•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.It was just about a fortnight ago that the government released and granted temporary asylum to 102 Haitian migrants at the Detention Centre. That decision continues to provoke and inspire the words of many mouths, flowing from the meditations of many hearts. Except in some cases.
The words from some prominent voices have yet to catch up with the meditations of their hearts and the treasury of their theological traditions. Religious leaders such as Dr. Myles Munroe and Bishop Simeon Hall have addressed the hysteria surrounding the granting of temporary asylum for the migrants in question.
Other heads of various prominent denominations have yet to match their extraordinary charitable actions with the just words needed to stem a tsunami of prejudice unleashed by the Haitian quake.
But in carefully discerning and intelligently confronting the hysteria by many persuasive voices, religious leaders have an opportunity and an obligation to transcend partisan posturing and address moral issues that no others can address as persuasively.
Charity and justice are intimate and necessary moral companions. Together, they illuminate a Christian love that secures and advances human dignity through personal care and structural reform.
When charity is divorced from justice it often becomes paternalistic, lacking in genuine solidarity. When justice is divorced from charity it often degenerates into moral arrogance and ideological rigidity. The disconnect between the demands of charity and justice has always been a struggle for the Christian Church and human civilization.
Haiti has been inundated with charity, tied to a paternalism which has often impeded that nation’s progress. For example, during this crisis France has promised significant emergency aid and longer term assistance.
But in the interest of integrating that charity with the genuine reconstruction of Haiti, its institutions and its capacity to reclaim the promise of its independence, there is something else the country needs from France, its fellow republic. France may wish to enter into an honest dialogue with Haiti about the reparations owed to the earthquake-ravaged country as a matter of justice, not charitable aid.
The struggle to integrate the demands for charity and justice was in abundant evidence over the past few weeks as many Bahamian responded generously in granting aid to Haiti, but were not as generous in their language and attitudes towards the detainee release.
During the current furore, the underlying moral issue is not the legitimate concern about unchecked mass migration from Haiti. After all, many of those who agreed with the decision to grant temporary asylum in this instance, also want the Government to vigorously respond to the numbers of immigrants from Haiti. This includes the use of regular repatriation exercises.
There is a mixture of intellectual dishonesty and paranoia by some who suggest that those who supported the release of the 102 detainees also favour scores of illegal immigrants coming to and remaining in the country.
Others may legitimately feel that the detainee release was a public policy error. This is an honest difference of opinion. Still, the domestic and foreign policy implications of this point of view carried ramifications that opponents of the release have yet to address convincingly and comprehensively.
The overriding moral issue remains the underlying and intrinsic prejudice unleashed by the detainee decision. On cue, the tabloid sections of the media helped to fan much of the hysteria.
One talk-show demagogue was particularly outrageous and irresponsible in promoting panic. The Minister of State for Immigration was compelled to call in to counter the radio demigod’s fear mongering with facts.
Not to be outdone, one of the dailies began a lead story noting “unconfirmed reports” about masses of Haitians readying to come to the Bahamas. Yet just a few paragraphs later it noted that these reports may have been misplaced.
The words out of many mouths are consistent with the disturbing meditations of their hearts with regard to the Haitian people. Language and words matter. They can serve as a balm or as a poison to worsen historic rifts.
Words can also wound as badly as sticks and stones or falling debris turned into missiles by an earthquake. In the mouths of bigots they become nuclearized. The invective and irresponsibility of the bigots and tabloid shills is to be expected.
Once again, it is the inability of those with greater responsibility to use their moral voices that is as much a cause for concern. Those voices could have served as a warning system about a surge of xenophobia and hatred that was bound to flow from various tidal waves of prejudice.
“You just don’t know them Haitians!” is an echo of a similar chorus of discrimination: “You just don’t know them black people!” Or fill in the blank and choose some other group to scapegoat.
Concern about preserving our Bahamian way of life and the capacity to assimilate scores of migrants is a pressing and urgent concern. But to accompany this stance with dehumanizing language which humiliates illegal migrants is unchristian. It mocks the injunction in Exodus to not mistreat, molest or inflict harm on the alien in one’s land.
Undoubtedly there are cultural and historical differences between Haitians and Bahamians. But to attempt to cast these differences as inherent deficiencies of an entire people is of ancient vintage. The Biblical proportions of Haiti’s earthquake and its aftershocks of unsettled fault lines in the earth and in many prejudiced hearts requires a Biblical response.
Those devoted Christians whose words and meditations are corrupted by a smug moral and nationalistic superiority, may want to consider the words of one, who, in the Sermon on the Mount offered some of the greatest meditations of the human heart.
In no way can the prejudiced and bigoted words and meditations by far too many be acceptable or pleasing in the sight of the Lord who created both Haitians and Bahamians.
That Bahamians have been fortunate to enjoy a certain historical and geographical legacy should be a source of gratitude. It should not be a weapon to demonize a people who may not have been as fortunate. Gratitude demands generosity, not moral smugness and superiority.