In independent Belize, incongruously enough, there is less public intellectual life than there was in colonial British Honduras. What I see in independent Belize is more party politics, and I see more denominational religion.
I do not consider the morning talk shows as constituting public intellectual life, nor do I consider the social media exchanges as such. The importance of public intellectual life is that it tends to restrain party politics from becoming religious in its fervor, while it provides a check on the inclinations of ambitious clerics to interfere in the political world.
A few months ago two relatively young professionals, one a dentist and the other an attorney, who were known members of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), died within days of each other. On the morning talk show run by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), one of the hosts insisted on ascribing the untimely deaths to the supposed iniquity of the political party to which the deceased belonged. This was a theme he has referred to repeatedly, and no one in his party has put his over-exuberance under manners. When unfortunate incidents which affect your political opponents are interpreted as punishments for their sins, this is what I consider as seeking to move mundane politics into the religious realm.
By the same token, and we have seen this on the world scene, religions and their leaders have inflamed some fundamentally political conflicts, and the results have been extraordinarily bitter and bloody violence. Consider the case when colonial India was partitioned into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan in 1947. Consider the case when Palestine was partitioned into Jewish Israel and Muslim Palestine in 1948. Roman Catholic Spain and Anglican England waged wars for centuries after Henry VIII declared himself both the political and religious leader of England in the early sixteenth century.
Recently, the Social Security Board (SSB) sponsored a debate contest amongst Belize’s junior colleges. Such a debate, welcome as it was, was the exception on our educational landscape when it should be the rule. Debates, discussions, and conferences on issues of public importance should be taking place every week all over Belize. The major issues are many: the International Court of Justice (ICJ), offshore oil drilling, the Chiquibul and the Sarstoon, the public debt and onerous fuel taxation, gang violence and police brutality, government corruption, governance, issues of public morality, and so on and so forth.
The assigned subject of the SSB debate was the ICJ. The idea of the debate contest was a great one, surely, and the subject was most relevant. Placing the explosive, existential ICJ issue in the context of an academic competition, however, arguably trivialized a matter which is of massive importance. Better the SSB debate contest than nothing at all, mind you, but with independent Belize now being blessed with so many secondary and tertiary institutions, and having graduated so many thousands of university scholars since independence, it is regrettable, to repeat, that our public intellectual life should be so stagnant.
Personally, I think this is how the local power structure and the so-called Friends of Belize want it. I will return to the thought in the paragraph after this one, but before I proceed let me say that I resent people telling our youth that all they have to do is accept the Lord Jesus and everything will be all right. This is patently ridiculous. If you accept the Lord Jesus and raise your level of personal morality, you will definitely enjoy a better life. But there are certain evils which will remain in place around you which absolutely have to addressed. These evils have to do with the socio-economics of an oppressive, racist, capitalist order which has derived from the cruel foundations of slavery, colonialism, and imperialism.
Emotional, fanatic religion in our Belizean situation is a distraction for the people: it therefore suits the purposes of the local power structure and the Friends of Belize, because emotional, fanatic religion allows for, even encourages, the preservation of the socio-economic status quo. A vibrant, public intellectual life would make for the opposite energy: it would challenge the Baymen’s clan.
Belize is a beautiful country, and we have many blessings for which to be grateful. It may therefore seem to you that sometimes we complain too much back here on Partridge Street. The truth is that we are surrounded on all sides by the daily reality of human suffering. Hungry people are angry people, Jack. I admire and cherish the professionals who work at Kremandala and can find gainful employment elsewhere but who have stayed the course.
For the purposes of the ruling political party, their leaders have lumped Kremandala along with the Opposition PUP. This is as the UDP leaders have done with the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), but that tack failed with the BNTU. The UDP approach has pressured Kremandala financially.
The historical truth is that we started out with nothing except the support of the people, and we always knew, and still know, that this way is a hard way and this road is a rough road. Thus, and therefore, we trod on.
Power to the people.