Some thoughts on September
Its curious what turns a distant
national tragedy into a personal issue. For me, it was talking
about the September 11 terrorist attacks on the radio. Still in
a state of disbelief, I rushed to our community radio station,
where my wife and I made phone calls and searched the Internet
for useful information and compiled a list of local counseling,
spiritual, and relief organizations that listeners might find
useful. A co-worker had been in tears when I arrived, but only
when I went on the air to read the list Id compiled did
I feel my throat constrictingthis tragedy had really happened.
Three days later--as suspicions focused
on a wealthy Saudi living in Afghanistan and I started reading
reports of some racist attacks against Arab-Americans--I was back
on the air for my weekly world music show. What better
forum than this to promote some sense of global unity, based on
music, spirit, and peace? Focusing my show on sacred music of
the world, I started with a piece of music recorded at the annual
Festival of Sacred World Music in Fes, Morocco: Hamza Shakour
playing Sufi Music of Damascas.
As the music played, I felt a little
less isolated; I knew that people around the world were praying
in their own ways to find light and peace in this dark week. I
got a call thanking me for this selection of music. Then another
call, from a woman who was in tears. I find this music very
upsetting, she said. I gently explained to her the theme
of the show, and hoped she would stay tuned. Between songs, I
talked about this call and my purpose for the show. More calls
followed, evenly split between those who supported for my initial
selection and others who thought it was in poor taste.
We will make no distinction between the terrorists who
committed these acts and those who harbor them.
After another day of reflection, I think it comes down to distinctions.
I understand what the president is saying, but I believe this
kind of actand the emotional response it generates in all
of usrequires us to make more distinctions, not fewer. We
need to make the distinction between a very small group of violent
fanatics and those who look like them, or come from the same nation,
or live in the same neighborhood, or profess the same religion.
We work so hard to create beauty and peace, and then
-- Simon Shaheen, a Palestinian musician who lives in New York
I dont believe that the upset listeners who called me are
racists. But if they associate sacred Sufi music with terrorism,
they have some distinctions to make. Syria is as distinct from
Afghanistan as Osama bin Laden is from the mainstream of Islamic
thought. If you cannot separate the work of poets and musicians
from the work of terrorists, then how can you distinguish your
Arab-American neighbor from suicidal maniacs? If you could make
the distinction between Timothy McVeigh and the majority of Americans,
but you cant make such a distinction this week, youve
got some racist issues to work out.
The violence that was delivered to New York, to DC, to
Pennsylvania, was a vicious, ugly reminder that Americans have
been neglecting the full truth for too long. Americans and all
citizens of the world have been extremely irresponsible in permitting
warmakers of all nations to determine our destinies.
--Martín Antibalas of New Yorks Antibalas Afrobeat
The musicians and record labels I deal with have an international
perspective, and Ive received a lot of emails this week
from those located in New York, assuring people they are okay.
Many of them, after denouncing the attacks as barbaric, go on
to discuss the roots of the problem. The United States is a violent
country, from our entertainment to real life on the streets. Admittedly,
this violence is different. Its like non-point pollution
that comes from a thousand small sources instead of one smoke-belching
factory. Were quick to declare war after a major
terrorist attack, but who do we declare war on when 30,708 people
in this country die from firearm-related deaths in a single year?
(1998 statistic from the Centers for Disease Control)
The man who occupies the White House cried today. Good.
Keep crying, Mr. Bush. The more you cry, the less you will go
to that dark side in all humans where anger rages to a point where
we want to blindly kill.
--filmmaker Michael Moore
We need justice, but not revenge. Does anyone really believe that
lashing out in a vengeful fury will make the world a safer place?
That bombing Afghanistan or encouraging Israel to crack down on
Palestinians will decrease the number of desperate fanatics who
see suicide attacks as their best career option?
Yesterday I attended a candlelight service at
the local Buddhist temple. Prayers and chanting were mixed in
with messages from local and visiting Buddhist leaders, my state
representative, and the Dalai Lama urging restraint and tolerance
(read his message at www.tibet.com). Im not a Buddhist,
but I can appreciate the need to break the cycle of violence that
has got us to this point. Lets not lose sight of the fact
that Osama bin Laden was trained by the CIA during the Afghan
resistance to the Soviet invasion. The US helped create this monster!
Somehow, we need to get past the anger, seek justice
under the rule of law, and the work to remove from the world the
desperation and lack of alternatives that feeds extremist violence.
It may be hard work, and it may not always be rewarding in the
short term. But its work that needs to be done, whether
its being more tolerant towards immigrant communities, insisting
that politicians find ways of addressing foreign conflicts without
the use of tools like Osama bin Laden, or simply finding ways
to better understand and appreciate those different from ourselves.
Our politicians need to hear this
message. The president is responsible for this country, and he
is understandably angry. If the aim of terrorism is to attack
our system, we have to fight back by strengthening our system,
not by responding in kind. We need to be inclusive and fair. We
need to respect our neighbors free speech and religious
ideals. We need to follow the rule of law when dealing with criminals.
And we all need to participate more to make this country and this
world a better, safer place to live.
Im starting by writing this. What will you do?