Roosevelt Skerrit, prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica
Roosevelt Skerrit, prime minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica

Many patriotic Dominicans winced when Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit took a massive swing at his political opponents during a speech two weeks ago at the Windsor Park Stadium forecourt at a function to celebrate his receiving of Cuba's Jose Marti award.

At that function organised by the ruling Dominica Labour Party, Mr. Skerrit described a group of people, composed mainly of supporters of the opposition who walk in protest of government's maladministration, on Roseau's streets every Wednesday as "a bunch of lazy people (who) want to go and run Dominica, patje fenyan, lazy people" and beggars of palau.

Many loyal Dominican grimaced because they realise that such words are unbecoming of a head of government, of someone who should realise that the party he leads cannot by itself build this desperately poor country, of someone who should be a builder rather that a destroyer of patriotism, of someone who should know that a divided nation is dead on arrival.

But unfortunately, that was not the only time that political and other leaders of our society have been making such extremely divisive public statements at one moment, and then turning around and asking the victims of their hate speech for their cooperation, for their help in building the nation, for their help in fighting a pandemic and for their help in repairing the country's infrastructure after a natural disaster.

But that's not how it should be as Shadow suggests in "Yu Looking for Horn" his popular Calypso: "You think is so de thing does work?"

A brief history of hate talk

Recall that a few years ago, in 2013 to be precise, many Dominicans were shocked to hear a priest and an attorney-at-law promoting the idea of using drones- real, political or spiritual- to eliminate, terrorize or exterminate political opponents.

Some of the supporters of these drone-talking gentlemen have defended them; they say everyone is free to express his opinion on political issues of the day, and to a certain extent they are correct.

To paraphrase Evelyn Beatrice Hall, we may disapprove of what the priest and the lawyer and the politician have said about their political opponents but we will defend to the death their right to say it.

Nevertheless, we expect intelligent people to anticipate the possible impact of their words on their listeners and themselves and to act accordingly. As George Orwell once said: "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

There's also the argument that the critics need to take a close look at the context and the intent of the drone-attack and palau begging talkers. If someone jokes about the use of drones or uses other forms of hate talk that may be excusable but a call for violence against one's opponents, in any context, is cause for alarm.

We define hate talk as any insulting language, name-calling and other forms of language that marginalizes and denigrates one's opponents. We strongly believe that leaders of all political parties should repudiate such language.

In fact, some time ago Ambrose George, the former Minister for Information and Constituency Empowerment in the Roosevelt Skerrit Administration and now the Dominica Ambassador to Venezuela gave some critical advice, albeit unintentionally, to persons who use hate language and warned about the negative impact that so-called hate words can have on our society.

Mr. George expressed the view that offensive language used on radio talk shows in the United States was responsible for the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona on January 6, 2011. During that rampage in the US, you will recall, six persons were killed and 14 were wounded, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on constituents at a meeting outside a supermarket with their congressional representative.

In an address on national radio just after the incident, Mr. George opined that "hate language" in the press was responsible for Loughner's actions and warned his listeners that a similar incident could occur in Dominica if the "hate talk" on radio talk shows continued. He predicted that "coming events cast a shadow before them". Mr. George further stated that Dominican talk show "extremists", as he labelled these broadcasters, have one objective: to stir supporters to kill and injure. He postulated then that since hate language on talk shows in the United States caused a deranged man to shoot and kill people, then such talk on radio shows in Dominica would have a similar effect. That, of course, is a fallacious argument because it ignored the fact that circumstances in the United States of America and Dominica are extremely dissimilar and further, there is no scientific evidence to support the view that talk shows by themselves cause people to behave violently.

But we accept Mr. George's conclusion that hate language, uttered anywhere by anyone, and if we may add, including the political platforms of both the ruling party and the opposition, may not adversely affect persons of balanced minds, but it is likely to influence an unbalanced one.

Hate talk has consequences

Although it was embarrassingly obvious that Mr. George was misusing the Tucson tragedy in a vain attempt at tempering the increasing shrill criticism of his government on some of the talk shows, particularly on Q95, Mr. George's view that hate language should have no place in Dominican politics should be upheld by both his party and the opposition, whose supporters, as one would expect, have retaliated in equal measure to the drone attack talk.

So, Mr. George, vitriolic rhetoric comes from all colours on the party political spectrum, as the "drone language" of nearly 10 years ago aptly illustrates and to blame only anti-government commentators for the dissemination of hate messages is, therefore, being rather imbalanced.

But many may dismiss and discount all this hate-talk as the same rotten politics that the Allegheny College president aptly described as a "disgraceful stew of invective… a continuing contest in which each side of the partisan divide sees itself as right and the other as evil, uncaring or worst of all, unpatriotic".

Additionally, as John Adams, the second president of the United States wrote in 1776, and is still appropriate today, too many of our public discussions are characterized "by noise, not sense; by meanness, not greatness; by ignorance, not learning; by contracted hearts, not large souls".

Adams concluded that "there must be decency and respect and veneration introduced for persons of authority of every rank or we are undone."

We, therefore, urge our leaders to demonstrate more decency and respect, less noise and ignorance, not only on political platforms but on pulpits as well. Otherwise, our nation will not heal and will not prosper and will not ever become that place where everyone rejoices.

This is how "de thing does work".