Commentary: Is there an attempt in Trinidad and Tobago to silence dissent?

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Akilah Holder is the communications assistant for the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches (TTCEC). She is a former Trinidad Newsday journalist and adjunct lecturer of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

By Akilah Holder

I attended the final public consultation on the decriminalization of marijuana. I attended in my capacity as the communications assistant of the Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches. I was one of the first two or three attendees to approach the microphone and speak after the Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General, Fitzgerald Hinds, opened the floor for comments.

My first comment was in response to minister Hinds’ assertion that the government of Trinidad and Tobago had considered all the different perspectives of the discussion, including the spiritual side, that according to Genesis 1:29, God gave every “seed-bearing plant… and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” for food. I also said, in response to his statement about the qualifications of the panelists and other “experts” consulted by the government, that it is irrelevant the qualification that a person has, because if their view of a matter contravenes the word of God, then it is irrelevant. I cited, to support my assertion, Proverbs 9:10, which states that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.”

I returned to my seat, and sat there quietly, and listened to the other panelists speak, and would have continued to sit there quietly, had Professor Rosemarie Belle Antoine, one of the panelists, who is also the chairman of the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), had not said to one of the pastors who was speaking at the time, that she too is Christian.

I was angered and annoyed at her professing to be a Christian, when her views on other issues, gay rights, abortion and distribution of condoms to school children, run counter to the views of God as laid out in the Bible.

Professor Belle Antoine is in favor of gay rights, abortion on demand and the distribution of condoms to school children. She also appeared to be trying to confound the pastors by stating that she has yet to hear a reason from evangelicals as to why decriminalizing marijuana is wrong, when the evangelical community has been clear from the very start that research continues to state that marijuana is a dangerous drug.

So I requested of one of the pastors present a few minutes of his time to add to what I had said earlier; for he was about to speak when Professor Belle Antoine declared herself a Christian.

With his permission, I walked up to the microphone and stated firstly, in response to her statement that evangelicals have yet to give a reason as to the rightness or wrongness of decriminalizing marijuana, that the Church has been clear on that, saying that marijuana remains a dangerous drug, and has not even been sanctioned by the US Federal government. I said, furthermore, that in response to her professing to be a Christian, that I am familiar with her views on other issues, and they are not Christian. Therefore, her views on this issue could not be trusted.

At that point, the Senior Legal Counsel for the Attorney General’s office, Solange de Souza, walked to the front and said I was being rude. While she was speaking (I was already back in my seat), I interjected and said, “So because I am speaking the truth, I am being rude?” She then stated that there were police here if anyone became disruptive. As you can see reader, I was not disrespectful, neither was I disruptive. I was, however, vocal and honest.

Now, I am troubled by the actions of de Souza. I am troubled, because while I was speaking and other pastors were speaking, members of the Rastafarian community and other marijuana decriminalization supporters rudely shouted their disapprovals across the room. But de Souza singled me out, and I have a problem with that because I did nothing wrong. I simply rebutted Professor Belle-Antoine’s statement.

I corrected her in my capacity as a Christian not in an attempt to embarrass her, but because it is important to call people like Professor Belle-Antoine out on their hypocrisy.

It is important to do so, for if you allow someone like that who advocates the devil’s view on matters such as the aforementioned to go about saying that without correcting them, then you risk them misleading those who have a genuine desire to have a personal relationship with God; for it is disheartening and troubling how many so-called respectable people use their positions of influence to mislead the masses. So I pointed it out as should have been done.

The Bible is clear, in Matthew 7:16-20, that “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Yet, I was accused of being rude and then threatened with arrest, which was insinuated when de Souza mentioned the presence of police at the event. Clearly, that was an attempt to intimidate me since these days, the nation of Trinidad and Tobago is not too interested in what the church has to say. If you ask me, it looks as if the government of Trinidad and Tobago has already made up its mind, and held the consultations for show.

Moreover, when someone sits as head of state or holds a prestigious position such as professor, you can not question them, because they, in their minds, are above reproach. So you have to be politically correct with these people in order to win their approval.

So when you speak out, like I did, you are rebuked and made to appear rude.

I am not intimidated. In my capacity as a Christian and an activist, I will continue to speak out against social injustices when they arise.

I stand by my statements to Professor Rosemarie Belle Antoine. It is unfortunate though, that there appears to be an attempt in Trinidad and Tobago to stifle dissent.

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