Eighteen years back, possibly more, way before blogging, tweeting, Facebook, Instagram and all the frenetic urgency to instantaneously (if not impulsively) press the send key or hash tag what is flashed through fiber optic technology at lightning speed to computer monitors, I-pads and I-phones, those good old days when basic email was still a novelty, of sorts, Johnny Wink, a dear colleague I befriended almost forty years ago (see Palestine, a Broken Bone in History, CounterPunch October 2, 2012 ), commenced a digital newsletter/open forum under the nomenclature “Weekly Chomsky.”
Subscribers were eventually addressed collectively as Chomskiers.
Drawing on Noam Chomsky’s voluminous body of works on myriad subjects and an impressive oeuvre of hard-hitting commentary on socio-political matters that expose the long-standing hypocrisy and shenanigans of successive U.S. administrations on deleterious foreign military and covert criminal actions across the globe, Johnny would once a week quote Chomsky passages of varying lengths and email them to colleagues, former students, poets, writers, literati, pundits, a film critic and numerous others across the globe. And to this day many Chomskiers have made acquaintance solely through text on their computer screens.
Soon these weekly missives morphed into an open forum through which many Chomskiers responded with comments of their own. I distinctly recall Johnny’s using this format to post emails sent him by a young faculty member, a historian called to fulfill his obligations to wage war in George Bush’s Iraq misadventure. Even though W.B. (a major in the U .S. Army’s Psy Ops in Northern Iraq) was politically and philosophically on the opposite continuum from most subscribers, Johnny accorded him respect by forwarding his emails from the Iraqi desert. And occasionally discussions would ensue.
As the Iraq War and its criminal perpetrators, namely Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, faded into criminal historical archives to live off the fat of the land and enjoy the fruits of their heinous crimes, the Weekly Chomsky missives, now late in their second decade, became intermittent and expanded the thematic bounds to a wide array of commentary, including belle-lettres and poetry, and Wink’s own brilliant poetic compositions. The commentary and responses continued to be apropos observations on current events, including lively and thought-provoking exchanges. One such mailing included a laudatory poem addressed to self-hating Jew Norman Pollock as a response to one of his powerful poignant CounterPunch postings.
In response to a horrifying news clip from the bottomless pit of chaotic barbarity somewhere in lands previously called Iraq and Syria, lands that have descended into primordial savagery in which the gates of hell have unbolted fully asunder and ajar as a result of American, NATO, and oil-soaked Arab sheiks’ senseless warmongering on Iraq, Syria, Libya, and company, on Friday, January 16, 2015, Johnny Wink composed a powerful poem based on a brief CNN video clip he and I saw (separately). Flanked by a young lad barely 8 or 9 years old, an adult male appears to be instructing the juvenile on how to murder a kneeling prisoner. The poem, as penned by Johnny Wink, reads as follows:
Saw Guns And Sharp Swords In The Hands Of Young Children
“They are put there in the name of the Compassionate,
The Merciful. They are put there so as to enable
And enforce the killing of people by the children.
This is done in the name of the Compassionate,
The Merciful. Every time you think this species
Of ours just can’t get any crookeder, any meaner,
Than it already is, it ups and gets crookeder
And meaner—and sometimes it gets that way
In the name of the Compassionate, the Merciful.
And Abn ibn bin Fookwaddi ends up
Sounding just like Old Hickory to me:
There is no good infidel but a dead infidel.
The Compassionate, the Merciful wants all
Of the infidels dead as soon as the fidels can
Get ‘em that way. I read my testament and find
The same damned thing shot through a lot of it.
When the walls shielding the infidels come down,
Get in there, fidels, with your swords and get to it!
I don’t reckon things have gotten any crookeder
Or any meaner, after all. I reckon things have
Stayed the same old crooked, the same old mean.”
Soon after the poem blazed on my screen, on Friday evening, January 16, 2015, a Chomskier, a clergyman/university president at a private Tennessee university (see same CP posting cited above) responded thusly:
“And where is this compassionate and merciful
God? There He is hanging on the cross.
We humans aren’t looking real good, are we?
We look too much like each other.”
And on the following morning, Saturday, January 17, 2015, another Chomskier philosopher/bio-ethicist sent the following response:
“And for every Abn ibn Fookwaddi
There was Francis doing and saying
The best his tradition and setting allows
And a King who inspires those who stood by
While he had himself fallen to bend the knee of Baal
Rejoice Bvunzamatenga, for the arch does bend
To justiceward, and we do the bending.”
To which the Chomskier movie critic promptly responded: “Amen. And Salaam.”
Two days later, at 10:31 p.m. Monday, January 19, 2015 I responded to these four Chomskiers thusly:
Dear Men of Goodwill and Peace, Lovers of All Living Things, including Cats and Dogs [two of these souls are animal lovers of the canine and feline species, and Johnny and his wife, La Belle Susan, have always had a menagerie of cats of all ages], Johnny Wink’s poem and your responses to it have seared a lasting image, one that has lingered since I read each wonderful word. Rachel and I went to Benton to take in a Sunday matinee, and there was no question about which movie we were going to see. Even though I’d never seen the lobby as jam packed as it was yesterday (folks filling up on snacks), I was taken aback at the fact that the theater of our choice initially had three people, all white. Eventually, in staggering appearances, a twenty something black woman walked in, three white middle aged women followed, and last to appear was a younger African American couple in their thirties, for a total of nine people. After “Selma” was over, I saw an acquaintance who’d walked out of “American Sniper” and asked about that movie’s attendance. “Two thirds full,” he responded. And the poem and email exchanges reared up in my cortex. And I remembered seeing, albeit in an abbreviated form, a fellow referring to Philip’s review of American Sniper as a pansy response, along with other phony patriotic ad hominem remarks in the paper’s readers’ comments section. Things have been percolating in my mind and I wish to, if I can pull it together, pen a brief essay using/quoting your poem, Johnny (with credits) , and quoting the fine responses with attribution as University President, Philosopher/Bio-Ethicist, and Film Critic. And who said that war is not part of the human race’s DNA? May I have permission to do so? Raouf
The Bio-Ethicist was first to respond:
“Mudikani [Shona, used in informal address to a close personal friend/zealous admirer] Raouf:
When Ruth-Anne and I went to see Selma yesterday at the Charles Theater here at Baltimore, the place was jam-packed with God’s rainbow people. We all were inspired and challenged judging by the mixture of applause and solemn faces at the end of the viewing.
As for being quoted, that is our fare as truth-seekers and its trumpets. Trumpet on! Isaac Mwase
And scholar-critic’s response:
“of course … anything you’d like to use.” Philip.
Followed by the clergyman/outstanding university president’s equally affirming:
To quote the sweet tune from the 60s,
“Baby, I’m Yours.”
Home by dinner time, I watched what was left of the playoff football game punctuated by beer, Cialis, and Viagara commercial interruptions. Later that evening we watched PBS’ Downton Abbey and I thought to myself that the British Empire, that superciliously pompous power that bragged about the sun’s never setting on it vast colonial holdings, is responsible for many of the conflicts that stretch from the Eastern Mediterranean to as far as Afghanistan and Kashmir.
I also summoned up an earlier action : Thinking about the dispossessed people of Palestine and as a gesture of solidarity, as soon as Selma was over, I walked over to the African man, extended a high five, shook his hand in midair, and couldn’t say a word.
There was no need to.
Martin Luther King’s dream is still beyond the reach of millions around the world. War begets war, violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, sniping begets sniping, and the mark of Cain, that ongoing killing, begets nothing but more killing.
Wouldn’t this be a better world if we stopped our pre-occupation with 4 hour erections, beer, and guns, all of which are the fodder on which men’s egos seem to thrive?
Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor of English and Art at a private university in Arkansas. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, a peace activist and an avid gardener. firstname.lastname@example.org