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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Cannot Be Serious!

I received an e-mail yesterday from a lady in America, whom I shall call "Daphne". She wrote:

"I just found your site and found it very informative. My family and I are traveling to Barbados, for the first time, during the American presidential elections. I am a little nervous considering the amount of Muslims that appear to be in Barbados that it may not be safe for us at that time (especially if Obama doesn't win the election). [My emphasis.] Do you have any thoughts on that? The trip was already purchased before we realized it was during the election."

I tried to be my diplomatic self in my reply, saying: 

"I'm not sure what country you have in mind to visit, but it does not seem to be Barbados. I'm not sure what your concern is with Muslims, but last time I looked Barbados had somewhere less than 1000, out of a total population of about 290,000--that makes for a NOT-whopping less than half a percent. That compares with nearly 10 million Muslims in the USA (about 3 1/2 percent of total population). Maybe you should look at some figures on Muslim population by country (see http://www.factbook.net/muslim_pop.php). 

I'm also at a loss as to why the Muslim population's presence should be an issue if Obama loses the presidential election."

I have to be frank and say that I found the original message very disturbing. I asked a few friends what they thought. As you know, several of my friends in Bim are fellow Jamaicans, and we have a number of "colourful" ways of expressing displeasure, orally.  One erudite friend thought it was from a comedy skit from "Saturday Night Live" or the "Daily Show". Another female friend, whom I can call a "hooky mom", said that she had "t'ree Jamaican blue lights for her". (You have a lot of latitude on what that can mean, but it's not pretty.)

I have no wish to mock the lady who sent the message, whom I do not know, but several things are disturbing. We often hear comments about Americans' lack of awareness about other countries: the USA has a president who was described by the Washington Post as "certainly not an avid foreign traveller" before he was elected to that office (he had actually made brief trips to a few places in Asia, Europe, African and Latin America). The Republican Party now has a vice presidential candidate who only obtained a passport in 2006 and made her first foreign trip in 2007 (to Kuwait--a Muslim country at that). We also often fail to realise that our little islands, wonderful though we think they are, are imagined to be many other things, but probably never hotbeds of Muslim discontent. The most glaring examples are places like Haiti, know more for its destitute poverty than its elegant history as the first French colony to gain independence. We also know Jamaica, which is known for its ridiculous murder rate as much as for its reggae music. 

The lady mentioned that some of her concerns were raised by what she had read on a blog (unspecified), which included what she perceived as an image of Barbados as a hotbed of Muslim discontent as well as many disparaging remarks about women. I try to keep the content of my blog reasonable and responsible, but there are many which are not so careful, either in their own postings or in the comments that they publish. There's a warning there to take care what you put out on the blogosphere. 

On further probing, she did not seem to have a particular bias for either presidential candidate, to quote her: "There are some things I like about Obama and some that scare me (the same with McCain)."  From what I have heard and read, many American voters may be similarly conflicted.

Many Americans that I have met over the years have a sense that foreigners do not like them or their country, and that fills them with a fear that permeates many of their views about visiting foreign countries. Many non-Americans do not take kindly to the spread of American culture, which they feel swamps their own with lots of aspects that reflect consumerism and greed: the French have been notorious for fighting officially against such aspects. Many countries have never been comfortable with the American presence they know well, in the form of NATO bases. Many in Europe pride themselves on being internationalists, with so many countries sharing borders and speaking different languages; Europeans feel that they are more tolerant of foreigners than they believe Americans to be. But we have plenty of modern evidence to show that Europe has some serious and violent divisions (look at the fighting after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia; look at the always simmering fight between Belgium's linguistic and cultural "halves"; look at Ireland; look at the parts of the former Soviet Union).

While I glibly urged "Daphne" to do a bit more reading and research before she heads out on her trip, I know that the problem is much deeper than can be corrected by reading.

1 comment:

Jdid said...

To put it politely, Americans are not very aware of any place that's not America. It's all some mass on the map called "not the USA" and is foreign to them and hence threatening.

And yes there are still quite a few who think Obama is a Muslim even after all this time but as Powell said so what if he was Muslim.

Tell "Daphne" come to Barbados enjoy herself (remember to keep her wits about her) and I'm pretty sure she wont be harassed by any Muslims.