All Voices Matter: Artists, Intellectuals, Students and WarIn most cultures the poets, writers, musicians and artists of all disciplines are actively engaged in the civic life of their communities. That is, in a time of war or peace, economic well being or recession, it has always been the engaged artists who have led the call for reason, fairness and open debate. It has been the artists who run toward fear, not away from it.
As our armed forces remain in Iraq and the Middle East, those brave souls, who dare to raise the conversation about war beyond mere slogans and support for our troops, are the artists, students and intellectuals. Currently, in the fear climate of post-9/11 any voices not in lock step with President Bush and his administration are crudely vilified, dismissed and denounced as near traitors. It must be stated as clearly and as loudly as possible to all who will listen that if this is truly a land of laws, Bush, his advisers, the neo-conservatives who feed him his strategy and the right-wing radio talk show hosts who trumpet his vision do not have the only voices in this great land.
The quality of thought and questions in a particular community are directly related to the quality of reading in that community. Formal and informal education and discourse, consistent infusion of ideas from other disciplines and cultures, as well as regular travel outside of one’s comfort zone to interact with the so-called “strangeness” of the other, are all components that fundamentally define what a progressive and liberal education is about.
It is not an odd fact of life that thousands of people the world over risk their lives weekly to gain entry into the United States. There are many reasons for this; most certainly the principles upon which the nation was founded (or some would say, taken). Our active and free press is constantly reordering itself and does offer alternatives. The nation’s educational system at the college and university level is about the best in the world. If we, the citizens, are not aware of this, others are, and by the millions seek immediate admittance into these institutions.
Often, when one lives in a house it is difficult to determine if that house is in trouble. Most of us accommodate ourselves to the culture of the house, in this case, the United States. We go about our daily business without seriously or critically questioning the motivations or actions of those who are charged with running the house. The acute problem that a great many citizens face in a time of national crisis is the inability to ask the right questions, of the right people, at the right time; especially the questioning of a leadership that is hell-bent on war. After all, one’s information bank, which drives a person’s actions, is specifically tied to the quality of information that is consumed by that person.
The news media have failed to deeply scrutinize the president and his administration’s justification for war. The quiet fact is that reporters and columnists read and listen to each other and most do not do the necessary independent research that is required of first-rate reporters. Alternative media such as The Nation, Harper’s or The American Prospect, and the many independent daily and weekly newspapers are critical but do not have the deep pockets like that of major corporate media.
How then shall we examine those issues that potentially do touch our everyday lives, such as education? Young people must have access to an education that stimulates and encourages them to venture beyond newspapers, magazines, comic books and the millions of pages of advertisements, promotion, announcements, proclamations, notices and commercial messages for popular culture that we are inundated with daily.
If, indeed, our nation is being led by a C-minus president and other dangerous minds, then there must be receptive and intelligent minds to counter them with an enlarged worldview and practices. For every Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz there must be an education system in place to nurture and encourage the potential Ronald Walters, Beverly Guy-Sheftalls, Noam Chomskys and Edward Saids. For each Condoleezza Rice, there must be a way to develop critically questioning minds equal to those of Julianne Malveaux, Jill Nelson and Marcia Ann Gillespie. For each George Will there must be thoughtful and insightful writers and journalists like that of Studs Terkel, Salim Muwakkil and Barbara Ehrenreich. For every John Ashcroft there must be a Charles Olgetree, Derrick Bell, Chokwe Lumumba, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union and thousands of others who labor daily in search of truth. And for the neo-conservative’s intellectual godfather, Leo Strauss, there is the intellectual work of W.E.B. Du Bois.
As this government’s old men march other people’s sons and daughters into harm’s way, we must not give an inch to their misconceived definitions of the world. We must be able, with clarity and conviction, to weigh in with thoughtful answers to globalization for people, rather than multinational businesses. We must continue to fight for and encourage a stronger United Nations. We need immediate answers as to why the executives of Enron and other corporate criminals are still free and living the good life. If $30 billion can be put on the table to give to Turkey for the use of their land and air space for war, what about the millions of American citizens who function daily without adequate healthcare, and live with substandard housing, poor education, mindless employment, sub-employment and unemployment?
The writer Walter Mosley states in his book What Next: A Memoir Toward Peace that “the truth is that knowledge is the only real power to which we have access. One by one we’re weak, but together we can increase each other’s authority and awareness to the point where we will be able to make decisions that might lead to change. School taught us how to study; now we can use those skills to defend ourselves against all of those who would practice the art of the secret killer.”
The secret killer starts early in this world. A most critical learning period for all children is between birth and 6 years old. Much of what we do in life is determined early, this is why free libraries, head-start education, free public schools, access to museums, art galleries, free music in the parks and cities’ cultural centers are vital for an informed citizenry. Keep in mind that a full citizen is an informed and involved citizen.
We, the locked-out, the “little people,” the poets, the artists, the writers of history and politics, the musicians and visual picture takers, the teachers, professors, truck drivers, accountants, healthcare workers and the million of laborers who oppose the strategic use of our young lives for the benefit of a corrupt rulership say, “No” to war with any nation or people who do not directly threaten us.
War is not a board game, a motorcycle race, a weekend run through the forest of a foreign land or marching feet to the best military bands in the West. War is the teenager down the street ready to do serious damage to others and his or her own psyche, because as a patriotic military person he or she believes without question that the commander in chief is right and righteous in giving the final go-ahead.
Chris Hedges, in his profound treatise “War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” questions this military culture and the long-term destruction it creates in a people: “In wartime the state seeks to destroy its own culture. It is only when this destruction has been completed that the state can begin to exterminate the culture of its opponents. In times of conflict authentic culture is subversive. As the cause championed by the state comes to define national identity, as the myth of war entices a nation to glory and sacrifice, those who question the value of the cause and the veracity of the myths are branded internal enemies.”
Enemies we are not. Where is the music for coming generations? What will our tomorrows be like for our children and the children of the others when we allow and encourage a corporate culture of thieves to run free and make deals to rebuild a country on the other side of the world before we destroy it? This is why reading, study, international travel, internal conversations with other cultures, political organizing and activism, building of independent institutions and political parties are part of the answer for any free people who wish to maintain their liberty.
War is about the betrayal of civil culture and the universal living spirit. The hatred of the people of the United States is not a universal fact. However, the hatred of America’s foreign policy is built upon this country’s misuse of its enormous power. And, in the most complete analysis of warfare, it is indeed a fact that you can’t beat an enemy who is not afraid to die. Vietnam should have taught us this truth.
Yet, we live on. Do the Iraqi people, who are Arabs and Muslims, view this as a war of liberation or as further subjugation by Americans and Europeans who are largely Christians? Many of them see this, I believe, as others have pointed out, as not régime change but region change. And, with the United States’ control of Iraq, it has solidified its hegemony over the entire Middle East.
It is the poets who run toward fear:
we are what we read,
think and speak
fighting for greater possibilities
than tabloids and broadsheets where
Texas and London compare notes as
cries of 9/11 loudly emerge out of context
connected to dust on the throats of
authority and might disguised as
camouflaged revenge in the night
from small heads of an imperial
forget the greed of Enron, WorldCom
clustered vampires needing fresh blood
rally against a mosquito whose blood
is dark and oily, slippery and deadly
as our homeland colors are manipulated
between yellow, orange and red. — Haki R. Madhubuti is a poet, publisher of Third World Press and Distinguished University Professor at Chicago State University. This piece is excerpted from a larger article, which can be obtained by contacting Third World Press at [email protected].
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