Opinion: The speech that never happened

POSTED: 05/22/12 12:05 PM

Rhoda Arrindell would have made a firm speech in parliament yesterday about Emancipation Day, were it not that the meeting was cancelled because the new government was being sworn in. Arrindell nevertheless sent the speech she would have given (but which was due to the aforementioned circumstances never pronounced) to the media. Before we decided to ignore a speech that never happened from a minister who is no longer in office, curiosity got the better of us.
Arrindell’s speech started with an alarming attack on the Today newspaper. This is what the former minister would have said in parliament:
“Slavery has been described as a crime against humanity, however, this is one crime for which the criminals have not only been allowed to go scot free, but in fact, were compensated for their crime! And since their children and grandchildren are still in control of the world’s resources, they are in a position to water down the heinous crime their forebears committed to the point where today, in St. Martin, as we are poised to pass this unprecedented legislation, there are some of the descendants of the slavers who try to equate slavery with prostitution or human trafficking, and strive hard to erase or even re-write history by telling us that the “plantations are dead” and so are the slaves. In other words, what are we making so much noise about?
The same persons, who have editorial control of certain newspapers on our island, have insinuated that slavery did not exist. Could they dare make similar insinuations in their own country about the Holocaust and not end up in jail? Could they write in newspapers that the Holocaust belongs to the past, and that its victims are dead? Certainly not, because it is a crime punishable by imprisonment to make such statements publicly where they come from. What audacity then for them to deride our collective experience in such a manner, right in our face, and in our own newspapers? Prostitution and human trafficking are no doubt awful, and those found breaking the law related to these must be made to face the music squarely.
But to compare that to slavery is to compare a pussy cat with a lion because they both belong to the cat family! Such comparisons are simply odious and are intended to pull the veil over our eyes again, dismissing that part of our history as insignificant. It is a revisionist tendency, prompted perhaps by a feeling of inherited guilt, but it is no less racist than those who see Africa as the heart of darkness.”
Wow, I thought. Let’s get this straight. It is true that I have expressed strong opinions about the silence of the government and Members of Parliament about the modern day slavery in our local brothels.
But I never ridiculed the slavery-history, or dismissed it as irrelevant. The slave trade was wrong, and the slave trade was horrible and inhumane. And yes, the Netherlands played a part in it.
Arrindell would have said that this newspaper has “insinuated that slavery did not exist.” Where did the former minister get this stuff? We’d say that the former minister is now insinuating that I insinuated that slavery did not exist. What a lot of baloney that is.
Did I compare the slavery our country rightfully and justly wishes to honor with Emancipation Day as an official holiday with the slavery that is taking place in our brothels? Yes, up to a point. It is a form of slavery that is taking place right under our noses, and nobody seems to give a damn about it. That does not make today’s slavery identical to the slavery of the past. I never made that claim, and I never will.
Arrindell even dares to call me a revisionist racist. That’s heavy artillery. And I just got this feeling of belonging when Leopold James honored me after the fall of Minister Buncamper-Molanus with a cultural ID card. I carry it with me with pride.
To call somebody who was born in 1950 “a descendant of the slavers” is also a stretch, but I’ll gladly leave that warped argument for Arrindell’s account. After all, she did not hold this speech, so in a way, the stuff I received in the email does not exist. It’s a speech that never happened.
What I find truly regrettable is that the former Minister misses the point I so strongly wanted to make. Commemorating the history of slavery or the history of, say, the Second World War is done for similar reasons: we don’t want this to happen again. Ever.
The truth is of course that atrocities of war and atrocities against human beings in a weak position are integral parts of the human history. They happened in the past, they happen in the present, and they will happen again in the future. Arrindell notion that, “prostitution and human trafficking are no doubt awful” suggest that she does not consider this awful at all.
We are not able to change the past, and we are not able to control the future. The only piece of this equation that is somehow within our grasp is the present. That is why it is so important to tackle modern day slavery, and to speak out against it.
Only if we do that will we be able to make Emancipation Day a true and meaningful national holiday.

Hilbert Haar,
Editor-in-Chief @ Today.

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