Celebrations have ended for Barbados’ 50th anniversary of Independence and we return to business as usual.
My reflections on the celebrations are part of the pride and gratitude I feel in having been around to witness and be part of several of the activities undertaken to commemorate Barbados at 50.
My congratulations, first and foremost, go to the team at the 50th Anniversary of Independence Celebrations Secretariat headed by a former primary schoolmate, Permanent Secretary, Gabrielle Springer.
I know the team at the Secretariat worked hard and long hours in carrying out their mandate in sometimes difficult circumstances with a limited budget. They must be applauded for their sterling efforts in ensuring the events over the last year were carried out as best as they possibly could.
Secondly, I am pleased at the outpouring of nationalist pride, evident in the flags and other paraphernalia that adorned buildings, homes, fences, vehicles and persons.
While mainly cosmetic, it showed a love for and a desire to connect with things Barbadian. This I witnessed was carried out by most segments and groups in our society, spanning all the religious and ethnic identities.
The linking of hands and hugging Barbados, while not entirely subscribed to, was nonetheless a success in my mind as it did bring out a cross-section of the Barbadian society including, as I observed, many tourists, visitors and Barbadians living overseas who were here for the celebrations.
I viewed some very moving photographs of school children holding hands drawn from the different races and religious faiths on the island. For the thousands of school students who participated, I am sure it will be a memory that they will cherish in the years to come, similar to the memories I fondly recall of the first attempt in 1979.
I proudly went out this time around as well and held hands on the south coast. While I agree it could have been better organized, the experience was good. I was taken aback by reports of a driver passing by and, in obscene language, characterizing those who stood proudly holding hands as “idiots”.
But such is life and we must accept there will be those who will think and express themselves negatively. The presence of Members of Parliament from both sides of the House coming out to hold hands in Bridgetown was also a wonderful expression that differences can be put aside to celebrate.
Thirdly, as a Barbadian who can be characterized as being from a minority ethnic and religious community on the island, I can safely and proudly boast that there was no feeling of exclusion in the participation of my faith community in the celebrations.
We were accorded equal opportunities to be involved. This signals a maturity and an acceptance that all Barbadians must be part of the national endeavour to celebrate and grow Barbados.
I was honoured to be invited to present a sacred reading from the Holy Quran at the National Service of Thanksgiving at the Kensington Oval. The participation of the Al Falah School students at the linking of hands around Barbados and the reciting of the pledge by one of its primary students simultaneously with a student of St. Lawrence Primary at the Independence parade was also a momentous occasion.
So too were the two Imams who were asked to be part of the procession of religious persons at the Revealing Ceremony of the 50th Anniversary of Independence National Monument at the Garrison.
My overwhelming joy and gratitude are also captured by the honour and privilege given to my daughter, Firhaana, who was invited, as a young Barbadian, to join another young and outstanding Barbadian, Master Ricardo Reid, to place the time capsule along with Barbados’ National Hero, Sir Garfield Sobers, in the Monument.
This time capsule which contains various items is expected to be opened in 50 years. My good friend, Sabir Nakhudas’ book, Bengal to Barbados, is also in the capsule. I truly hope, God willing, that these two young persons will be there to witness the reopening in 2066.
Over the years, I have been challenged on several occasions to respond to various characterizations of how the faith and ethnic community that I come from live and interact with the wider society. Much of what is levelled is generally the person’s perception based on something they have read or heard. Most times, it is conditioned by what takes places in other countries and not in Barbados.
In some cases, it would have been an unpleasant experience that has shaped this type of thinking. I make a point of this at this time because, on the one hand, I am heartened by the warmth and compliments from friends, acquaintances and even strangers at the participation of persons of my faith community in the celebrations.
On the other hand, I am saddened that at this time of our development, we still have the type of thinking that questions and derides participation of the so-called minority groups on the island in national events. This type of warped thinking is gaining some momentum in western countries as seen by recent events in the USA and the UK.
Many countries across the world are facing similar sentiments being expressed by groups of persons with destructive agendas. I accept that in democratic societies, freedom is given to express oneself. That freedom, however, must come with responsibility and if such liberties are taken to an extreme, then the results can be devastating.
Barbados is far from that point but we must be ever careful not to allow such thinking to take root. Our task, collectively, is to ensure that every Barbadian, regardless of race, faith, social standing, class or gender, is given equal opportunity to develop Barbados and to be part of any national exercise to bring good to this country.
Our political leaders on both sides of the divide fought hard for this legacy to be maintained. While I am characterized as being of a minority group, I can truly say that my thinking and philosophy are far from being that of a minority anything. I live in Barbados as a Barbadian, proud of my faith and ethnic make-up which, by the way, comprises several different strands of racial identity.
I joined hands on November 28, 2016 with a complete stranger to my right and my son on my left to show we love Barbados. And such is what I encourage every Barbadian to do as we enter into the next 50 years.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)