Moral foundations for the nation

President Irfaan Ali has executed another master stroke as he continues to flesh out his vision of “One Guyana” with his “Day of fasting and prayer” last Friday. Rather than engaging in ponderous textual and semantic exegeses, as others were wont to do, we are witnessing in action – performatively – the unfolding of the various aspects of “One Guyana”.
Fundamentally, Guyana is not merely this land that stretches from Point Playa to Crabwood Creek, and from Georgetown to the Takutu Bridge. That is merely landscape on which we, the Guyanese people, will weave the warp and woof that would bind us as a nation.
For too long, we have been tangled up in knots, arguing about the meaning of “One People, One Nation, One Destiny” on the assumption that “one” meant that all of us must be “identical”. This was a pernicious notion that went against what we know empirically from our everyday experiences. Each of us is different in so many ways: physically, mentally, ethnically, and along so many other criteria, especially in our social practices. With our diverse places of origin, because of our colonial past that dragged us from across the globe in a linear chronological sequence to labour and cultivate this land for their benefit, our cultures have been differentially hegemonised to antagonistically stress our differences. For too long, it was assumed that we had to jettison our personal qualities to conform to some imposed “norm”. That norm, of course, was promulgated by those who possessed power, and invariably “the” norm imposed on all was “their norm”.
The point of it all is that “One Guyana” ultimately is all about “we, the people” of this state we call Guyana, “land of many waters”, and where the various aspects of our identities can coexist as a mosaic rather than being blended into some melange.
The Day of Fasting and Prayers demonstrated concretely that each of the several ways in which mankind relates with the Divinity behind this and all creation is equally valid, and there is no need to wage war to decide which is “better”. Even if some of us may hold such views, we are exhorted to live out the true meaning of our various creeds, and let others decide according to their individual inclinations without pressure or coercion.
This year’s observances incorporated one of the traditions of the three largest religions in the world, which we are fortunate to have significant sectors of our populace as adherents, in descending order in terms of numbers, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. We are sure that in future years, other religions, such as our Caribbean-origin Rastafarianism and others, will be incorporated. It was a serendipitous confluence of the religious calendar that made Lent, Chaitra Nauratri and Ramadan be observed simultaneously. The President’s perspicacity to recognise this as an opportunity speaks well of his ability to look beyond the walls that have so long kept us secluded from each other. Fasting and prayers are ultimately tests of our individual resolve to adhere to the values that have been promulgated by our religions, so that we may live more harmoniously with each other. The Divine is perfect and self-sufficient, and there is nothing that our prayers and fasting can do to augment His perfection.
In terms of our “One Destiny” in our One Guyana, all that the state can do is to utilise the funds and laws it acquires and promulgates on our behalf to ensure there is equal opportunity to improve our living conditions, so that we can live in dignity based on our individual efforts. While the dominant economic model since the 1980s has been market-dominant neo-liberal principles, the PPP Government has guaranteed a mixed economy that uses regulation to ensure equity in distributing our national patrimony, especially with welfare features such as free medical care.
This perspective flows from the ethic of moral reciprocity in our religions, that insist we must live in accordance with The Golden Rule.