Friday, April 8, 2011

After You, Cecil... (Cayman's social tensions)

Last week, my Cayman Net News column noted that crime will always flourish in a society in which half the people don’t cooperate with the other half. On the same Friday, the Caymanian Compass’s editorial wondered whether it might be a bit dodgy to let non-Status expats sit on juries passing judgment on native Caymanians, “...given the current tensions between the two groups”.

Well! My, my! I can’t recall the Compass ever before acknowledging that tensions did exist between native Caymanians and expats. It’s a relief to see the paper finally coming out of the closet on the topic. It has always been an excellent small-town newspaper, but its editorials were always desperately wishy-washy, up until just a few months ago. Nobody of my acquaintance can fathom the reason for the change of attitude, but everybody welcomes it. Long may it last. The Net News is a less substantial newspaper, but its editorials have almost always been far superior to the Compass’s.

It used to be said about Cayman’s news reporting, in former times, “Brian covers it up and Desmond makes it up.” The joke may not even be half-true, any more.

Our communal tensions affect every facet of law enforcement. Most dangerously, they affect the Police’s ability to identify the bad guys. At the moment we have four unsolved bank robberies, the unsolved disappearance (abduction, we assume) of the Caymanian woman from the Dump office, and several unsolved savage assaults on Work Permit expats.

What is striking about the caseload is the division of concern in our little society- a division that exactly follows the fault-lines in the society. Expats are mostly concerned about expat victims, Caymanians are mostly concerned about Caymanian. Not always, but mostly. Posters on the Cayman News Service forums argue back and forth about the most likely ethnicity of the robbers. Caymanians want banks’ security guards to be armed; expats wonder how many Caymanians would put their lives on the line for four or five dollars an hour.

There is some reluctance to use the word “tribal” in relation to Cayman’s societal divisions; but what other word fits? If you count all the various expat ethnicities and national origins as a single tribe, then “tribal” it is. Our need, as a society, is not to unite the tribes; that’s not going to happen. One demand to “love us or leave us!” from a Caymanian, and one mention of “birthright entitlement!” from an expat, and the tension is exposed in all its ugliness.

But- that said- surely we ought to be able to agree which crimes to take seriously and which not, and to cooperate in tackling them. Police and Immigration would have to commit to acting in good faith. Would that be too much to ask? It’s actually the only positive option we have besides ceding the nights to the street criminals. There is no third option.

The division isn’t going to go away, so we must learn to live with it. It will be fascinating to see which party (i.e. which tribe) will make the first move towards the common ground. It could develop like one of those old music-hall comedy turns. After you, Cecil. No, no, after you, Claude. No, after you... and so on ad infinitum.