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Hijabbing still?! Liburd looks at Baldeosingh, religion, the Guardian and the hijab

In the year of our Lord 2017, when we routinely hand money to indiscernible faces behind tinted windows—at places ranging from the gas station to a government office—spend thousands in online transactions with no personal interaction whatsoever or troubleshoot complex issues over the phone with people we will never meet; is it really so scary to contemplate conducting business with someone wearing a hijab?

If you scooted over to Wendy’s during your lunch break and the cashier barked twice and wagged his tail, would it bother you so much once Rover was wearing gloves and quickly and accurately brought you a 1/4 pounder combo with cheese?!

Photo: You would let me work where?!

Okay, so that was tongue in cheek. But the topic itself is quite serious.

Three years ago, Britain’s independent Social Integration Commission deduced that a lack of social integration was costing its country an estimated £6 billion a year due to issues like decreasing job opportunities, segregation and scarcity in certain professions, social isolation, anxiety and the related spin-offs of poor mental and physical health and distrust.

Or, to look at it another way, what might MTS have missed out on by allegedly turning its back on Aisha Sabur—a 32-year-old hijab-wearing Muslim and mother of two? Maybe she would have been a model employee, or the company would have benefited from becoming more diverse—both opening itself up to a wider pool of employees and improving its interaction with people from different backgrounds.

And how will Sabur and her family and loved ones react to the feeling that Trinidad and Tobago shuns such a crucial part of her identity and denied her a living as a result?

What might the cost be to Trinidad and Tobago of either or both scenarios—repeated in dozens or even hundreds of scenarios every year?

This is the moral minefield that irreverent satirist Kevin Baldeosingh, a self-declared atheist, strode into with his column entitled “Hijabonomics explained” on the weekend.

Photo: A satirical take on discrimination at the workplace.
(Copyright Glasbergen.com)

In his own words, Baldeosingh said the column “makes the point that, rather than being a symbol of repression, Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab do so for cogent and rational reasons.”

Baldeosingh attempted to debate the choice to wear a hijab by applying an “economic approach [which] holds that human beings are rational agents, meaning that people seek to attain their goals using the most effective means available in order to maximise their self-interest.”

Humans are fundamentally rational? It is a shaky starting point in a country in which the Prime Minister excuses the misbehaviour of his 44-year-old Sport Minister on youth, when France President Emmanuel Macron is 39 and Canada Prime Minister Justin was sworn in at the age of 43.

American astronaut John Glenn was 40 when he orbited the earth on the Friendship 7 mission. Yet Darryl Smith cannot make it to Tobago and back without incident while the 35-year-old Shamfa Cudjoe might be the only millennial who cannot operate a smart phone.

But I digress. Religion—like sport and nationalism—provokes emotional loyalties that are difficult to define in such narrow terms as dollars and cents.

An American family is unlikely to migrate to Luxembourg, even if convinced that the European nation has a better education system and higher GDP per capita. Just as an Arsenal fan would be loathe to switch loyalties to Chelsea although the latter club is more successful and offers cheaper season tickets.

Photo: An Arsenal football fan (far left) enjoys another blissful weekend supporting his beloved team and shouting praise at his esteemed manager Arsene Wenger (bottom right).
(Copyright Daily Mail/Paul Marriott)

In my opinion, Baldeosingh’s column was unconvincing. But that does not necessarily make it a bad column. It was, to my mind, a fairly novel way to look at religion. It was provocative in a good way—in that it sought to start a conversation rather than close one.

The intolerance did not come from Baldeosingh but from the Islamic Front, whose spokesman, Umar Abdullah, claimed offence and demanded that action be taken against the columnist.

So what if Baldeosingh raised an irreverent question in close proximity to Eid? Was Jesus not tested by the Devil while he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights?

Are Muslims that thin-skinned as to be deeply offended by such a speculative column in the country’s third-most read daily newspaper?

Is the Muslim religion really better off without Baldeosingh? Or are his provocative asides not a golden opportunity to show the good and reasonable face of a religion that is much maligned at present?

The irony is that if any offence was committed by the column in question—and I believe, there was none—then Baldeosingh was not the guilty party. He does not own a publishing house.

Photo: Former Trinidad Guardian satirist Kevin Baldeosingh.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

The Trinidad Guardian has its own safeguards to ensure that the final product meets a particular standard. According to sources at the newspaper, editor Debra Wanser was responsible for collecting Baldeosingh’s column and either dumping, editing or recommending it for publication. It was a decision that Wanser had hours or even days to make and not just five minutes.

So in releasing a columnist who was nearing the end of his contract rather than punishing the editor who sent the column to print, the Guardian took the easy way out. It was almost literally the least the paper could do, particularly as the supposedly offensive column itself remained available online at a fee.

If Ansa McAl really felt that Muslims were discriminated against in Trinidad and Tobago and that their own company had contributed, they could surely have come up with a far more meaningful way to address that situation than firing a weekly columnist.

The Guardian’s action, news of which was delivered by head of news Shelly Dass, was truly the topping on a most unappetising cake of intolerance, cheap posturing, patronage and cowardice.

Somewhere in the midst of this dust-up in a telephone booth remains a topic that has not been properly addressed at all.

In France, the government outlawed burqas or full-length veils in April 2011 on the supposed grounds that a ban was “necessary to ensure gender equality, human dignity and respect for the minimum requirement of life in society.”

Photo: A Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

At the very same time, prostitution was legal in France.

Exactly five years later, the French government voted to punish customers of prostitutes—rather than the sellers—with a fine of €1,500. Yet, then French President Nicholas Sarkozy said the traditional sex worker was a part of his country’s national cultural heritage while Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the painting of a bare-breasted Marianne better reflected their culture than a headscarf.

And, in Paris, the Musée de l’érotisme or Museum of Eroticism dedicates an entire floor to recreating a brothel.

It is just one example of how France has denied its famed libertarian values to Muslims, even as the country remains a powder keg for extremists.

Here in Trinidad, we cheer as a masked caped crusader dispenses vigilante justice on the big screens—just as, a generation or two ago, our grandfathers roared on Zorro or the Lone Ranger.

But we refuse to accept a little mystery if the woman handing us a cup of tea is wearing a hijab.

This is a conversation worth having.

Photo: A Muslim woman wearing a hijab.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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92 comments

  1. Being a Wyoming Ridge runner, this isn’t a situation I see much. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the hijab, not for what it represents but because of how it has been used to oppress women. But, it’s not any part of my daily life. What I DO see is teenage fundamentalist Mormon girls barely old enough to drive married off to guys who graduated high school a good decade before I did. Although, I recently saw my first Sikh in Wyoming. Some gop made a fairly audibile comment and I laughed at him and said” That’s not a Muslim, that’s a Sikh, evident by his turban, beard and wrist bangles” The local made a VERY rude commment and wandered off. The gentleman in question came over and asked how I knew he was Sikh. Dude, not ALL Wyomingites watch Faux News.Some of us actually attended a REAL school. And college. I’m not a fan of any religion but I can work with the ones who don’t get in my face telling me I have to live according to their faith or try to get me to “convert” or be “born again” or whatever twaddle they espouse.. In Wyoming, that is a damn rare critter to find.

  2. This is crap. For example:

    “Humans are fundamentally rational? It is a shaky starting point in a country in which the Prime Minister excuses the misbehaviour of his 44-year-old Sport Minister on youth, when France President Emmanuel Macron is 39 and Canada Prime Minister Justin was sworn in at the age of 43.”

    How does someone compare rationality to age when trying to attempt (poorly) to link it maturity and the ability to do a job?

    Epic Flaw.

    What we have are people who don’t wear hijabs discussing why people wear hijabs, which is a lot like gay men discussing why people have heterosexual sex.

    Bat in your crease.

  3. You need to examine in more studied detail the muslim reaction to the rest of the world…and indeed the cause and effect reaction to muslims by the rest of the world! I read with onterest though.

  4. Trinidad and Tobago does not have freedom of speech, not when you can get locked up for “annoying language. That being said freedom of speech means you are free to say what you want, but it does not mean your employer has to pay you to say it.

  5. What we as a progressive society fail to understand is the true meaning of Freedom of Speech and expression and like with everything else there is a line that is drawn which we should not cross.

    Freedom of speech and expression does not mean taking away someone else’s right to that same freedom or taking away or suggesting that an individual’s freedom of choice is taken away. These liberties are enshrined in our constitution so to suggest that the sister/woman/mother take off her Hijab is crossing the line.

    Being progressive is creating an harmonised mix amongst ourselves so as to create an environment that would be conducive to positive growth and development.

    I guess the question we should ask is how beneficial and productive that commentry was? I would draw from two examples: The Kathy Griffin’s case and the Copeland Murders.

    We want a peaceful progressive society not a society fuelled with hate and resentment; ingredients for total destruction.

    • Lasana Liburd

      Hello Umar–if I can be informal. I agree that a peaceful, progressive society is just the sort we should aim for. But what really is learnt when you call for someone to be sacked in this circumstance? That the public should not mess with this particular religion?
      Remember that Baldeosingh’s commentary came after a young Muslim woman was denied employment because of a hijab. Baldeosingh didn’t do that. It was, allegedly, the MTS. So that suggests there is a problem that goes beyond the columnist.
      I feel that your response missed the chance to address the root problem, which isn’t the author.

    • Earl Best

      I have a real difficulty with the claim made at the end of this paragraph:

      “Freedom of speech and expression does not mean taking away someone else’s right to that same freedom or taking away or suggesting that an individual’s freedom of choice is taken away. These liberties are enshrined in our constitution so to suggest that the sister/woman/mother take off her Hijab is crossing the line.”

      If any such suggestion were in fact “crossing the line,” we’d never have enough jails and/or courts in this country. Baldeosingh has every right, in my view, to express a dissenting view. I think where he offends is in his timing, which may not be an accident. It suggests a certain call it perversity, a deliberate desire to provoke the ire of a group that he appears to think is either too thin-skinned or too often handled with kid gloves.

  6. Islamphobia! Woe be to Slanderers & backbiters!

  7. As an Atheist Kevin “attracts ” all Faiths

  8. U knw if he was attacking another faith that’s in the majority, that would have been another issue.

  9. Well written. ..baldeosingh is brilliant for bringing the double standard forward. In a way he didn’t deserve it. Guardian loss…

  10. CAISO Trinidad and Tobago

    I think your commentary starts with a totally questionable and I believe false premise: that the Guardian ended its relationship with Kevin because of that one column. And because Muslims complained. I think it’s a bit irresponsible to propagate that without evidence. And your entire opinion turns on that.

    You also sidestep the racial content of this particular column entirely:

    “What signal…are hijab-wearing women sending? If they are not married, they are displaying their chastity…If they are married, they are displaying fidelity…It is unlikely, though, that a single mother of two children who are separated in age by nine years would be signalling either chastity or fidelity. Instead, it is more likely that Afro-Trinidadian women from hotspot areas who adopt the hijab—and it appears that all Black Muslim women, unlike most Indian Muslim ones, do so—are signalling that they are protected by the Black Muslim community.”

    and you ignore the politics of using a poor woman trying to provide for a household, including a child with a disability and a sickly mother, to make this point.

    There’s a way in which this sort of offensiveness had become a point of honour for his columns.

    Plus, everything Dylan said.

    • Lasana Liburd

      You believe it to be a false premise. I don’t. Questionable? Perhaps. But Kevin Baldeosingh isn’t the only person who thinks he was fired for that reason. So does Guardian staff. I’m sure if the Guardian wants to contradict that they can easily do so anyway. And I’m guessing the paper didn’t official ask you to set that right.
      As for Baldeosingh’s column itself, I disagreed with it. I think I made that clear.
      The racial context? You might be right. But you might be wrong too. The Muslim fraternity itself recognises one sect as “black Muslims” and, to be honest, I think certain sects like the Jamaat Al Muslimeen do see themselves and are seen as apart from the other more conventional groups.
      I’d rather not pronounce on that one way or the other as I am not expert on the topic. “Hijabonomics explained” wasn’t my column and I don’t agree with it.
      I am not Muslim. I did not find it offensive personally. And I think the blame for publishing lies with the Guardian newspaper and, in particular, its editorial staff. That’s my take on it.
      And, btw, my column started with a discussion on why people are put off by the hijab. You found that totally questionable and false?

  11. HAHAHAHA
    The Trinidad Guardian ….. Not the paper that Trinidad needs, but the one it deserves! LOL

  12. Wanna hear something funny Vernal? For a fee, the Guardian will still let you read that “offensive” column they sacked the man for!

  13. You’ll missing the point which who cheaper to fire and less likely to show that it’s the papers fault. Don’t blame the parents, blame the child punish the child, for the parents failure. Isn’t that we are taught

    • I don’t think it is fair analogy to the parents/children though. The child can do something at school with zero input from parent.
      Baldeosingh absolutely cannot publish his own article.
      But I agree he is easier to fire.

    • Actually I am not relating like, what I am saying even the child does something that has zero input by the parent at some stage there must be ownership. For example what are the ToR for the job? I once asked by someone what was the ToR for job they told me there is a job description.
      I am saying what if nothing happened and no group says anything. What then ? So there is no action done by an individual within a company in which the superior don’t know what happens. What they did was punish the individual without the real persons the editor being held accountable. Just saying

  14. las year KB raise jep with he Eid column. Same ness.
    Orin get the heat.
    This rongs Shelly say eh eh…

  15. I can’t comment on the issue but nice balance in the story

  16. Didn’t the guardian do the same thing bout 20 years ago for the headline chutney rising.

  17. Given the Muslim leader’s affiliates, it seems that the Guardian is afraid (justified or not) of two things:
    1. Economics – they do not want a decrease in readership and advertising, especially in these times. Therefore they do not want to alienate any group.
    2. Safety – they do not want their assets to mysteriously catch ablaze or their homes or loved ones to be shot at.

    It’s plain and simple.

    • Lasana Liburd

      But Guardian continues to publish Sat Maharaj and Raymond Ramcharitar. Are they really afraid of causing offence? And just how many of their readers come from the Islamic Front anyway?
      And I don’t think the Islamic Front could get outside the Sabga house if they tried.
      Those are reasonable points you made. But I just don’t know. Seems like their editorial decisions are made on the hoof. Or the paper truly does not have any core principles and makes it up as they go along.

      • Salaah Inniss

        Exactly Lasana, poor principles…if those two jokers can write such drivel and twaddle and still have a job, then it smells of double standards…or maybe they need to change their ‘masthead’…however I think the editor must know what is their standards and if Kevin did go overboard [writing satirical in this country? hmmm they just wont get it!] then the editor has the responsibility not to publish the article….she should be the one exiting… Don’t blame the writer…Excellent article Lasana…

  18. Im biased. I called him out in print as a misogynist, and he amongst his many attacks on me, described me in print as a mook. Hence my comments here are not as sympathetic as your own.

    I wouldnt blame the editor rather than the abilities and mind of racist misogynist themself. The column was flawed, because no matter the writer’s aim, many people didn’t understand it. So it failed writing school 101. It then also offended some, precisely because the writer was not clear enough in their prose. That is not the readers’ fault. Maybe blame the editor in context of legibility, but also the writer is also part of problem here. Simply because what they had in their head did not translate adequately to paper. And im pretty sure no matter what you say here, some writers do not take kindly to editors fixing their prose. I would imagine based on his own ego, which i have confronted via email a couple of times, this could have been a factor. Did you ask that before blaming the editor?

    Secondly im not sure about the novelty of this economic lens you speak about. In fact i laughed out loud when i read your sentence. The writer has a worldview that we are all rational economic maximisers. Its the implicit logic in all his columns not just this one. Except this free market psychological twaddle has been discredited by all social sciences, apart from psychology and economics, the only two social sciences that think they are real hard sciences because they use a lot of quantitative methodologies and figures. Also the two social sciences designed to make each one of us accept the economic system more easily by bombarding us with b/s about how we are all individualistic atoms bouncing off each other! Which suggests Baldeosingh is not as open minded as you suggest, and actually pretty myopic. Do his columns actually over this long career show breadth? No, he says the same thing over and over again. Simply put, if Baldeosingh’s ideas about the world actually came to be the ideas we lived by it would be a Caribbean version of the alt-right. That is the place he is coming from: Prejudice as humour. its not funny tho.

    Finally, what of the many persons in the country who do not like his writing, do not think he is funny, and that feel genuine hurt for many of things he has said. His regular negative remarks against women, which he thinks funny, demonstrate how sexism and patriarchy in Trinidad stand in for humour. Those things arent funny; on one side of the continuum they are related to violence and murder against women. And the violence of men more generally in our society. Should such consequences not be included in your requiem for a fallen columnist? Or does such hurt and disrespect not matter here? For example, your charity in that it was a moral mindfield, i feel is misplaced, because that’s precisely how he writes, to offend. Im not a fan of that writing, because ultimately all he has to back it up is opinion. Not research. Not fieldwork. Not data. Simply the books he chooses off the shelf. Such intellectualism is a sham and it is not done to improve society. Its personal. Its egotistic. And its designed for sensationalism rather than education.

    I could go on but as i mentioned i am probably biased to all his negatives, since i’ve not ever had a positive exchange with him.

    • Lasana Liburd

      “And im pretty sure no matter what you say here, some writers do not take kindly to editors fixing their prose. I would imagine based on his own ego, which i have confronted via email a couple of times, this could have been a factor. Did you ask that before blaming the editor?”
      Actually, this only strengthens my position. The role of the editor is a paid job that comes with certain responsibilities. You cannot give that a pass because you’re afraid to hurt the writer’s feeling and, in theory, put your entire company at risk of lawsuit or upset thousands of people.

    • Lasana Liburd

      With regards to your overall take on his writing, I respect your opinion and you articulate it well. But there are also intelligent people who do rate his work. I clearly have not read as many of his columns as you did/do but I certainly enjoyed some of his work–nobody enjoys EVERYTHING someone puts out.
      The Live Wire column also straddles that fence of good taste and has received its share of criticism for sometimes coming down on the wrong side of the fence.
      I feel that most times our feelings of offence come from a degree of personal insecurity though. If someone says something that hurts me, it is worth my time to consider what about that message touched a raw nerve and why.
      Which is not to discount the fact that some people are assholes and enjoy hurting others. But we can still learn from that and them.

  19. Kevin may have to sing his columns now. Aloes, sign him up. Seriously though, does somebody love Raymond?

  20. If one’s religion espouses nudity, would the State permit it ? To start with a positive,women will not be able to complain that they have nothing to wear.

  21. Whether or not Kevin’s piece is offensive is relatively irrelevant. Focusing on the writer instead of the editor who put his writing in the paper in the first place makes as much sense as blaming the bullet manufacturer instead of the triggerman for a shooting and I really don’t understand how most of us don’t get that. What is happening here is the Guardian by axing Kevin astutely absolved themselves from publishing a piece that they themselves by axing him are admitting was offensive.

    Lasana if you for instance published an offensive piece by another writer under the Wired 868 banner do you think your readers would blame you for publishing it or him for writing it.

    At some point Trinidadians will have to begin applying simple logic to their reasoning or continue taking 6s for 9s and buying kyat-in-bag.
    I personally have been stunned by people’s ill-focused reaction to this.

    • Elementary eh? The ability to read and understand should be cherished yes.
      Why do we seem to miss the big picture so often? Smh.

    • Well I could make a joke and say that we aren’t a “big picture” people, but between me and you is because we fucking dotish.
      Sorry (not really) fuh cussing!

    • Not even dotish; increasingly intellectually lazy. For the most part we damn well know better but CHOOSE to eschew the use of our cognitive powers (never mind our sense of fairness).

    • Yuh giving them the benefit of the doubt there big time there, Colin.

    • It’s like getting sick after eating an aloo pie and the vender said he baught rotten potatoes so you blame the farmer and not the vender.

    • @Vernal: Ent?!!

      @Lasana: you may be right, there.

    • Both the Express as well as the Guardian run offensive pieces from people like Sat …. everybody then loses their shit and starts condemning Sat for being Sat instead of boycotting the paper until it sets standards and stops running offensive pieces altogether.

      • Earl Best

        Vernal, I don’t know that newspapers can take a position that says we shall not offend period. I think that in the real world newspapers take the position that we shall not offend ________. (What fills the blank depends on the newspaper).

        Baldeosingh’s problem, I think, is that he sets out to offend; it’s deliberate, not accidental. Sure there are those who like that and will “buy” the paper for that reason. But when the numbers – more accurately, the economic value ) of those who will NOT buy the paper because they are offended by it exceed those who will, pragmatism demands that the paper (which in our neck of the woods is first and foremost a business!) take action.

        QED.

  22. Earl Best

    And I presume you refer to the one between Baldeosingh and Guardian readers rather than the one between Wired868 and Baldeosingh’s readers.

    Or is it the one between Baldeosingh and the Guardian? You know what? Just keep talking and hope that people keep listening even if they’re more than slightly confused.

  23. Earl Best

    “This is conversation worth having”

    Particularly in a country where so much talk is mere ole talk and more often than not leads to no action.

  24. Some people seem to have problems reading an article fully to understand the full message, but cherry pick parts out of context and cry foul.

  25. My sentiments exactly Ms Bharath, I have long said that Media Houses in T&T are instigators to the nastiness in the print medium. Its interesting how within recent times whenever the public is dissatisfied with an issues or a few complains are made, a ‘scape goa’t is found and dismissed. A Muslim Organization has been in the news about various issue within recent times and suddenly Ansa Mcal accedes. Mr Baldeosingh style of writings you may not always agree with,, but I admit it often makes you think, This one is puzzling. the issue of the hijab is a conversation worth having, considering how many times over the decades hijabs have been an issue from school to the work place. That’s T& T we don’t address issues, we bury them, until it reemerges again. No standards to follow, but peoples whims. Ramcharitar skewed and racists views seems to be encouraged. I wonder why?

  26. Lasana Liburd for me the crux of this lies in the paragraph about his editor. If the Guardian Head of News felt the column was offensive then the editor is at fault for publishing it. And if offensive columns are grounds for firing columnists, surely Raymond Ramcharitar is out the door as well?

  27. Great article Lasana. My one diversion is that I don’t think Kevin ever intended to be “convincing”. I think he was indeed opening the same conversation which you are very astutely and profoundly advancing. Kevin has instigated a convert for those open enough to engage and in the process confront their own preconceived notions and biases. Great read again! Thanks