actions/in this way human dignity is defended/and we live in truth and honesty…

De Andrade concludes: “Yes, I'm in a hurry/I'm in a hurry to live with the intensity that only maturity can give/…I do not intend to waste any of the remaining desserts/…We have two lives/…and the second begins when you realise you only have one…” Powerful! Pregnant with interpretations that only the mature, those of us who have lived for many years and who have kept our brains active and our minds positive, can truly understand.

I see a worrisome trend taking root, the emergence of leaders who are not by any stretch charismatic in the mode that we know, men and women who can mesmerise the masses as they peddle pure hate, not love. They misuse their talents as orators and scribes to create negative energies, to spark palls of death and destruction over the lands they inhabit or invade, in the latter case using technologies that modern man has invented and perfected to reach the gullible just about everywhere that the simple mobile phone, to use one example, can.

Adolf Hitler inserted his brand of national socialism in Europe, and went on to threaten, almost conquer, the entire world. Hitler managed to gain control of the Government following a fire that partly destroyed the Reichstag in Berlin, the equivalent of our Red House. That happened in February, 1933. Hitler had wormed his way to being appointed chancellor of Germany although his Nazi party did not have a majority in the parliament. The communists, who had made gains in the most recent of multiple elections, were targeted by Hitler for the fire. Hermann Goering, who was head of the interior ministry, locked up thousands of communists, including many parliamentarians.

A young Dutch communist named van der Lubbe was convicted and sentenced to death for arson. He was beheaded, and Hitler and the Nazis thereafter cruised their way into power largely based on the false narrative about the Reichstag fire. The rest, as they say, is history. Oh, there was a minor aside: in 2008, seventy-five years after he was beheaded and World War II had inflicted hundreds of millions of death and trillions of dollars in destruction across the world, van der Lubbe was exonerated by the German government. He had been the victim of 'a little lie'.

Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it, according to an aphorism credited to Spanish philosopher George Santayana. In today's world that is supposed to be far advanced to the era that spawned the Nazi savage Hitler, the communist tyrant Josef Stalin, and scores of other leaders, supposedly of stature, but many of them in reality no less savage than their more notorious contemporaries, we are wallowing in cesspools of lies that politicians in power and out of office wear like badges of honour.

Donald Trump, who had to be almost literally ejected from the presidency of the USA, lied more than he breathed. He lied for fun, he lied to discredit his opponents, even his friends. Worse than him are scores of senators, law-makers and other high office-holders who worship King Liar as if he is their deity. And even worse, if there is a way to define such, are millions of beasts-in-human-form who believe the liar is God.

What a thing.

And what of us here in Trinidad and Tobago? Do we have liars among our leaders? Or are all our leaders liars? I should like to pursue these questions as we go along.

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