|The Beating of the Drum|
|That planet used to be called Earth, they changed its name into Planet War Business
(Nabil Tag, Al-Ahram, 11/21/03)
London November 20, 2003 —
A condemnation of mass murder
“For in the pounding, in the telling, the message would always be: that the answer to our problems was never to be the bully. That first strike, killing, maiming war, by ourselves, should be inconceivable. That with our overpowering odds, war, any war, was the last of an answer.”
The Gathering Line
Running towards the start of the protest gathering line, I’d wanted to be there before it began. But I was late. The barrier had been removed and the march seemed to have long started.
It was from a side street that I’d come from. I’d been sitting on the steps of a fashionable London terraced house for some time in this street, the same street where people had collected for the massive Iraq anti-war demonstration this spring — the largest anti-war demonstration London had ever seen, the parade that had shut London down.
That parade had started around one in the afternoon continuing officially until five, lines of people still arriving even at that time. Afterwards, with no more speeches, with the Hyde Park stage empty, with so many people milling about that warm early summer evening, the party had continued.
There had been so many unofficial assemblages, as people moved and stopped at various points from the Park, that it took your breath away.
The atmosphere was so sweet. Nothing but love. Nothing but peace.
Piccadilly and all roads leading to it remained closed, as was the whole West End, the streets remaining closed with so many walking and strolling around, a party that lasted far into the evening and into the late night hours.
This time however, sitting on those cold stone steps that led up to the front of the house my spirits began to sink. People were moving by, obvious demonstrators with their signs, but where were the hordes. Where was the miles long line that had been the earlier spring parade. Finally deciding to follow those who obviously were going to demonstrate, I came to the back, or as I think now it was probably the middle of the people who were gathering.
The crowd at this point being too thick to penetrate I slipped again onto the road I’d been on, then began running parallel on the side road towards where the front of the parade would be.
But I’d missed the beginning. So, interested to see how long the wide road they were marching along would take to clear of demonstrators, I stood on a corner, watching as the colourful displays came and turned. Fifteen minutes went by, the huge wave of people did not seem to be dissipating. Then half an hour. I sat down on the curb, took out an orange, started peeling.
An hour must have gone by and still the marchers proceeded past. Thirty minutes more, and although it was warm, for London, for November, I was getting stuck on that pavement.
Well orchestrated, in the booming, in the sense of its control, the sound was hypnotic, its affect achieving an impressive emotional opening quality. A sound that could be said to come from some long battle, some long terror, some long past victory, if you believe in reincarnation that is. A sound known by Soul, by the Higher Self. A sound stored in soul’s archives that had once stirred memories of action, and now again was awakening as a call. A sound that had been in a past, and was once more in the present.
But when the band came to pass by, impressive as the emotional quality it threw over everybody, it seemed a fairly small group — maybe five, maybe eight people, perhaps ten. All the time I spent with the band I never could see all who all were in it, how many were playing instruments, due to the masses of bodies that would always be pressed close by.
However this small Samba band, a name I began to attach due to their style and clothing, made me realise how big this parade was. Behind them the line was even thicker; a line that extended backwards as far as I could tell indefinitely. That was something else I never did find, the end of the parade.
Standing on the corner as the parade turned, watching the protesters sweep by, as the people brushed you — young and old, people with prams, with children, aunts marching, grannies, college students, children in their early teens, those who had escaped school for a moment, and the radical dressed of course, the poster carrying ones. There were those who laughed as they marched, those who shouted, those blowing whistles and horns, and those who earnestly kept to their purpose, serious, not wanting for a moment to let the gravity of why they were protesting escape anyone, they were all here.
Then there were those who looked as if for a moment they did feel safe. Those that knew they were with their own. Those that knew that these around them were comadres and compadres, fellow travellers in life’s journey, people who really did not like war.
The band had now long since past and I began to match and it was the police who often now would catch my attention. This endless line was not something you would want to have in an advertisement for more police I thought, unless you really wanted more police just standing around. Looking at them, cautiously waiting, almost like felines, ready to pounce at any slightest hint of trouble, at anything perhaps, it certainly brought forward an ominous feeling.
Watching them, as I did often, me always keeping to the outside, near by the barricade, it was obvious that they, in their earnestness, would not stop at anything to control the crowd. This was their purpose, control, and they would, you could see that, you could see that in their faces.
Undeterred however, I decided to catch up, to inch my way slowly along the barricade to the Samba band, that band that was stalled perhaps a hundred meters in front. Then, stalled myself, suddenly I noticed it, this majestic manifestation rising like a white marbled stone god. It was only a building but it stood blocking us. Here the road ahead ended as far as going straight ahead, and the choice was only to turn. Here also was where the band was stalled, facing this tall concrete edifice directly in its way.
It was only a building but it stood blocking us.
Not familiar with this area of London, I’d no knowledge of the name of the building. But focusing on the sign above the door, I could just barely read, my eyesight not good at this distance, ‘British House.’ British House, the sign stated. British House? Government? Business? I had no idea. But the band had stopped.
Boom! Boom! Boom! went the drums.
What a symbol, I thought, seeing this power facing us.
Boom! Boom! The sound reverberated off the walls of the high building all around. An echo, an echo that came back at us, at the crowd stalled before and behind the band. And in that surreal moment, with the band stopped, with all of us waiting, an electric shiver shot down my spine.
It was British House and that, the thoughts floated through me, had to mean business. No matter the business, enough business to start a war I thought. To employ the people that had paid the taxes that had already killed ten thousand Iraq civilians. That had killed uncountable Iraq men in uniform, uncountable because no one was counting, at least no one I knew.
It was a subtle change, but the tone of the band had altered. No longer had it a bright marching sound. Now in its pounding it carried a tone of dread, a tone of horror. A tone that told, in ways that only a slow drumming sound without words can tell, of the bombs that had been dropped, of the bodies maimed, of the release of the depleted uranium radiation in the bombs that would poison the country for generations to come.
A tone that said this country, Britain, had done this; the United Kingdom had done this. The United Kingdom, a country that through business, through the accomplishments of business, had seen itself fit enough to spend its money, to spend three billion pounds already on the enterprise. And had in its belief enough money still in its purse to continue to spend even more billions.
You know, I wondered as the drums pounded, that the money isn’t even there. The money is borrowed. Borrowed by a supposedly responsible elected government, four hundred members of parliament voting to start this war, as deficit spending for a future generation to pick up the tab, to make good. Money that surely any sane person would say, if any deficit spending should have been done, should have gone to hospital rebuilding, or to the thousands of other needs that the people of this country had. But the money hasn’t. It has been lost. It has gone to war.
The people who believe in conflict are in power now, Kewe, and they are using business to win. The Labour Party is in power, and it is backing its Prime Minister. It has used all the energy and goodwill of those who placed it in power. It has used this, and the finances that business are giving them, and the money diligently paid each week, taken out of each working persons wage packet, to pursue conflict, to wage on pretences a war that has now advanced into the absurd.
And as I looked around I could see that the people were not only paying for an army in a far off land, but here with these thousands lined each side. Here, through the politicians who control the police, the people are paying for these lines, these lines of police who faced us each side.
And this Samba band, the Sambistas banged their drum.
Don’t you know it yet Kewe? Through fear and lies these politicians will use anything they can to get their message across. Even if they no longer believe it. Every word they presently speak must support what they have done. How could they admit it? How for one second could they entertain the horror, the magnitude of violence that they have commenced? Not a mass murderer alone in some room, some field, killing. A tens of thousands mass murderer, condoned by their peers. Aided and abetted by all the power that a modern civilised country could give them.
And the Samba band, the Sambistas banged their drum. I watched the magic, listened to the mysterious emanating sound. For those here, the 100,000 people in a city of 9 million, there is stirring of something. Watching, listening in awestruck amazement, the crowd stand and wait. The reason why they were here. An awakening of new consciousness is here. And the consciousness sweeps down and sweeps over. And in this magnificent moment, the crowd and I absorb the halo, the resonance.
For a moment, in the flow of consciousness sweeping over the crowd, this little band was representing that.
With the power of this little band's drums, in the whistles, in the horns, in the dancing, it was expressing the new — the reality that planned organized murder, that planned organized violence, that war would never be the way, would never be the way to be real.
Saying more: not in words but in their music — that it really wasn’t right for 1% of people to own 98% of all the world’s wealth.
That it really wasn’t the right of the rich to control the world’s airwaves, the world’s press.
That these few who had the power, should release that power, not continue to gather it; should allow society to begin to break free of their dominance. That it really wasn’t right that an establishment of power was tightening even more its vice upon society, not benefiting anyone, no, not even themselves. That people, all people, instead of being engulfed in ever tightening laws, really only wished to be free.
For a moment, in the flow of consciousness sweeping over this crowd, this little band was expressing, representing that these here wished to live their lives without war. That these here did not want ever-increasing black budgets, budgets that had no light, budgets that an always-stronger military-business complex relied upon, a stranglehold that is falling upon every aspect of life.
Here, flowing through the minds and hearts, it was being said that people wished for better, wished for a gathering of human intelligence that would benefit humankind, wished for a gathering freedom, of individual freedom, wished for a gathering of everything that would continue with the struggle that was humankind, the struggle of humankind which it has been engaged in since it came down from the trees, came out of the caves.
Here, flowing through the minds and hearts of the people standing was the knowledge that these wishes could be real. These feeling were not just abandoned hope, not just a feeling in the depths of their being that had no place to go. Here was the knowledge there was realness in these beliefs, in these yearnings. The world need not be what the politicians have created as reality. It could manifest more, could be where real liberty, true humanity, for all, met.
Police ‘Specials’ Arriving
The police barrier on the right allowed just enough room for police vans to drive along. And here they were. The vans arriving behind the lines of police standing. Vans loaded with police.
But at that moment the crowd and the space in front opened, and the Sambistas turned. Past British House the small Samba band marched, and the parade behind followed, continued to march down the long road that led to the Thames River.
A few of the police who had arrived in the vans came through the barrier and started edging through the crowd towards the band.
With the special ‘metropolitan’ coats over the regular uniforms they were wearing, it was obvious that these were some elite unit. Concerned they were here intending to create some incident or disruption, as they edged through the crowd, trying to get close to the band, I edged through the crowd behind them. In this stupendous movement of souls that was not easy, but if they were going to create trouble I wanted to act as witness. I wanted to be there if through the disturbance that would act as an excuse they would call for backups from the thousand trained professionals lined all along this parade, to begin arresting all around.
But the Sambista band kept moving, continuing with their magnificent stirring call, and it wasn’t easy in the thick crowd for the police to get close. Boom, boom, boom, boom the sound flowed across the wide street, and the swirling mass flowed around, danced and shouted, and behind them the whistles blew, the horns blared.
The band stalled. And I thought, any moment now. Any moment the small cadre of police are going to do something.
The police edged closer, but the crowed near the band was thick, tight. No one was giving way and not even this small, crowd-trained group, unless they arbitrarily took out their weapons and started using them on people far from the band, could push through this throng. The police stood waiting. They themselves were stalled.
But then the carnival moved again. And the band followed. And the people as the spaces opened danced around. Through and over the heads of those who danced I could see the clown faces in the center. Some though didn’t have any makeup, any clown hats. Like the man pounding what must have been the loudest drum. About forty, maybe fifty. Looked like any Englishman you would see on any street in London. No fancy dress, just himself, pants, jacket.
The tall conductor’s face I could see. He was the one walking backwards: one hand in the air one second, a finger rising a quick second. Another second, both hands down. The tall conductor’s face was painted black and grey — white, white eyes, white surrounding grey and black. There was no mistaking the tall conductor with the tall, black, dapper hat on his head.
And then I noticed in the middle of this group of jesters, the petite woman pounding. She was there too, though you might have missed her. She sure wasn’t easy to see.
The hypnotic sound called and we marched. I don’t know what stopped the police from causing a disturbance. It might have been the intense crowd. Then again this band was only six, ten at most. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t worth it.
Peace MarchesPeace marches — at least those I have been to — are usually this mixture of gaiety, of excitement, an exuberance from the crowd that is always combined with the black sombre sentinels who stand at the edges. Why the police men and women were paid to be always at these parades in such numbers I have never figured out. Never have I been on any peace march where there has been anything but a minor disturbance, and that usually caused by some happy soul asking something, confronting some police officer, asking why he or she was there, asking why he or she thought they were needed.
It happened this time. As I past, some irate 35 year old was engaged in a talking match with some officer. There was no trouble. People marched by. Everyone knew what was taking place. I could hear him this time, the officer, repeating that which he understood was his reason for being there. That they, the police were needed, that they were there to protect the people marching.
Invariably of course when there is trouble it is the police themselves who create the disturbances. They are after all are paid to confront. And they do so. There is always a small group of militants who set the scene for them to act.
But today, I’m thinking, the thousands of police who are standing by, even by Peace March standards, this is unusual. Those Scotland Yard bosses who must have agreed to such a large presence, who must have agreed to the budget, it wouldn’t be by direct order that they turned out such a threatening force. But the word would have been passed down. Money would come. There would be hints, words from some source, suspicions. The passing threat, amplified and extended, of some terrorist action. In the environment we are in, actual threats of terrorism and fiction blend very well. It all works.
Shops full in BaghdadThe shops are full in Baghdad now. American deficit spending (fictional money that like fiction is often really truth) is raising wages, pouring money into the country, creating a sub-class of middle-class people. The hope is that soon oil that the country sits on will flow, and we can continue in the West to drive our SUV’s, the ones’ that each eat in one year an amount of oil energy that took the world 400,000 years to produce. The ones’ that pour needless gasses into the atmosphere that will likely make the planet uninhabitable two human generations down the pike.
I know you understand what you have done Mr Prime Minister, Mr President. I know you understand that with one billion pounds (an outside estimate), you could have taken out the self-appointed leader. That a gangster of choice, aided by all that a billion pounds can buy, could have freed the world of another, perhaps more dangerous gangster. That could have been done if you had chosen that way.
I know you both understand that if you had fed the Iraqi babies, instead of depriving them and causing (a million?) deaths by malnutrition and lack of medicines, and if you had shipped food in to feed the people, to make them strong and well, they themselves might have found the strength themselves to get rid of their leader.
Instead you chose war. I suppose that is our fault. The ways just mentioned would not have been allowed. Congress would certainly not have voted the money. Parliament would have found other ways that took priority.
But war, war is in our culture the answer. We can rally for war. We spend billions on weapons built from hard-earned tax money. We can use those armaments of mass destruction. We have an army, an air force, a navy, many sub-classifications; huge resources eating deficit and taxpaying money. We can send them
Where is the tally of the costs? Well perhaps not in the fictional money we are using to maintain and produce such force. It is in the daily, hourly breakdown of liberty, of freedom, in our own countries.
Countries that besieged by supposed and real threats of terror fall every more in the grip of those who seek power, those who wish to maintain the status quo.
And our children watch, see what we do. Decrying violence committed by our sons and daughters we use violence in a national way. The words are always there. If we cannot explain, we invent.
For when even the media is asking, we all read and move on. The truth is really too embarrassing.
This horrendous act you have both brought to our two countries equates to the horror of the millions who died in the First World War. Then the same crushing false logic, the same boiler plate mentality ruled. No one was told the truth.
History will be in the tellingI can barely grasp how historians in the future, if we have a future, will deal with this ghastly epoch. Where a nation ten times the size, bombed with its unbelievable might; spreading upon a citizenry and its children not merely cluster bombs and all the horror that entails, but depleted uranium, a radiation that has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, that remains in that land, and will remain.
All necessary of course. All necessary to protect the troops.
Yes, that horrendous senselessness of the millions lost in World War One equates with the horror of today, as it equates with the vicious slaughter in Vietnam. Will your country finally own up in some future administration, that yes, you did it again. You poured your money away again. You senselessly killed lives.
And the ten thousand civilian lives lost that will be seen to be such a horror, and the tens of thousands of civilians mutilated and injured, and the uncounted, (so far one estimate 30,000 military killed) the uncounted military dead and injured; the teenage boys and their fathers lost, and those that carry the mutilations and injuries. And the depleted uranium that has been spread about by the bombs, radiation poisoning with a half-life of 4.5 billion years, which will remain upon the soil of the buried bodies.
Yes, you did it Mr Prime Minister, Mr President, with your Congress and your Cabinet and your persuasion. You brought two unwilling countries and more into this.
Trust me you said. But I don’t trust you and I’m hoping, as the truth seeps out, no one else will, not any more. Those here in the parade don’t trust you. For them, their eyes have been opened; nothing you will say will make sense any more. We have listened and we understand. We understand it is time for you to go. It is long past time we wished you never came. I, and these here, hope and pray we will be rid of you, both, soon.
Big BenI never did see the toppling of the George W Bush statue. That was taking place while I stood at the Thames River, still with the Samba band. Where the crowd was stalled by all the people ahead attempting to push their way into the Trafalgar Square area.
There was another surrealistic stirring moment during this period the Sambistas were stalled. They were underneath the tall Big Ben. The symbol of Parliament overshadowing them, the symbol that had become most significant during the Second World War when it’s bell would ring out through the BBC radio transmissions, ring encouragement to the many who listened; those hunched around their short-wave radios, those seeking some word of solace, of encouragement, as yet another horror made its way around the world. Then the symbol stood for — indeed became the mark, of courage and dignity. Then this was a country that in vain hope struggled against a regime and regimes that were, in their magnificence, threatening to overpower the world’s goodness and sanity.
What a difference sixty-three years makes.
Today, here with the Samba band, the Sambistas standing beneath pounding out their surrealistic stirring moment, these, their sound, were warning drums.
Here was a warning that if we do not subvert those who presently have power, and abuse power — if we do not take away their legal backing — then as free humanity we are doomed.
The world will be endless wars, endless fights against strange, unseen enemies, perhaps even the endless occasional toppling of a skyscraper.
For we have managed to acquire as legal authority, the power, the right to first strike. We have managed to allow ourselves the freedom to create war at our will, with horrendous consequences, with bombs filled with radiation, and no one to stop us, except those elected, who don’t, and those other few...
Those few who by religious reasons, or other, in all the other countries small or large, or our own, decide this is not how they wish to live. Who decide they do not want endless wars. Who decide they do not want our leaders to create fictitious fear to give power to war.
Here is a warning, and a telling, of a war this year that has killed and has maimed, of a war that for many in the continuity of life, will continue with its horror.
Here is a warning that if we do nothing there will be many other, ‘turn your head, avert your eyes,’ events. Yes, here in this telling, in this pounding, lay the knowledge of all this.
For in the pounding, in the telling, the message would always be: that the answer to our problems was never to be the bully. That first strike, killing, maiming war, by ourselves, should be inconceivable. That with our overpowering odds, war, any war, was the last of an answer.
That was why I was marching of course. Because of that.
Unspeakable grief and horror
...and the circus of deception continues...
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