A new corps
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger offered a bleak assessment of the emerging world system in the 21st century last week. In his view, the prevailing order of the 20th century was collapsing as the United States and its European allies struggled to adapt to crises in Eastern Europe, western Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. His column reminded me of the insecurity presented on a personal scale by hip hop artist Slick Rick in his lyric with Mos Def titled “Auditorium.” Rick described serving as a soldier in Iraq among a population hostile to his presence. The key rhyme indicated that he used music — specifically hip hop — to bridge a cultural gap and gain the trust of the locals. Where Kissinger laments the declining power of European states, Rick celebrates the unexpected power of diaspora. In developing a broader strategy for an inclusive world order, President Obama would be wise to consider the power of hip hop beyond its cultural and entertainment value.
Decentralized terror networks like al-Qaeda, and its derivative state-organizations like ISIL, rely on disaffected youth to fuel their campaigns to destabilize communities. Islamic fundamentalism is an expression of insecurity at its core. Its intolerance for multiple perspectives remains its primary weakness. Without a broad base of support to nurture and expand a variety of institutional voices, fundamentalist societies stagnate. In this way, the greatest power of prophets like Muhammad is lost to a conception of divinity as eternally unchanging. Prophecy has its most profound impact in the inspiration of new testimony as more voices reveal the infinite affirmation of divine faith. Hip hop is precisely this kind of expression. It treasures the voice of the rejected and silenced; it brings everyone into a cypher where meaning and relationships are constantly renegotiated. It is a radical step towards democratic, beloved community.
Hip hop has redefined culture and economics across multiple diasporas since 1973. Yet it has not transformed the institutional manifestations of political authority. There is no hip hop town, state, or nation. Part of this limitation is the subaltern nature of the art form; it resists the hierarchies of organization that define state authority. Suppose there could be a private army dedicated to the principles of the art form, operating across national boundaries in a way to counter al-Qaeda and ISIL. It would be a dynamic community trained and armed to defend families against militias that rape, murder, and pillage the most vulnerable, while also building roads, establishing clinics, and creating schools in rural, developing areas. Instead of a Peace Corps, it would be a Freedom Corps — drawn from areas of high poverty, unemployment, and incarceration to help break fascism everywhere, from Ferguson to Fallujah.
At the local level, collaboration among Turkish, Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, and Qatari youth would provide a foundation to operate in the most dangerous regions. More broadly, regional development partners in Algeria, Czech Republic, Greece, Kenya, Indonesia, and the Philippines would allow for new global, commercial enterprises to support the corps activities. On a global scale, nations like Brazil, India and Ghana could mobilize the G7 traditional powers to reverse the colonial practices that have dominated the last 500 years. It is a longterm project, covering more than three generations. It is a stable way to undermine global terrorism and build dynamic, free societies. The Freedom Corps is the fastest, most effective plan to realize the promise of the Declaration of Independence.
Dr. Walter Greason established the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Facebook, Twitter (@ worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), LinkedIn, and by email wgreason@ monmouth.edu.