I had hoped to continue looking at the topic I started last week on the Middle East, recognizing the interest it generated and the critique by some. However, I wish to take a break this week to look at two historical events which fall in this month of October and, to me, are important occasions for reflection.
October 6 this year marked the 40th anniversary of the downing of the Cubana Airlines flight off the west coast of Barbados in which 73 persons lost their lives. I am told it was the first case of aviation terrorism in the world.
I attended a panel discussion last Wednesday at the Cave Hill Campus entitled: “The True Origins of Terrorism Before and Beyond 9/11”. This panel discussion was to commemorate the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 on October 6, 1976. The event at the Campus was also used to launch a campaign for a UN Declaration for October 6th as International Day against Terrorism.
The panel included the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, actor and social activist Danny Glover and Mr. Camilo Rojos, son of one of the flight crew of that ill-fated airline, among others.
I was especially pleased at the number of young people in the audience. It is important that we speak and remind ourselves and our younger generation of historic events, as traumatic as they are. Many of the younger persons in the audience were not even alive when this tragedy occurred but they were certainly reminded of it last Wednesday night.
The accounts were heart wrenching even forty years on. And hearing from a person whose father was among those who perished was equally sad. Mr. Rojos was five years at the time and recalled vividly the news reaching his mother that day. He spoke of having to grow up without his father and the closure some 40 years on that this trip to Barbados has brought him.
I commend David Comissiong and those with him for calling attention to this tragedy and for launching the campaign to recognize October 6th as International Day against Terrorism. As was rightfully pointed out throughout the session, we have come to associate terrorism with one religion, one group of individuals, having certain set of characteristics.
The commonly found narrative today on terrorism does not include those persons in suits, well-groomed who sit in boardrooms and dictate their operatives to carry out all forms of despicable crimes against humanity.
The Cubana Airlines bombing in October 1976 represents one of the greatest hypocrisies of our modern era. What we know is that despite two persons being held and charged for the bombing, the real mastermind, a CIA operative, Luis Posada Carilles, is still at large, living freely in the United States.
He was never imprisoned for his crime having fled Venezuela on the eve of his sentencing. His involvement includes others which go up a higher chain of authority in the US. But that is the world we live in. The double standards and the assumed right of the strong over weak.
A younger member of the audience asked what are some of the memorials that must be left to remind future generations of this tragedy and the injustice of not punishing the real guilty ones. Apart from the monument which was erected at Payne’s Bay, it was noted that calling attention to the actual day, October 6th, was another step in perpetuating the memory of the 73 lost lives and the state terrorism of that era.
Terrorism in all its forms must be condemned. Whether by a group of radicals, fanatics or fundamentalists or by a group of men and women in uniforms. And so that is why I find it interesting that the other significant event that occurred in October is so very much linked to terrorism, although many would tend to dismiss this analysis.
Some 524 years ago on October 12, 1492, a European by the name of Christopher Columbus arrived in this part of the world. For the Europeans, it was discovery; for the indigenous people of this land, it was the beginning of annihilation.
Rev. Buddy Larrier earlier this year shared a proposal that he and others were working on. They are campaigning for October 12th to be considered a ‘Universal Day of Hope’ for truth, justice, peace, healing and reconciliation. A laudable effort in line with the campaign for October 6th!
The paper on the proposal that Rev. Larrier shared pointed out: “The genocide experiences of indigenous peoples, the transatlantic trade of trafficking in Africans and the establishment of the chattel enslavement systems was therefore a consequence of the 12th October 1492, not its beginning. However, this date subsequently became controversial. Europeans celebrated it as both ‘Discovery Day’ and ‘Columbus Day’ and every 100 years re-enact the voyage of 12th October. The Indigenous people referred to the date as ‘Invasion Day’.”
On Monday, October 10th, this year, the US observed its annual “Columbus Day” holiday. Several countries in this hemisphere celebrate the occasion as well. But there seems to be growing discontent with observing and celebrating this event. This opposition has been around for some time but is gaining traction as more historians and commentators are telling the real facts of European colonization of this hemisphere.
I came across an interesting read on the topic and while the title may sound amusing, it certainly gives much food for thought. In a blog titled: “Why Celebrating Columbus Day Is like Celebrating ISIS” Craig Considine, sociologist at Rice University, writes in the Huffington Post:
“Fox News, CNN, and other media outlets tell me that ISIS is special for its barbarism and its project of mixing religion, morality, and politics. While I certainly agree that ISIS is out of control and evil, I do not think this entity is unique by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Columbus and other early Americans were equally atrocious in carrying out genocide on indigenous peoples.
Sailing from Spain on behalf of the Spanish Catholic Monarchy, Columbus embarked upon a Crusade against the indigenous people of what is now referred to as the Caribbean islands. These islands were not “uninhabited,” as my elementary school teachers told me. A whole civilization was there. The land was abundant with natural resources, beautiful people, and a range of rich cultures. The indigenous tribes who lived there had their own customs, social values, religions, and systems of governance. Columbus’s goal upon arriving to this land was not to learn about these things or build bridges of understanding. All he wanted to do was steal, destroy and conquer. It was that simple.
. . . Critics who claim that Muslims are more prone to religious extremism and violence have either forgotten or consciously ignore the West’s own dark history of genocide. Honoring Christopher Columbus by giving him “Columbus Day” is akin to glorifying the genocidal acts of ISIS by celebrating “ISIS Day”.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.