A losing battle that must be won

| 06/06/2008

By Wendy Ledger – Posted Friday, 6 June 2008

2 comments

George Town (CNS): Yet again this week, those in
Cayman who have conjured up an evil spectre to represent the horrors
of human rights legislation remain the most vociferous in our
community. Cayman News Service recently reported on Minister Alden
McLaughlin’s valiant efforts to literally spell out to a local radio
host why human rights are good and why a government would offer its
citizens access to them.

In what cannot be truly be described as an interview, not least
because of the obvious inexperience (and perhaps political aspirations
of the host) the Minister madea commendable effort to explain the
issue of why this government re-instated the lapsed Individual Right
to Petition to the European Court for cases of infringed rightsby
government.

He also presented the positive elements of human rights in general and
pressed the need for Cayman to have a Bill of Rights which can protect
people here rather than have them seek redress in Europe. However,
because radio talk show hosts can always shout louder, and by the very
fact that they broadcast on our airwaves on a daily basis at prime
time, their voices are often given far more credibility than their
intellect might warrant, the Minister’s message was probably drowned
out.

Consequently, the problem which CNS has visited on numerous occasions
remains – as important and justified as a Bill of Rights for Cayman
is, those who see it purely in terms of something that will lead to
gay marriage and undermine the dominance of Christianity are winning
the argument, not because they are right but because they are playing
to the fears of the crowd.

Racism in many Western countries, for example, remains a problem but
over the years it has been addressed in many ways. Yet the one weapon
that remains in the racist’s arsenal is fear. Fear is one of the
easiest ways to win over public opinion. The fear of being swamped by
foreigners, the fear of terrorists moving in next door, the fear of an
immigrant taking your job and the money out of your pocket are all
fodder for the xenophobes and racists in all communities who conjure
up these fears to promote totalitarian agendas.

Here, the monster of human rights is being created through this same
sort of rhetoric. Opposers say that a Bill of Rights will change
Cayman culture, and at a time when the culture is perceived by many to
be already to be under attack, this method of winning public opinion
is easy. Moreover, it is made easier by the failure of human rights
advocates to be more vociferous. With a few notable exceptions, not
least Gordon Barlow, the arguments for why we need to have rights
protected and enshrined in a constitution is being lost at every turn.
The church, the talk show hosts, the opposition United Democratic
Party and even, it could be said based on recent comments in Finance
Committee, that some of the government’s own supporters are all
pushing the fear message.

It is time now for the Human Rights Committee to really get the word
out and step up the game. Perhaps members of the committee could be
given some airtime to articulate the benefits of rights and the
dangers of not having them to at least redress the balance on our
airwaves. Maybe the churches would be willing to open their pulpits to
have the case for rights presented to their congregations. Whatever
the method, it is clear something has to be done to change the
direction of the debate.

The recent round of Human Rights Committee meetings and their
appearance at one or two constitutional meetings, and even the star
performance by the government’s consultant Prof. Jeffrey Jowell, does
not appear to have beaten the fear-mongers. The fact that their fear-
mongering is based entirely on incorrect sentiments and ideologies
does not seem to deter them from drumming up the necessary level of
scariness to ensure a ‘no’ vote come polling day.

Whether, for most, this is political posturing to undermine the
current government and help to secure its exit from office next year
or because, as Minister McLaughlin pointed out this week, they fear an
empowered people, remains to be seen. However, any politician or
potential politician that fears an electorate that has rights should
be cause for concern to all of us. Furthermore, even if some
politicians or church leaders genuinely do fear a Bill of Rights
rather than having tyrannical aspirations, the problem is that their
fears and theones they are advocating are unfounded.

Victor Look Loy: The fear of human rights is Cayman may not be
as unfounded as you try to make it appear. I do not believe for a
moment that the people who speak out against human rights want to
torture or enslave anyone. I believe that for the genuine ones, their
concern is more to do with their rights as Caymanians becoming
secondary to the rights of other residents or visitors who cannot lay
claim to either the history or culture of these islands.

There is scare-mongering and there are exaggerations, but in an island
where more than half of the residents are not indigenous and where
there are over 1 million visitors each year, it is not too difficult
to hear the receding cries of the local population. The homosexual
issue is just as emotive here as it is elsewhere in the world. The
reason is the fact that many of those people who claim to be gay also
want to show everyone just how gay they are. Some of them have become
confrontational and provocative, and even offensive in their
demonstrative behavior. 

In a small island where homosexuals have existed peacefully  for
centuries alongside heterosexuals, there is suddenly public behavior,
social and legal demands which many people find unacceptable. Right or
wrong, one must understand that Cayman is not very different from many
other places, the difference is in the numbers of different people.

The talk show host you referred to may be a bit over the top in some
of his comments, he may also have political ambitions, but he does ask
questions and if his approach was a bit less of an inquisition
and his outlook less judgmental, he may get a lot more answers. I
admit some answers he probably does not want to get because it is more
expedient for some questions to remain unanswered and the public
allowed to speculate. I personally would one day like to see this
host as a Government Minister for four years so that he can practice
what he preaches.

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