In part two of this two-part series, Fuad Abu Bakr, political leader of the New National Vision (NNV), responds to suggestions that he has no business in politics because of his father Yasin Abu Bakr’s history and gives the NNV’s position on same-sex relationships and marriage and campaign financing.
Abu Bakr continues his one-on-one interview with Wired868 reporter Otancia Noel:
WIRED868 REPORTER (WR) Otancia Noel: Some people feel very strongly that, because of 1990, you are, as your father’s son, disqualified from legitimate participation in the formal political process. The sins of the father, it is said, fall on the child. I think that almost certainly explains at least in part the small number of votes the NNV got in May 2010.
Assuming that your party fares no better in the 2015 general elections than it did five years ago, what is your plan going forward for changing people’s perception of you as illegitimate?
Fuad Abu Bakr (FAB): We contested 12 seats in the last election as a young, new party. The majority of our candidates and our members were individuals who are not so well known to the public. We didn’t have anywhere near the funding that other parties have, we did not mobilize on election day and carry people to vote. What we were doing was sowing the seeds of a new party, of a new vision. We expressed on the few platforms that we had—and they weren’t many—and in the few free media opportunities that we had what we are about.
The reaction of the public to that new party was exceptional in my opinion. Bigger parties like Tapia who boast intellectuals and other individuals within our society who had a lot of respect who were not able to achieve what we were able to achieve. And I feel as though it’s a step in the right direction.
I feel as though the opportunity to engage the public on a level of political leadership and to direct them in a positive manner and to explain to them the truth is a profound opportunity that I will continue to avail myself of. Even if the New National Vision does not win in this election outright, it still serves as not only an example but also as a catalyst for other individuals, maybe younger people—they may not even be Muslims—to get involved independently.
There are very, very few options for people in our country. We keep sticking to this PNM or UNC thing, which has done a disservice to our nation. And I feel strongly as though if people listen, they will realize what real leadership is.
So I will continue in the path that I am continuing. I am not daunted at all.
WR: As you mention being “not daunted at all,” listen to this: “I don’t know if bravery runs in your blood but I sat back for a while and thought about things. I felt this strong desire to change the society that I plan to live in and I feel as though, if I could contribute positively and make T&T better in a real way, I would have fulfilled my goal.”
That’s you talking to a Guardian reporter in July last year. Do you think it perhaps makes you sound like a chip off the old block? Do you think you are in 2015 where your father was in 1990?
FAB: Nah. I think that the situation that they faced was very, very different. There are a number of challenges in our society and I am trying to contribute, to make it better in whatever way I can. I don’t like to compare myself to others but there are people who have parents who are not positive people and yet they still are capable of achieving positive things. And likewise there are people who have parents who are extremely positive and they choose to go down a negative path and do nothing productive in society.
So we all have responsibility for ourselves and we all have the choice in terms of how we want to live and what we want to do. So as an individual first and foremost, I feel if you are not contributing positively to the society that you are living in, if you’re not making people better, then you are wasting your life.
And that thought and that understanding is what drives my everyday actions.
WR: So if you needed to respond to someone who says that because you are Yasin Abu Bakr’s son, you have no right to be in our politics, what would you say? What would you say to someone who says that, being the son of Yasin Abu Bakr, you are not good enough for our politics?
FAB: That is simply sad. That is akin to the comments we heard from Vernella Alleyne-Toppin make in Parliament recently when she was maligning Keith Rowley and speaking of his being born of rape and the conclusions to be drawn from that about his father. If that were so—and I am not saying that it is—what bearing does that have upon an individual?
I am sure there are children who are born of murderers and kidnappers and drunkards and abusers and all sorts of other kinds of criminals and perpetrators of all kinds of other heinous acts but yet they don’t choose that path. And that could never nullify their potential contributions to a society. You would never dare say that this person can’t do anything positive or should not be involved that way. It’s just totally ignorant.
An individual should be judged based on their actions. Every individual is responsible for themselves. I can’t do time for somebody else, for my father and likewise if I have children they can’t be arrested and made to pay for something that I do, for example. So that level of ignorance is really sad and I feel that people who know better push that within our society because they are afraid of change.
They are afraid of people who come and speak the truth and that is what I will continue to do regardless.
WR: In your opinion, is the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen as a political force stronger today than it was in 1990?
FAB: Yes, I have gotten that comment from a few Muslims. Some Muslims say that we shouldn’t be involved in politics at all; others say that we shouldn’t be getting involved in the way we are getting involved. I disagree. I feel as though by whatever means you can effect change and bring positivity to your country or wherever you are you should make an effort to do so.
There are many members of our organization and other Muslims who do vote and get involved politically and they choose to get involved with people who have less than proper characters. Some of them get involved with people who are not even religiously-minded at all and to me that is a shame in itself. They support people who clearly in my opinion are hypocrites; they say one thing and then when they reach into power they do the next. And I feel as though all God-fearing people—not just Muslims; there are Christians and other people who hold their moral and spiritual values high should try to analyse properly their options in terms of candidates and in terms of leadership and support people who are going to do positive, righteous good things for our society.
I feel strongly as though the opportunity and the resources to make a profound impact on our society are vested in the politicians, are vested in the leaders of our country. And therefore good people, righteous people should be offering themselves for leadership and fighting and struggling to do the best they can with the resources of our country for the people of our country. And that is why I am involved politically.
WR: I think you are in a difficult situation as a Muslim politician. A politician has to represent all the people so how will you deal with issues in Trinbago culture and society that conflict with the tenets of Islam? Let’s say the NNV wins the election, what will you do, for instance, about homosexuals? What will you do if the Muslim lobby came to you and said ‘Boy, Fuad, we feel you should change the law and allow for multiple wives’?
FAB: Well, we live in a society, in a country which fortunately says on paper that it respects the religion and rights of all of its people, all its peoples. And because of our mixed culture and our varying backgrounds and our multi-religious society, we have enshrined in our Constitution that sort of respect and understanding. And therefore there is room for every single religious group in our society. But I feel strongly and I always state clearly our policies pertaining to even the tricky topics. While other politicians tend to hide and dodge, I have stated very clearly that what people do privately within the confines of their own home is their business.
But as policy for my New National Vision, I would never, never encourage homosexuality or legalise the rights to same-sex marriage. That is not something that I think is positive and that will contribute towards the building of proper families in our nation, and the family is the basis of your society.
So, I don’t see any conflict. Fortunately in Trinidad and Tobago, they say God is a Trini and most people in our country—I’d say the majority—have some sort of religious persuasion and, therefore, throughout, across all religious persuasions, our tenets are extremely similar. Testimony to that is the fact that Muslims can for the most part practise their religion peacefully in this society. And Hindus. And Christians. And we co-exist with respect. I think that is what I would try to encourage most of all, that respect for each other and that mutual understanding. We may be different and you may do certain small things differently from me but that is okay as well.
And that is the understanding that I want to encourage as a leader in Trinidad and Tobago.
WR: Many commentators agree that, more than annoying, there are three other big C’s which, like the most notorious Big C, cancer, are gnawing away at the vitals of the body politic. The first is crime, which is a familiar theme, the second is corruption, ditto, and the third is campaign financing, which has got a new lease on life with the recent fall from grace of Jack Warner. What would you like to tell the country on these three issues?
FAB: I feel as though the New National Vision has almost pioneered discussion of those three issues, especially in the last election campaign. A lot of the time that we spent campaigning was spent enlightening people about the reality of money and politics.
I will start with the last one first. Campaign financing is destroying our country. We have asked for some consolidated campaign fund, some nationally provided fund for all parties to spend in a certain way on elections so that we are not beholden to businessmen to fund us and then request ‘favours’ in return. That is an essential part of creating a proper democracy where the people are the core of the democracy.
Jack Warner is famous for saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune and he is probably a victim of that himself because he felt strongly as though he paid the piper and they did not play the tune he wanted and now he is extremely upset.
We need to get away from that and that is one of the solutions I see. If the government sets up a fund, they’ll obviously need to regulate the way money is spent but that fund should be for recognized political parties to use to get their ideas across, to educate the population about their stances and their policies so that the population could make a sensible decision, a sensible choice. And then members of the government would be beholden only to the population when they get into power.
Corruption? Well, that stems sometimes from campaign financing as well but there is this prevalence of greed and materialism in our society that is driving corruption. Our morals have been eroded from the top down; the consistent message is ‘Just get money; get rich.’ And that is an extremely negative thing because it really erodes the moral fibre, the moral fabric of the society. And people come with the excuse—and it’s not an excuse for anything—‘if they could do it and them is the leaders, then who is we?’
WR: Yeah. If the priest could play…
FAB: Exactly! ‘Everybody have to eat ah food,’ they say. But we really need to stop for a second, take a good look at ourselves and change that aspect of ourselves to really help our society escape from corruption.
And the last of the three is crime. Of course, crime has other connecting issues: poverty, ignorance, lack of opportunity… It has been spoken about a lot but the effect of crime is what the government throws a lot of resources at. We have to treat with it in a proper manner and we need to be sensible about it and try to prevent individuals from reaching the stage where they get into criminal conduct.
I’ll give you a classic example: We have a big loophole in our society where children now are being expelled from school when they act out of sync with the rules, sometimes for fighting, sometimes for other things. When they are expelled, they are left out of the system. It is not as though they are expelled from one school and put into another institution. So what we are doing is throwing them out of the school system that is supposed to educate them and help them to fulfill their full potential and just leaving them on the street. To do what? To be the next criminals.
I know young men who have been expelled from school at the age of 13 and 14 and I know if some intervention is not made they are going to be the next criminals, so to speak. We are creating that problem. We really need to man-manage almost every single individual in our society. We need to take the information from CSO, all these censuses and other surveys that are done, we need to know every child that we have, we need to ensure that every child is going to school, we have to ensure that every child has the right opportunities and even when they fall out for whatever reason, we have to find them and pick them up and put them back in the system and do something meaningful with them.
The same individual that is in jail for killing someone else could be doing positive things in our society. The care and the understanding and the compassion and the effort is what we are missing in this political system and in our leadership. And we really need to bring all of that back because we are losing too many of our young promising people.
And crime affects us all. We have to cage ourselves up; at night, when you want to go here or there, you can’t. People feel now that the police only react when something has already happened, after the damage has been done; they just come to pick up the dead bodies.
And that is sad. That is sad.
WR: So, in your opinion, is the Muslim vote likely to be critical in the forthcoming general elections? In fact, is there in your opinion anything like a Muslim vote or are there merely voters who are Muslim?
FAB: I think there are many Muslims who are voters but I’m not sure there is a Muslim vote in your sense. Because of the way Muslims settled in Trinidad and Tobago, there a quite a few of them in key areas and their numbers are influential in certain seats, some of which are classed as “marginals.” Therefore, the Muslim vote is extremely essential.
In close elections such as this one is likely to be—the previous one turned out not to be so close—and even in 2005, was it? I don’t exactly remember when Manning won after the deadlock…
WR: No, 18-18 was in 2001 and Manning won outright in 2002.
FAB: …the political climate is very heated and every single vote counts. But more important than that is what I call the conscious vote, the vote of the people who are sensible enough to decide on issues. The important people are the swing voters, the ones who do not vote one way all the time without thought or analysis. That is critical and I feel as though that is the group I want to reach out strongly to, the listening public, those who make their choice for specific reasons, not just because ‘I am PNM till I dead’ or ‘I am UNC till I dead.’ That is essential.
So, yes, I would say that the Muslim vote is very important but so are all the other voters.
WR: Switching now to the more personal side of things, let’s talk about wives. Everybody knows, I think, that your father has four wives—he’s fond of saying that he’s a lover, not a fighter—but you, at 29, are still unmarried. So are you waiting for the law to change or will you be content to marry just one woman because polygamy is against the law?
FAB: A good life is essential and I always tell people that, because you don’t know what the future holds, the best gift you can give your children is a good mother, so a good wife is essential. So I can’t tell if I am going to marry again—I have been married previously—I can’t tell you yes or no or how many times. I do not think polygamy is wrong as some people like to say it is but I think it is difficult to support in our economic situation. People have tried to deal with it and find a lot of difficulty.
I know also culturally in Trinidad and Tobago, women have a lot of issues with it at times and as a man – and a politician – you need to be understanding and know that it is a sensitive area. And you also need to ensure that what you do is best for your family as well.
So it’s a tricky situation and not one that I have to deal with at this time, so let’s leave that there…
WR: Do you have a view you wish to share on the outcome of the imminent general elections?
FAB: Oh yeah! There is a quote from (Albert) Einstein that I use kind of often. Einstein says that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I feel as though we have a lot of politically mad people in Trinidad and Tobago. We do the same thing over and over, we vote for the PNM or we vote for the UNC and then we get the same result and we are surprised. But somehow, we feel that somehow next time things will change. That is what I would like a lot of people to understand and let us avoid making the same mistake again.
I feel as though those two parties have served us positively and negatively in the past and it’s time for us to move on as a people, to bridge that racial divide and to create an entity that serves us all, that is sensible enough and understands that we can’t go forward as a nation as separate racial groups, divided. It simply does not make sense. We need to create some new way of governing to change the people who are involved in politics and bring new, fresh faces to the fore.
We really need a new national vision for our country to grow and that is why I am involved. And I pray and I work as hard as I can, to the best of my ability to develop the ability to make that a reality.
WR: Well, thank you, Fuad. It has been most enlightening.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read part one where Fuad Abu Bakr accuses the Government of using his father as a scapegoat, reveals why he clashed with the Imam over the 1990 Commission of Enquiry and explains why the NNV is not a Muslim party.