RACISM & NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS | NEWS/COMMENTARY


Gibson’s Book is Propaganda – Frederick Kissoon

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(Dated Piece – October 16, 2002)

This is the second part of my letter on Kean Gibson’s book, The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana (SN, Sep. 28). Ms. Gibson makes a bold claim in revisionist history – that a vicious caste system in Hindu religion makes for an unmitigated racist hatred of other people and the African Guyanese are seen as the lowest common denominator by this caste system. Historically, the Hindu community with its Brahmin anthropological superiority wanted to rid British Guiana and subsequently, Guyana of the presence of the lower caste, and that caste is the African Guyanese perceived by the Hindu religion as the personification of evil.

The race riots of the sixties, according to this linguistics scholar at UWI, was the first major attempt at the fascistization and nazification of Guyana on the part of Hindus whose main vehicle is the People’s Progressive Party. Since that time, Africans have been visited by violence perpetrated by this party, and the African-Guyanese is now literally facing extinction at the hands of the state in Guyana. Two forces have been set upon the African community – the PPP and the police force.

Twentieth century revisionist history began with AJP Taylor’s classical and spectacular masterpiece, The Origin of the Second World War. Since then, revisionist history in the academic world has picked up momentum and is now standard methodology in the social science investigation of historical and social phenomena. A group of Indian intellectuals in the diaspora is working on a revisionist interpretation of Cheddi Jagan’s role in history. The West On Trial is coming under intensive probe for its personalistic and subjective account of people and events in Guyanese history. For example, a reliance on the West On Trial leads you to the condemnation of many important figures who may have been portrayed by Cheddi Jagan in his book as unpatriotic and anti-democratic because they opposed his communist zealotry.

Kean Gibson’s book is an extremely poor, and is in fact a propagandistic attempt at revisionist history. In adopting an iconoclastic style, one naturally puts a radical and unique interpretation to past events. In the case of Gibson, there is simply no radical analysis but a highly-charged, emotional opinion-making process of events in the sixties. It goes something like this. African people were killed in the sixties because the Hindu caste system didn’t like them. Another example should drive home the point. She says Jagan held a victory rally in Georgetown because he wanted to kill the African losers of the election, that is, Burnham’s supporters. Ms. Gibson is writing about the sixties at a time when Kwayana’s booklet, No Guilty Race is available to the public. Ms. Gibson rejects the core argument of Kwayana and vehemently asserts that in the sixties, the Hindus were the guilty race.

There is absolutely no serious attempt or any attempt at all to dissect important, crucial events and give them a scholarly assessment. It is for this reason that, I believe, Ms. Gibson may not have been the only composer of this little book or may have been incited to write this emotional appeal as part of an extremist, racist fringe group to which she belongs. Her booklet is an unapologetic regurgitation of racist diatribes for which she may well get herself into trouble with the law. We are thus coming to answer the crucial question why she wrote the book. I will leave that for the third section of this. But for now readers should be introduced to samples of her fictional account of Guyanese history.

It is generally accepted throughout the scholarly world that Guyana’s problem began with the split in the PPP with the emergence of a Burnham stratum and Jagan faction. The rest all Guyanese know about. Since that schism in the nationalist movement, racial insecurity and race based politics together with the PPP’s communist proclivities have been the root causes for over fifty years of social stagnation. In penning these lines here one feels self- insulted doing so in a review of a book written by a Guyanese scholar who teaches at a university. These lines in this letter should be written for high school students who are now entering preparatory work for CXC. Which Guyanese doesn’t know about the role of the PNC and its African base and the PPP and its Indian base? Which Guyanese doesn’t know about the competition for power by these two leviathans that are hopelessly trapped in the politics of ethnic insecurity. The sociologist calls it Guyana’s ethnic problematic.

Up comes Ms. Gibson and tells us that the key to understanding the mistrust between the races, the reason for the killings in the sixties, the political dilemma throughout the ages, and the fragile stage we are at in this moment in time is because the Hindu caste system with its dual belief of good and evil is the real determinant of Guyana’s social history.

And to crown it all, not one single item of evidence is cited to support this sensationalistic, fictional, irascible exclamation. To add insult to injury is the childish descent into description by Ms. Gibson. For example, all laws passed by the PPP in the sixties, the PPP budgets, programs etc are all manifestations of the invocations of the Bhagavad Gita with the caste system being the driving force.

What is appalling is that Ms. Gibson violates all the elementary requirements of research. In research, when theory is developed, it is then applied to actual phenomena to show the correctness of theory. This is simple. If a breakdown in the national economy is the cause of crime, then what the researcher does if he/she accepts that in Yellow Range village, the high incidence of rape was due to unemployment, is to study the demography of the area and look at the unemployment statistics before making that didactic conclusion. The demographic study of Yellow Range village must be done because the researcher stands to face permanent condemnation if it is proven a neighbouring village has a higher percentage of unemployment and less economic activities but a non-existent crime rate. This brings to mind the false argument of some politicians that the crime madness in Buxton was due to economic deprivation. Some of us argued that Buxton was a social paradise compared to hundreds of ravaged villages all over Guyana, yet no one was blowing off businessmen’s heads in those depressed enclaves. Buxton was a terror zone because politics and not economics sought a marriage with crime

Finally, it is obvious that in writing her booklet, Kean Gibson didn’t consult any of the endless research materials on Guyanese politics from the split in the fifties to the final days of the Hoyte regime. If she had done that she would have known that throughout this period, the Hindu politicians she called Brahmins first sided with Burnham after the break-up. Then formed the United Force with D’Aguiar, then built up a relation with the Burnham regime, and sought and got a close patron-client relationship with the Hoyte government. Now if you accept Gibson’s theory of the fascist, racist nature of the Hindu caste system, then these “Brahmins” would not have touched African leaders even with a ten foot pole. And as true devotees of the Bhagavad Gita, they would have zealously become Papa Cheddi’s foot soldiers. Ms. Gibson has to learn more about the importance of profits over religious sentiments.

I regard this booklet as a pamphlet, whether wilfully or not designed to encourage feelings of hate. And my main contention is that it is a descent into everyday demagoguery and not a work based on research using scholarly methodologies.

Who did Gibson speak with? Where are Gibson’s facts? One supporter of Gibson wrote in the Kaieteur and Stabroek that people should not attack Gibson’s scholarship, which they cannot match. But there is no scholarship in Gibson’s booklet as we will come to see. When I heard about the book, I sought to get it because I figured that Guyana is in dire need of a new approach to our history, and that traditional explanations need to be attacked. My guess was that Gibson went into some archives, was given access to some private libraries, and took possession of some valuable private papers and letters and would unveil a masterpiece in a new interpretation of Guyana’s political history.

I was kind of suspicious at first because of her Channel 9 sojourns; but you were inclined to read her because she is a Guyanese scholar. I reclined under a tree in the National Park early one morning and read Gibson. I was annoyed with myself. I took the booklet, folded it into my newspapers, stuck it between a tree branch and went jogging. I was immensely disappointed that someone of Gibson’s academic stature could write such nonsense. And there is no better word to describe this little booklet.

Readers will now be impatient because I still haven’t told them why she wrote the book. But that will come clearly to readers when the aridities of her thesis are exposed. Let’s highlight some of her irritating non-starters. Her footnotes tell the whole story. There are no quotations from the editorials of any of the three dailies or scholarly papers by Guyanese academics. She relies exclusively on tapes of Channel 9 and CNS Channel 6. She has no use for the programmes of other channels.

One is at a loss to understand why in writing a book on Guyana’s racial division, Gibson would quote extensively from these two channels that are in fact political outfits. One is very close to the opposition PNC, the other is run by a politician. Where is the researcher’s suspicion of such material? This is almost a sacred rule in research; you cannot take as gospel the words of politicians. This is an unforgivable sin of Ms. Gibson.

So what do we have? Ms. Gibson makes use, heavy use of what callers said on the talk-show programs on Channel 9 and the Voice of the People on Channel 6. Is this what research has come down to? Is this what scholarship has come down to? A university lecturer analyzes racism in Guyana and her sources are the people who phone into TV programs to voice their opinions? Alan Fenty, the Stabroek News columnist, alerted the public two years ago to the modus operandi of these talk-show hosts. Fenty described a situation when the microphones were inadvertently left on, and the host was directing his friend when to come on and what to say. Since then, Guyanese know what these shows are like. Perhaps with the exception of Gibson who doesn’t live in Guyana.

You are both mad and entertained when you search through the footnotes of Gibson’s book. She tells us a teacher commented on the phone to a Channel 9 host on what a student told her when she asked him what he would do if he became president. He said he would shoot Black people. Ms. Gibson seems fascinated with these callers because these callers portray the reality of Guyana. But far from it, these callers are anything but real, sensible people. And poor Ms. Gibson gets taken in by these fulminations which she transforms into research materials.

Let’s have some more samples. She said it was Indians who were robbing Indian victims and making it look like African Guyanese. And how does Ms. Gibson know this? Because a caller to Channel 6 phoned Mr. Sharma and confessed that she got robbed and it was an Indian who did it.

Ms. Gibson relates a story for us in which someone met her on the street and told her if you are not an East Indian in Guyana, then you are a nobody. In another instance, a caller on Channel 9 showed the popularity of the African struggle against Indian racism when she said she was Amerindian and the Amerindian people support the marches in George-town. Even if Ms. Gibson was impressed with that exclamation, research requirements dictated that, with her intention to use that expression, she ought to have sought the views of Amerindian community leaders. Chapter 4 is punctuated with these silly expressions taken from those two channels and well-known extremist commentators. In the last instalment I will make a distinction between normative interpretation and descriptive distortion to show the true intention of this political diatribe masquerading as social-science writing.

This is my final instalment on Ms. Gibson’s book. I hope to complete two tasks here; explain why she wrote the book, and secondly expose her conversion of reality into fiction. There is a tendency among researchers to get emotionally close to their subject of investigation. If you are doing a book on the sherpas of the Himalayas, chances are you will make lasting friendship with some of them. The same goes for tribes of the Amazons. Ms. Gibson’s academic interests are African art forms. In Guyana, she encountered African-Guyanese who felt strongly about the nature of the PPP regime and the supposed political domination of its East Indian constituencies. Ms. Gibson, accepting these sentiments, became a convert to the cause of an extremist, racist group. Her contribution to its cause was to put a respectable, academic cover on the far-fetched, zany allegations this frenzied cabal is accustomed to propagating on Channel 9. In doing so, Ms. Gibson has espoused a political cause. Nothing wrong with that; but everything is wrong when scholarship is used for the purpose of propaganda. Even spinning is more acceptable than this type of political behaviour.

Ms. Gibson’s book is an invidious, insidious, conspiratorial, vicious apology for the perpetratoGrs of a post-1997 regime of violence. You can argue that there are many forms of violence and that governmental oppression is equivalent to mayhem others in society create. But to deny the pain and brutality heaped upon innocent citizens because of their ethnic make-up is offensive when coming from the halls of academia. She is guilty of turning the victim into the criminal and transforming the criminal into an innocent, oppressed being. In this sense, Ms. Gibson is guilty of embracing the call to violence. Her book is replete with examples of denying the traumas of the victims of race-crime and making them out to be the perpetrators. Some examples will be hard for the average reader to digest, but they prove the point that everything is wrong about this booklet.

During the 1997 and 2001 election campaign, she said the PNC campaigned on a multi-racial ticket, the PPP did not. It was the open endorsement of a race-based election program that caused Indian people to beat African citizens during post-election violence. And then she gives us the episodes. The Indian village of Enterprise attacked the African enclave of Bachelor’s Adventure. An African woman watching a fire in Robb Street was shot dead by PPP activists. But here is where dishonesty creeps into Ms. Gibson’s description. She simply said the woman was watching a fire. What the woman was watching was an inferno in Georgetown in which Indian businesses were being burnt. I was there and two incidents saddened me when I saw a modern Western nation like Guyana descending to the level of barbarity. At the GAWU head office on Regent Street, a mob began to chase my cousin and his GAWU colleagues back into the burning building as they ran from the flames. The only way out was to drive crazily out of the compound in a 4X4; that saved them.

Then next to Jerome Khan’s business in Robb Street, upstairs of an electrical store, as the family fled the flames, the crowd were pelting them with huge stones. The crowd then worked itself up into a frenzy and began cutting the hose of the fire engines. If according to Ms. Gibson, as she said on page 39, the 2001 election victory was a triumph for the Hindu caste system and its hatred for Africans, then I can tell her that on that fateful night when Regent and Robb Streets were on fire, the Hindu caste system was standing like a coward desperately trying to get out of a burning city. And it wasn’t Hindus who were rallying around the bonfires of hate that evening.

Ms. Gibson goes on to tell us about the acts of Indians killing Africans because the PPP had won the 2001 poll. She described an African pedestrian being beaten to death on a village road, then an Indian mob lynched an African labourer at his workplace. In doing this review, I failed to find any evidence of this even though I went through the newspapers with a fine tooth comb. It is interesting for the researcher to juxtapose two manuscripts – Ms. Gibson’s booklet and the GIHA dossier on the violence. Here is where the researcher gets confused. Ms. Gibson documents the killing of African people after the 2001 election which she said was engendered by the reckless rhetoric of PPP supporters, like “we deh pon top now.”

On the other, the GIHA study paints a morbid picture of bestial attacks on Indians. So what actually happened? It is like reading the scorecard on a one-day cricket match. One paper has the West Indies making 99 for 9 in fifty overs. Another newspaper has West Indies chalking up 350 for two in 50 overs with Lara and Sarwan plundering a century each. One paper has to be right, the other wrong. But not to worry, this writer witnessed the violence in both 1997 and 2001 and the burning materials and shooting flames in the photograph on page 8 in the Sunday Mirror of January 18, 1998 was right outside our little shop. The fire engine came in the nick of time. I saw who lit that fire. Simply put; Ms. Gibson is yet to discover the truth.

If you come from Mars and you read the Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana you cannot fail to understand that here is a country named Guyana in which a minority tribe is being crucified by a racist, fascist, violence-prone ideology of Hindu Dharma. From pages 39 to 73, Ms. Gibson uses the most emotionally structured language to describe the extermination of Africans by this Hindu ideology. She uses terms like, “extermination,” “genocide,” mass killings, “Nazi-like methods” quite often. In fact, it would be true to say that not since Benschop has someone come so close to inciting ethnic anger by the use of inflammatory connotations. There are parts in chapters three and four in which Ms. Gibson exceeds the insane sermonising of the talk-show hosts.

What the visitor from Mars would soon find out as he/she walks around Guyana is that there is no tribal warfare and that the coming extermination that Ms. Gibson describes is all in her imagination. Any objective analyst would tell the Mars visitor that large areas of life in Guyana are controlled by African Guyanese and these include the birth certificate and passport agencies which are priceless documents for the average Indians. The security forces, the judiciary and the public sector have a strong African presence.

Ms. Gibson said that it was the Hindu caste system that saw the victimization of the Globe Trust Bank, omitting to state it went bankrupt because of loans to non-Hindus. She also failed to mention that it was a Hindu judge who ruled against its liquidation. No word is devoted to the acquittal of Shawn Brown’s brother-in-law for killing a leading Hindu businessman in Unity village by a well-known practicing Hindu judge. There is no discussion at all on the judicial system in which Indian judges with Hindu names make decisions in favour of African Guyanese.

Ms. Gibson goes on and on about the planned Nazi-like assault on African-Guyanese while at the University of Guyana Indian lecturers are crying out against victimization and UG does not have a Hindu administrator, on the contrary, the Chairman of the PNC is third in charge. Important to note is the condescending language Gibson uses to describe African-Guyanese. If anyone should take offence at this book it should be African Guyanese who are portrayed as lost, passive people who are unable to understand their lot (see page 68). Finally, I have been informed that University Press of America invites writers to publish their books once the books are paid for. This explains why Gibson’s book was not edited. This book should be withdrawn immediately from circulation. It is simply bad news.

[Editor’s Note: This essay was published in the letter columns of Stabroek News and Chronicle in October 2003 in three parts. The first part was not secured. The second, third, and final parts were combined into one here.]

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