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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Jamaica and the War on Terror

Wayne Marshall considers the impact of the 'war on terror' on Jamaica:

War occupies a prominent place in the Jamaican imagination, but when people talk of war, they more frequently refer to the ghetto-blasting gun-battles that routinely erupt in downtown Kingston. Since the 1970s, Jamaica has been in a state of perpetual war. The noxious combination of U.S. cold-war and drug-war policy, the American arms-industry, and "misguided" leadership has militarized the pork-barrel politics that splits the city into warring garrisons. War is a popular musical metaphor, and the "gun-hand" in the air remains the most common form of audience approval. If war can be found right down the road, why worry about some fanciful American crusade abroad? It's all Babylon anyway, where war is yet another symptom of the dehumanizing "shitstem." (Oddly, few seem to appreciate the irony that the U.S. has moved the theater of war to the actual historic site of Babylon. "U.S. Led Troops Have Damaged Babylon" read a headline in the New York Times this January, but, lest any Rastafarians get too excited, the article was speaking in very literal terms.) I remember a comedy routine at a Kingston club one night which featured an impersonation of a conversation between George W. Bush and the Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson. With a thick, redneck accent G.W. asks P.J. if he can commit some troops to the "Coalition of the Willing." P.J. responds, in characteristically drawn-out tones, "We don't...have e...nough fight...a war...with......Tivoli." The crowd roared. For them, Jamaica's internal wars--the sectarian strife symbolized by the reference to Tivoli Gardens, longtime stronghold of the JLP, or the opposition party to Patterson's PNP--clearly present a more urgent and concrete problem than "bringing democracy to the Middle East."

At the same time, the effects of the War on Terror undoubtedly are felt in Jamaica, and reggae has registered much of this anxiety. The comedy routine included another topical impersonation: George W. invites a skeptical Elephant Man to perform his post-9/11 reflection, "The Bombing," at the White House (and to bring some high grade with him, capizzle?). Jokes aside, "The Bombing" is one of the more eloquent and witty songs to address 9/11 and its aftermath. Not only does Ele come up with a coup of a couplet, rhyming "Bin Laden" with "cannot be forgotten," but the chorus documents, with humor and pathos, the particular problems Jamaicans faced after the attacks: "Everybody 'fraid fi fly through the bombing / Bush nuh trust nuh guy through the bombing / So many innocent die through the bombing / Look like a World War Three 'bout fi happen / Now weed can't smuggle again through the bombing / Can't pass custom with a pen through the bombing / Everybody cry for men through the bombing / Dead bodies start talkin'."

Later he substitutes, "Visa a get deny through the bombing," thus calling attention to what was perhaps the most salient consequence of 9/11 for many Jamaicans: further restrictions on the already elusive goal of mobility. In the wake of 9/11, it became a lot more difficult to get a visa to England or the United States, the two traditional post-colonial "release valves" for Jamaicans in search of opportunities for personal and family advancement. The processes became even more bureaucratic, and the lines grew longer. Many Jamaicans at this point have grown weary of state "politricks" and are more concerned with the ways that the governments of the various nation-states they inhabit enable or restrict their pursuit of social, economic, and literal mobility. (At this point, almost as many Jamaicans live off the island as on it.) The War on Terror has created some peculiar pressure points for Jamaica: its borders have become more tightly policed in terms of non-elites' ability to travel abroad, while simultaneously the U.S. efforts to tighten the Mexican border have once again shifted the major drug-trafficking routes to the Caribbean. Weed can't smuggle again, but cocaine can.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

|| RPH || 10:10 PM || |