Extremism In The Defense Of Liberty


Bruce
Springsteen, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and a sizable roster of
other major rock stars united for a series of concerts this fall
in swing states to voice their collective dissatisfaction with the
Bush administration and the war in Iraq. John Fogerty recently released
a new album entitled Déjà
Vu All Over Again
. The title song is a throwback to “Who’ll
Stop The Rain,” a song of protest about another war nearly
40 years ago. Rock stars protesting an unpopular war and president
is nothing new, nearly every major and minor band had something
to say about Vietnam, from a B-band like Coven’s “One
Tin Soldier” to Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers.”
The big difference was that those songs got steady airplay. 

Clear
Channel and Sinclair Communications, both big Republican contributors,
are doing their best to make sure that artists like the Dixie Chicks,
Steve Earle, and the aforementioned Fogerty won’t be heard.
While Country Joe and the Fish had a major hit with “Feel Like
I’m Fixin’ To Die” 36 years ago, Republicans can
rest easy. It is highly unlikely that Tom Waits, R.E.M., Lenny Kravitz
or a host of other artists and bands who have released material
protesting the war in Iraq will ever enjoy the sales and popularity
that Joe McDonald had with his comical ragtime number. 

After
the September 11 attacks musical expressions of shock and anger
began to surface. Most of these were patriotic country songs, such
as Toby Keith’s breast-beating xenophobic “Courtesy of
the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” Neil Young,
Bruce Spring- steen, and other rock stars offered other kinds of
material reflecting on the aftermath of September 11. Last March,
with the start of Bush’s “war on terrorism” in Iraq,
REM, John Mellencamp, the Beastie Boys, and others produced outright
antiwar songs. Since then songs voicing dissent have been conspicuously
absent. One can understand an artist’s reticence following
the McCarthy-like tactics that came as a response to Natalie Maines’s
(of the Dixie Chicks) comments about President Bush while the group
was on tour last year. Not since Lennon’s misquoted “We’re
more popular than Jesus Christ,” remark did the public and
radio collude in such a vicious fashion, with coast to coast record
burning rallies and the like. Surprisingly, those methods backfired.
While Clear Channel and other radio stations banned the Chicks from
their play lists, the group held sold out concerts in Los Angeles
and many other cities. People in the U.S. may be complacent to a
degree when it comes to their entertainment, but as a rule they
don’t take kindly to corporate Goliaths picking on the little
guy.

Some
artists such as Keb Mo have taken a different path. Instead of protesting
the war and the Iraqi reconstruction, courtesy of Halliburton, Keb
Mo’s new album, Peace…Back By Popular Demand,
covers such songs as the Rascal’s “People Gotta Be Free,”
Dylan’s “Times They Are a Changing,” as well
as Lennon’s “Imagine”. Keb Mo sought to take
a more positive approach. “This is not the time to be angry,”
Keb Mo said. “Some people are going to want blood for blood,
but that is not the answer.” Mo may have a point that being
anti anything is not positive and that offering messages of peace,
love, and understanding is. Unfortunately Clear Channel, Sinclair,
and other media behemoths won’t stop their censorship. “Imagine,”
a song that asks the listener to do exactly that, still tops the
list of do not play material at both networks. 

How
much influence Springsteen and others have in swaying the voters
remains to be seen. While it is encouraging to see major artists
such as Springsteen and Jackson Browne taking a stand against an
unconscionable war, it is equally frightening to see how easily
those voices are kept to a minimum. While some “independent”
stations may buck the broadcast blackout on artists and songs protesting
the war, one has only to look at the numbers of corporate owned
stations in every major market to see that cities like Denver have
no other media outlets than those owned by conservative conglom-
erates that back the president. 

The
government through the Patriot Act and it’s ever expansion
of powers is controlling what can’t be controlled through ownership.
Government censorship in the defense of democracy is nothing new
to this country. Eighty-six years ago President Wilson signed the
Espionage Act, which was readily passed by a cooperative Congress.
The act gave sweeping powers to key federal figures, most of whom
were presidential appointees. The legislature only balked at legalizing
outright censorship of the press, even though Wilson deemed it “an
imperative necessity.” 

The
Espionage Act gave the Postmaster General the right to refuse to
deliver any periodical he viewed as unpatriotic or critical of the
Wilson administration. Thomas Gregory, Wilson’s Attorney General,
demanded that libraries report the names of patrons who requested
books deemed “questionable and unpatriotic.” Following
on the heels of the Espionage Act came the Sedition Act. This bold
bit of legislation made it a crime punishable by 20 years in prison
to “utter, print, write or publish any disloyal profane, scurrilous
or abusive language about the government.” To make certain
this law was enforced the FBI created a volunteer organization christened
the American Protective League. In just a few short months this
watchdog group had nearly 100,000 members. Even the progressive
Walter Lippmann called society “too big, too complex for the
average person to comprehend,” and urged that citi- zens subordinate
self-rule to “order.” 

Recently
Cat Stevens was denied entry into the United States. The Homeland
Security Forces diverted his London to Washington flight to Bangor,
Maine so they could remove the former pop singer and send him packing
back to England. Obviously, Tom Ridge must have felt that Cat Stevens
was a security threat to the country or at the very least that a
song like “Peace Train” carried some subversive message
harmful to U.S. citizens. 

Born
Stephen Georgiou in the United States, he changed his name to Cat
in the late 1960s. After a string of pop hits Cat abandoned his
career and changed his name again, this time to Yusuf Islam. He
also converted to Islam and changed his U.S. address to an English
one. Cat has denounced the events of 9-11, the Spanish railway bombings,
and the Chechnyan attack on the Russian grade school, all perpetrated
by Muslim extremists. A visit to his website reveals all sorts of
archaic 1960’s peace/love messages. Obviously, the peace messages
must be in code that Ridge and his cohorts were able to crack. The
irony was that Stevens/Islam was en route to Washington to promote
a CD that has half of its royalties going to the 9-11 Fund.  

The
reason Yusuf Islam aka Cat Stevens was deported was that
his name is on the Homeland Security’s “no-fly” list.
This is the same security system that also put Senator Ted Kennedy
and Representative John Lewis on the “no-fly” list. Somehow
a Cat Stevens CD doesn’t seem to be part of Al Qaeda’s
attack of terror on the United States. The real attack is far more
insidious. It comes from a White House administration that sells
fear like bottled water. Hopefully, Americans won’t get fooled
again, as Pete Townsend would say, and allow their civil rights
and Constitutional freedoms to disappear. A democracy lacking basic
civil rights sounds awfully close to a dictatorship at worst and
a monarchy at best and we already told the British that homie don’t
play that back in 1776.
 


John Zavesky
is a freelance writer based in California.