Poetry as Treason?
It seems you not only have to be careful what you say, as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned last year, but also what you write, especially if you are an African-American poet with a Muslim name and Marxist politics.
On September 19, Amiri Baraka, an influential beat poet and founder of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem, read a recent poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” at the 2002 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival at Waterloo Village in Stanhope, New Jersey. Note the following lines from the poem:
Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?
Since Baraka read his poem in September, popular news commentators and powerful political organizations have called for the revocation of his status as poet laureate of New Jersey, an honorary title which pays him a modest salary of $10,000 per year. Even though he wrote the poem last October, ten months before taking on the title as poet laureate, New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey wants Baraka to resign and apologize.
Obviously, McGreevey doesn’t know Baraka too well. “Amiri Baraka ain’t never been your Polite Negro Poet,” writes Lee Bailey on EUR, a website covering black entertainment and culture. “So you have to wonder what the New Jersey powers-that-be were thinking when they named him Poet Laureate of NJ?” In fact, Baraka warned the governor something like this might happen. “I said, ‘Governor, you’re going to catch a lot of hell for this,'” Baraka told the New York Times. “He said, ‘I don’t care.’ I said, ‘If you don’t care, I don’t care.'”
But the Anti-Defamation League does care and is leaning on McGreevey to get rid of Amiri Baraka. It’s not so easy, however. Baraka was selected by a committee of poets and New Jersey state law gives the group sole power of selection. They can’t oust Baraka, nor can the governor. Baraka will remain poet laureate until July, 2004 — that is unless the state of New Jersey can find a way to strip him of the title.
Regardless, Shai Goldstein of the ADL said his organization will put the pressure on the state’s humanities and arts officials. The ideas expressed in Baraka’s poem, according to William Davidson, ADL chairman-elect, are “directly linked with the anti-American xenophobia that caused such destruction and the murder of so many Americans.” In other words, Baraka is not much better than Osama bin Laden.
The New Jersey Council on the Arts said it “regrets” what Baraka chooses to think and write, and they don’t see how he can remain poet laureate. Baraka, said the council members in a statement, is a “remarkable poet,” but also said his poem is “deeply hurtful and painful.” One has to wonder if the New Jersey Council on the Arts knows anything about poetry or literature in general, which is often “hurtful” and “painful.” Of course, when the “hurt” and “pain” issues from powerful groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, not even poets have an excuse. They must be purged for their unacceptable political beliefs.
Before “everything changed,” the media simply ignored poets, even when they said outrageous things, even things now considered “anti-American.” Few people take poets seriously, even in New Jersey, home of famous poets, including Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg. Now, instead of ignoring poets, more than a few Americans condemn them, especially if the poets are Muslim and hold views contrary to the US government — and particularly if those “anti-American” views are broadcast via the corporate media, from the reactionary Bill O’Reilly on Fox News to the pages of the New York Times.
As for Baraka’s assertion that both the US and Israeli government had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks, there is clear, ample, and documented evidence they most certainly did. Consider the following:
Newsbytes reported on September 27, 2001, that employees of Odigo, an instant messaging company in Herzliyya, Israel, received messages warning of the attacks two hours before they occurred. Alex Diamandis, vice president of sales and marketing for Odigo, confirmed that workers in Israeli received the messages. The story was subsequently carried by CNN and Ha’aretz in Israel.
On August 11, 2001, US Navy Lt. Delmart “Mike” Vreeland, held in Toronto on U.S. fraud charges and claiming to be an officer in U.S. Naval intelligence, gave to Canadian authorities a sealed envelope. On September 14, 2001, Canadian jailers open Vreeland’s sealed envelope to find a letter detailing attacks against the WTC and Pentagon. Source: The Toronto Star, Oct. 23, 2001, and Toronto Superior Court Records.
On September 6-7, 2001, 4,744 put options (a speculation that stock prices will go down) are purchased on United Air Lines stock. There are only 396 call options (speculation that the stock will go up) at the same time. Many of the United Air Lines puts are purchased through Deutschebank/AB Brown, a firm managed until 1998 by the current Executive Director of the CIA, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard. This is reported in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
In June, 2001, German intelligence, the BND, warns the CIA and Israel that Middle Eastern terrorists are “planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack important symbols of American and Israeli culture.” The story was reported by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 14, 2001.
During the summer of 2001, Jordanian intelligence intercepts a communication indicating attacks are planned on the WTC. The message is relayed to Washington. Reported by John K. Cooley of ABC and published in The International Herald Tribune on May 21, 2002.
Summer 2001. Russian intelligence notifies the CIA that 25 terrorist pilots have been specifically training for missions involving hijacked airliners. Reported by Izvestia.
On July 26, 2001, CBS News reports that John Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due a threat assessment.
In August, 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin orders Russian intelligence to warn the U.S. government “in the strongest possible terms” of imminent attacks on airports and government buildings. Source: MSNBC interview with Putin, September 15.
Also in August, 2001, Dubya receives classified intelligence briefings at his Crawford, Texas, ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. Reported by CBS News and CNN, May 15, 2001.
August through September, 2001. French intelligence services warn the FBI of imminent attacks. These are ignored. Reported by AP, May 21, 2002.
In the week prior to September 11, a caller to a Cayman Islands radio talk show gave several warnings of an imminent attack on the U.S. by bin Laden. Reported by MSNBC on September 16.
On May 31, 2002, FBI Agent Robert Wright holds a press conference at the National Press Club describing his lawsuit against the FBI for deliberately curtailing investigations that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks. He uses words like “prevented,” “thwarted,” “obstructed,” “threatened,” “intimidated,” and “retaliation” to describe the actions of his superiors in blocking his attempts to shut off money flows to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Source: the C-SPAN website.
(The above information provided by Jeff Chelton of the Law Party.)
None of this, of course, was mentioned in The New York Times article on Baraka, nor did the reactionary O’Reilly mention it when he questioned Baraka’s motives or patriotism (and also called him a “pinhead”) on Murdoch’s Fox News. The New York Times, ADL, and O’Reilly are simply providing their state assigned service — to engender public amnesia and divert attention from the truth surrounding 9/11 and the role played by US intelligence and the Dubya administration. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
Finally, the following lines of Amiri Baraka’s poem should be considered far more inflammatory and indictable by the “powers-that-be” than any accusations of anti-Semitism put forward by the ADL:
Who make money from war Who make dough from fear and lies Who want the world like it is Who want the world to be ruled by imperialism and national oppression and terror violence, and hunger and poverty.
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org