Should Yasin Abu Bakr, spiritual leader of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen, announce his candidacy as an alternative for government leadership this week, Trinidad and Tobago will hit a new benchmark in respecting the democratic process and honouring the rule of law. Abu Bakr has announced that he will relaunch his political party, the New National Vision, on Wednesday, claiming that people have been "blinded" by the Government's 2020 vision. Should Abu Bakr choose to set aside his role as imam for a new mantle of political leadership, he will have publicly acknowledged the aspirations that his shadow roles in the election process over the last decade have strongly suggested.
Since Abu Bakr led an insurrection against the elected government of this country in July, 1990, his organisation has declared itself aligned with and supportive of the United National Congress in the campaign for the 1995 general election and the People's National Movement in subsequent elections. The platform for the New National Vision party, according to Bakr, is crime and corruption, matters to which the Muslim leader and his jamaat have been linked over the two decades since the failed coup attempt. First, the freed rebels cast themselves as vigilantes, claiming dominion over the darker corners of criminal activity left unaddressed by the police, and then they began to appear as suspects in a number of criminal cases before the courts.
Despite his open commitment to Islamic militancy, Yasin Abu Bakr has been the beneficiary of Trinidad and Tobago's commitment to an unbiased reading of the laws of the land and a commitment to the very democracy that, in 1990, he sought to overthrow. When the armed members of the Jamaat-al-Muslimeen surrendered after the collapse of the 1990 insurrection, they were arrested and brought before the courts. The rebel group argued that they had been granted a binding amnesty by the acting President of the day. The Muslimeen won that argument and were freed, liberated by the very laws they ignored and sought to abolish when they attacked and seized control of Parliament and Trinidad and Tobago Television, the sole television broadcaster of the day.
As Yasin Abu Bakr plans another, though eminently legal attempt to take power in Trinidad and Tobago, there remain troubling questions about his relationships, both high, with leading politicians, and low, which have brought him and his flock before the courts to answer charges of criminal conduct. The lingering accusations made by Abu Bakr in an affidavit reviewed by the Privy Council remain before the police for investigation on the advice of Justice Rajendra Narine, and those questions are still to be satisfactorily answered or refuted. That issue returned to a public forum last week, when Ian Alleyne interviewed the Muslimeen leader on Thursday's Crime Watch programme on WinTV.
Alleyne received an unedited tape and documents from Bakr on the show, and was subsequently questioned by the police about the matter. Politics is not the only realm of Abu Bakr's public influence. Some of his public speeches have suggested that while his views of Afro-centric Islamic militancy may have become less physical, they remain strident and inward-looking. His threat to declare war against Muslims who failed to pay zakaat remain a low point in his relations with the tightly-knit Muslim community in Trinidad and Tobago. Should Yasin Abu Bakr choose to proceed with his plan to declare his candidacy for election, he will need to do a much better job of presenting his positions and prior political involvement to voters.
The Muslimeen leader remains influential with disenfranchised young people, and that capacity to lead impressionable minds unimpressed with traditional political conversations cannot be underestimated. The Bakr modus operandi has, thus far, been limited to veiled threats and scurrilous innuendo, but that won't take him any distance in an election race so focused on hot button issues, of which he may be considered one. A Yasin Abu Bakr, who hopes to face the electorate, must come clean with voters, presenting evidence to back up all of his robber talk and producing a manifesto composed of more that can be described as being valuable to Trinidad and Tobago than he has been willing to offer so far.