American Punk and Iraqi Poetry
Nov 2, 2010

American Punk and Iraqi Poetry

It is easy to treat other cultures as monolithic and homogenous, a treatment that proves almost universally false. One frequent assumption is that the people endorse the positions of their governments, and indeed countries are often anthropomorphized by the actions of their governments as a sort of singular entity. These assumptions go both ways. There are many in the west who assume large majorities of Muslim populations are interesting in killing Americans or at least support violence against them and - as so infamously put by Bush - hate our freedoms. Likewise, many in the middle east assume the people of the west are on a crusade to occupy them which is why protests over the threatened 9/11 Koran book burning were such an enormously potent effect in the middle east while the guy is so unsupported in the US.

However, neither of these sides tell anywhere close to full story. In both the west and the middle, there are large movements and sentiments against that of the respective regimes. Arguably, these perspectives are far stronger in the middle east over the west. Two microcosms of this are in punk music in the west and poetry in the middle east. Both have very large followings. It is probably not very commonly known in the west, but poetry is enormously popular and plays a large and influential role in Muslim society. Much like music concerts in the west, poetry readings will draw crowds of tens of thousands of people, many countries have official national poets and the medium is culturally important for presenting messages of all types. In the west, there is a fairly strong association between some punk bands and anti-establishment, anti-war sentiment. While poetry, like music, is a very wide medium used for almost any purpose, one such purpose is anti-establishment perspectives.

The last line of the following poem by exiled Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef to another exile Mudhaffar al-Nawab is particularly poignant given the recent Wikileaks Iraq war logs uncovering of the extent of the back and forth between American and Iraqi jails. The author is "adored by young Iraqis, and his tapes circulate all over the country", according to Tariq Ali. In his interview with Tariq Ali, Youssef discusses how Saddam Hussein would frequently message him saying "I know you're radicals, I know you hate me, but you are a part of the heritage of Iraq;  come and recite at a poetry reading in Baghdad and there will be a million people".
I have accepted my fate 
Is like that of a bird,  
And I have endured all
Except humiliation, 
Or having my heart
Caged in the Sultan's palace
But dear God
Even birds have homes to return to, 
I fly across the homeland
From sea to sea, 
And to prison after prison after prison
Each jailer embracing the other. 

 A friend pointed out to me today that my previous comments about the relationship between religious differences and public opinion on war had many similarities to the lyrics of punk band Anti-flag's song Anatomy of an Enemy. Descent exists in all societies to one degree or another, and this gets expressed in the varying cultural traditions. We can learn a lot, I think, about the nature of a society from exploring their culture with an open mind.

10 easy steps to create an enemy and start a war:
Listen closely because we will all see this weapon used in our lives.
It can be used on a society of the most ignorant to the most highly educated.
We need to see these tactics as a weapon against humanity and not as truth.

First step: Create the enemy. Sometimes this will be done for you.

Second step: Be sure the enemy that you have chosen is nothing like you.
Find obvious differences like race, language, religion, dietary habits
fashion. Emphasize that their soldiers are not doing a job,
they are heartless murderers who enjoy killing!

Third step: Once these differences are established continue to reinforce them
with all disseminated information.

Fourth step: Have the media broadcast only the ruling party's information
this can be done through state-run media.
Remember, in times of conflict all for-profit media repeats the ruling party's information.
Therefore all for-profit media is state-run.

Fifth step: Show this enemy in actions that seem strange, militant, or different.
Always portray the enemy as non-human, evil, a killing machine.


Sixth step: Eliminate opposition to the ruling party.
Create an "Us versus Them" mentality. Leave no room for opinions in between.
One that does not support all actions of the ruling party should be considered a traitor.

Seventh step: Use nationalistic and/or religious symbols and rhetoric to define all actions.
This can be achieved with slogans such as "freedom loving people versus those who hate freedom."
This can also be achieved with the use of flags.

Eighth step: Align all actions with a dominant deity.
It is very effective to use terms like, "It is god's will" or "god bless our nation."

Ninth step: Design propaganda to show that your soldiers
have feelings, hopes, families, and loved ones.
Make it clear that your soldiers are doing a duty; they do not want or like to kill.

Tenth step: Create an atmosphere of fear, and instability then offer the ruling party as the only solution to comfort the public's fears.
Remembering the fear of the unknown is always the strongest fear.

[Chorus (repeat)]

We are not countries. We are not nations. We are not religions.
We are not gods. We are not weapons. We are not ammunition. We are not killers.
We will NOT be tools.

Mother fuckers!
I will not die!
I will not kill!
I will not be your slave!
I will not fight your battles!
I will not die on your battlefields!
I will not fight for your wealth!
I am not a fighter!
I am a human being!!!

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