By Damian Wilson
Firstly, many have asked me why I write these pieces and I would like to answer. I write because this is my voice, my way of reaching out, this is how I contribute to building our society, our country. What I cannot give in deeds, financial or other assistance, I pray my words give in hope, faith and love for a better future. For a country without hope, faith and love has no future. I am no different or any better than the average Turks and Caicos Islander and do not seek to be but I seek the help of God to make the average Turks and Caicos Islander better than he/she thinks or believes that they can be. I'm not trying to change the world, but simply trying to change a life; and maybe the world will follow.
Damian Wilson was born and raised in Grand Turk. He attended the TCI Community College and graduated in 2007 with an Associate Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technology. He was the host of Radio Turks & Caicos Good Morning Man Show from 2006 to 2012. He is currently studying Communications at the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom.
With that said, and as the TCI grapples with the impending imposition of VAT, the corruption trials of the previous local administration, the extradition of Michael Misick, unemployment and many other socio-economic issues, I pray that this piece helps us to seriously consider our attitudes and positions towards many issues. It is 2013, a new year, and I pray with that comes a "New TCI"; a better TCI for all!
Being away from home has given me a chance to observe, examine and consider my own attitude and those of my countrymen and those of whom many consider our adversary (the British). In thinking of these, I have come to the realization that many of our current issues didn't just start with the Misick administration and the British didn't suddenly just start changing laws to suit themselves and don't just change things because they hate us or simply want to control us. Many of our problems have been ingrained into us as a society over time and, as my Jamaican counterparts would say, "things a jus cum up to bump."
Turks and Caicos Islanders are traditionally a very patient and passive people, which I believe is the reason we have been so blessed but at the same time the very reason we have been so easy to subdue by external forces and so easily changed by internal pressures. What was once the exception has now become the norm, in terms of destructive attitudes and behaviours.
A few weeks ago I read a commentary on TCI News Now written by Mr Oliver Mills, entitled 'Turks and Caicos: The politics of power'. To me, this piece was very insightful, addressed many of the issues in the TCI, and hit the nail on the head for the most part. The ordinary Turks Islander can no longer afford to have blind allegiance to political parties and politicians and must begin to educate themselves of ways in which government affects them.
This all brings me to the title of this piece: 'Our story: Orientalism, Social and Political Engineering.' I was speaking to a friend, who recently studied law, and we discussed orientalism -- which in law, he explained, is the tendency of judges in cases to rule according to the belief in British cultural superiority. I decided to research this and found that orientalism is not a new term but has been used for centuries to refer to the belief of cultural superiority by European powers to that of the east orient (China, Asia, etc.). While this was originally used in reference to the arts, it has since spread to other disciplines and used to describe the belief of cultural superiority by European powers. For the purposes of this piece, we will say that 'orientalism' is the belief of their cultural superiority by the British.
In looking at this British orientalism, one has to understand that Britain itself was once a colony of the Roman Empire, which believed in its own cultural superiority over that of nations which it conquered and the Brits were no exception. Many of the things that make Great Britain what it is today come from its own past as a colony, including the belief of superiority. The word "Britain" itself comes from the Latin word "Britannia", its name as a province of the Roman Empire -- personified in the goddess Britannia, a symbol of Great Britain.
The UK learnt many lessons from its Roman colonial masters, lessons that they themselves then perfected and went out to create their own empire that ruled nearly 65% of the world at one point. If one wants to see an example of British orientalism you only have to look at the ’Opium Wars' of the 1800s, where Britain took Hong Kong from China because China banned British merchants from selling opium to Chinese citizens for fear that it would turn China into a nation of drug addicts. It has taken China more than a century to recover from the ripple effects of this.
Hence, British orientalism is a significant part of British cultural behaviour when dealing with foreign nations, in particular their territories. Let's not fool ourselves, though we are a British overseas territory, we are not British... or at least not in the eyes of many British themselves. When I read many news reports on the TCI written by British journalists, they often question our 'Britishness' and that of the other OTs.
This brings me to the issue of social/political engineering. When people hear these terms they often receive them with negative connotations, but in reality we live social and political engineering every day, it affects every facet of our lives, believe it or not. Social engineering in its simplest form is the effort to influence society on a mass scale in order to achieve a desired result or change in behaviour, whether done by governments or private organizations.
Political engineering deals with the designing of political institutions in a society and often involves the use of paper decrees, in the form of laws, referendums, ordinances, or otherwise for the same objective as social engineering.
The British for centuries, fueled by a deep sense of British orientalism, little by little, have groomed their territories to being more British, by passing and changing laws over time, with little or no regard for the will of the local population and often under the guise of international obligations. This has been evident with each British white paper. For example, the white paper of the early 90s made homosexuality legal in the TCI.
Within recent months we've seen the now former interim administration in the TCI pass numerous legislation along the lines of social/political engineering; legislation such as the Integrity Commission bill, the Equality bill, the VAT bill, the new TCI Constitution and Public Financial Management laws, etc.; all of which are designed to either stop or encourage certain behaviours either in TCI society at large or in the elected assembly.
All of these new laws are not necessarily bad because we don't want them -- such as those that deal with the integrity of our local officials -- to the contrary, some of these laws were needed (although maybe not in their current form). However, many of these new laws lack sufficient emphasis on responsible behaviour by prominent British officials in the TCI (i.e. CEO, the Governor, etc.), and are rooted in British orientalism.
Does this mean that all British people are evil? No! Certainly not; just as there are bad and good Turks Islanders, there are bad and good British folks and I've had the pleasure of meeting some truly sincere ones and the tragedy of meeting some nasty ones.
The Minister of Finance, Hon. Washington Misick, in a press conference recently said that we cannot sit back and allow ourselves to be emasculated by the British. While I agree with his sentiments, the sad thing is that we have already been emasculated and much of it is our own making. We have allowed many of the values that make TCI great to be eroded. The British and others have watched us fight amongst ourselves, become greedy and selfish; many of us now worship money more than we worship God.
Outsiders have come in and taken what was once ours, because a lot of our politicians spent more time getting political acclaim than truly fighting for their people, and many have been more interested in advancing their political careers than advancing their own people. Many issues we face today have been festering for decades, even before elected government; and while elected government has brought us much success, successive administrations have failed on critical issues because we choose to play politics with people's lives.
TCI politicians themselves have, knowingly or unknowingly, helped socially and politically engineer the TCI to this point. To be frank, we have been led to believe that the government should be Santa Claus; that political allegiance is more important than political wisdom; that we should never question our leaders' actual ability to lead effectively and that we are entitled to things because we were born in the TCI -- both parties are guilty of it. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with being entitled to something but too few of us preach responsibility -- there is no entitlement without responsibility, a lesson we are just learning.
I know I might get criticized for my words but I must speak as I see it. For too long we have suffered under the weight of our own ignorance and the selfish agendas of those who mean us no good. You see, the British have learned a very important lesson from the Romans. You don't always beat people into submission, quite often you do it holding their hand and smiling.
With that said, I like the show of solidarity by the government, opposition, business community and Turks and Caicos Islanders as a whole, in terms of the issue of VAT; we are now learning that there is strength in numbers and no one is going to do for us what we must first do for ourselves. We must apply this same resolve to other pressing issues; time to let go of the past and embrace a bright future. I pray that much of the words and attitudes are sincere concern for the TCI and its overall future.
We as a people must now educate ourselves on how government works and how we can make it work for us all. Many have spoken of self-determination but we must learn that true self-determination means we take responsibility for ourselves, our actions, everything that is around us and everything that God has given to us. What I have written here has barely scratched the surface of how we have been misled and chained for years, but now is the time to truly turn from our own wicked ways, turn to God and start thinking how we can build not just communities and islands but build a nation.
The United Kingdom itself is seeking to take back control of its own affairs -- David Cameron is expected to give a speech soon in Brussels on the type of relationship that Britain wants with the EU and many British citizens and politicians want Britain to take back control of setting its own social and economic laws and policies from the EU. The Northern Ireland Parliament in December decided to stop flying the British flag year round because many Irish politicians want greater control from the UK parliament. Scotland is set to have a referendum soon on independence from the UK, to become a separate country.
I say all this to say that, if the UK itself and the territories that make it up want greater control over their own affairs, then my brother and sisters, I have one question. Why shouldn't we? I'm not preaching independence but I am saying, "Turks and Caicos Islanders, given the right tools, relevant information and right attitudes should make their own decisions, not someone else."
In closing, I wish to say that I deeply desire to serve our beautiful country the best way I can and I truly believe that we have many other capable men and women who desire the same and will do so if just given the opportunity -- uplift our youth, I believe they will surprise us.
We are now at a critical stage where we can continue to stick our heads in the award winning sands on Grace Bay or hold our heads high and show we must be respected. Let's take pride in our nation, love her and protect her. Our story is not finished, the final chapter has not yet been written; it's time we hold the pen. As I said earlier, I'm not trying to change the world, but simply trying to change a life; and maybe the world will follow.
TCI strong, TCI proud.