A new corps

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION -

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.

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