A couple of unsavoury events which captured national attention not too long ago briefly jolted the Muslim community out of its usual complacency concerning its internal integrity and general well-being. We say ‘briefly’ because, as troubling as each occurrence was, and as starkly as they each laid bare the same essential malignancy that threatens the health of the local Muslim body, they failed to galvanise our community – or at least a significant group therefrom – to mobilise to treat with the problem in any meaningful way beyond the usual public expressions of indignation.
The incidents being referred to are the daring prison break involving three Muslim inmates back in July, and the siege visited upon parts of the Enterprise area by a so-called Muslim ‘gang’. These two incidents highlighted a problem that has been smouldering within the dark underbelly of our community for a very long time now, and which erupts every so often and reminds us that our ignorance or studious disregard of it does nothing but ensure that the problem grows even more malignant and unmanageable with each passing day. And in many ways, this issue is linked to part of the current ISIS crisis facing us here now. The problem is that of managing the radical tendencies of persons accepting Islam from the underclass of Trinidadian society, many of whom are drawn to Islam for a range of reasons – some noble, and some not so noble.
This class of people have certain universal characteristics that predisposes them to radicalization and render them a particularly problematic group of people to deal with in any society: general low levels of education, and its close cousins: poverty and joblessness, are standard features of life. However, it is precisely from among this group – the “lowest of the low” in society – that Islam attracts some of its most ready and enthusiastic converts. It has historically been the case that those with the least to lose, and hence most to gain, in any society are the most amenable to responding to the call to “submit”. Yet, although large numbers of them are attracted to Islam, because of their social circumstance they come into the religion with baggage that is not easily shed.
In the communities that many of them come from, violence is a norm of personal interaction. It is how disputes are primarily settled; dialogue and compromise are alien concepts. It is for this reason that, upon accepting Islam, many – particularly the young men – find it difficult modify their behaviour in accordance with the primary Islamic virtues of mercy and gentleness. Add to this the ease of accessing media that glorifies modern terrorism as “holy war”, and the result is a battalion of dangerously misguided young men (and women) who imagine themselves to be righteous warriors assaulting enemies, more imagined than real, in a fantasy world of their own.
The problem is a complex and difficult one to deal with, no doubt; but while we keep informed about other matters on the international front., let us also keep an eye on this issue which is right at our doorsteps. We may enjoy a period of dormancy for a while, but it is only a matter of time before that smouldering, combustible mass erupts once again and gives us another unpleasant reminder of a reality that we continue to ignore to our collective detriment.