Which Side Are You On? Why Do So Many Rappers & Politicians Support Dictators

Global politics are always complicated. Our relationship with countries and their leaders are layered and weighed against our so-called national interests, political pragmatism and a bunch of other factors we rarely think about.

Here in the US how most of us view global politics is challenging because the mainstream media is where most of us get our news. These outlets have their own agenda and thus they tend to present stories from abroad in neat little news cycles and only after something has literally blown up to the point its hard to ignore.

In observing these newscasts we get a glimpse into a particular region where stories are framed as a made for TV movie story. On one hand we have the bad guys, the villains of sorts like Mubarak the ruler of Egypt, Ben Ali Ruler of Tunisia and as of late  Colonel Mumar Gadhafi-Despot of Libya.

On the other hand, we have the good guys like the Pro-Democracy protesters camped in Tahir square or the  young students forcing down Ben Ali. Now we the somewhat faceless anti-Gadhafi forces who are being cheered each day and getting military pledges of support from the US as they are capture city after city from their embattle ruler.

These uprisings have been presented to us with around the clock, blow by blow coverage, leaving many of us on the edge of our seats as we watched landmark events like the Pro-Mubarak supporters rushing the crowd with camels and beating protesters or Gadhafi’s ‘evil’ henchmen roaming the streets looking to slaughter those who stand up against them.

All this coverage is complete with theme music, fancy graphics, smooth talking pundits waxing poetic as they preen for their next high priced speaking gig and of course our on the ground guides (news reporters) who sometimes become the news themselves.. ie CNN’s Anderson Cooper when he got his ass kicked from those Pro-Mubarak thugs.

Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where reporters were embedded with our combat troops, here we see folks out in the streets ducking bullets and trying not to get their equipment snatched. The whole thing is fascinating. But like most made for TV movies the action in Egypt, Tunisia and maybe Libya has been framed to have a happy ending. Mubarak left office.  Ali was bounced out, Gadhafi is on his last leg. We all toast one another, give high fives and cheer. We wave the Egyptian or Tunisian flag, became instant water cooler experts on the region and move on to the next uprising as if this was a soccer tournament

What’s lost while we immerse ourselves in these digestible ‘good vs evil’ news narratives are the complex realities that exists in the aftermath of these uprisings. For example, while our attention is focused on the battles in Libya very few of us have given a second thought about what’s going on Egypt. For many, that’s yesterday’s news. It’s a done deal. Nobody stops to think or find out if things have gotten better or worse. Nobody seems to care or even know that protests are still going on Egypt as folks are still out in the streets demanding sweeping reforms. Their end goal is to ensure they never have another dictator like Mubarak in place again. Sad part is while were watching Libya the military in Egypt which everyone cheered has been cracking down.

Protests in Bahrain

Many of us immediately after Mubarak was forced out of power started cheering for uprising in Bahrain, but that’s been all bit forgotten. Does anyone know or care who the Crown Prince of that country is or how long he’s been in power? ? Do we know what the opposition is fighting for?  Do we really care? Bahrain in our collective consciousness has come and gone even as folks still pushing for change, boldly challenging Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

For a brief moment we heard about protests in Yemen which has long been a stronghold for Al Qaeda, but sadly that country has been out of the news cycles for weeks even though protest against the government are continuing daily.

This is not to put anyone down for not understanding all the particulars or staying up to speed with everything going on in the middle east. That’s a monumental task for most, but all of us need to be striving to expand our understanding of global happenings as the world around us get smaller. More importantly all of us need to be looking at the roles we played in passively and sometimes very actively supporting the regimes and dictators who are being challenged.

For example, very few of us are reflecting on the fact that two months ago if asked who ruled Egypt we did know the name Hosni Mubarak. Very few of us cared that there was brutal repression even though many have gone over there to see the ancient wonders of the Pyramids and Sphinx. Many of us are not bothered by the fact that for 30 years we as a country supported a ruthless dictator.

Over the years there have been all sorts of pilgrimages to Egypt aka Kemet but have we spoken about Mubarak and his oppression?  Was that an oversight? Why didn’t we know what was going on and what role did we play along with our government in the oppression the millions who eventually spilled out on the streets? We need to sit back and think about that for a minute as we cheer these uprisings.

As things unfold in Libya many are asking the long hard questions about the support many have shown over the years for Gadhafi. When the bloodshed started I saw all sorts of tweets and facebooks status asking about the support Minister Farrakhan has shown Gaddafi over the years, the visit Reverend Jeriamiah Wright made in 1984 or the recent visit made by  former Congresswoman and Green party candidate Cynthia McKinney. What was that about people are asking? Why are these folks who are about the business of social justice in bed with a guy like Gadhafi?

Others were quick to point out that singer Lionel Richie did a concert in front of Gadhafi’s bombed out home in Tripoli in 2006. Still others are asking about the private concerts given for Gaddafi’s son and the family overs the years that have featured luminaries like Beyonce, Jay-Z, 50 cent, Russell Simmons, Mariah Carey, Usher and numerous others. How can all these people pal around with a ruthless tyrant everyone seems to be asking?

Minister Farrakhan has had along friendship with Gadhafi

There are no easy neatly packaged answers. Minister Farrakhan came out during his saviors day address and talked about his long friendship with Gaddafi. He’s been down with Gadhafi for almost 3 decades. But he’s not alone. In a recent article in the Root called Romancing Dictators they outline list of notables Black leaders from Jesse Jackson to former US senator Carol Mosely Bruan who have hung out with dictators. Are such folks in support of oppression? Hungry for power? Or caught up in the fanfare of being in the presence of folks who are the heads of state of their respective countries?

It could be plain old selfishness and shortsightedness on their part or there could something more. Each of those folks have to wrestle with why they hung or been friendly with leaders who we deem unsavory but so do many of us on smaller scales. For example, some of us reading this remain supportive and friendly with wife beaters, drug dealers, the neighborhood thug etc.. Some of us have adorned or supported artists who have named themselves after ruthless despots like Khadafy, Scarface, Noreaga, Gotti etc.. Would we name ourselves or support an artist who’s named himself after a Klan leader or Hitler?

This is not to dismiss any one’s transgressions or say two wrongs make a right, but to raise questions that ALL of us must answer. Who are we rolling with and why? What principles and values do we hold and are we being true to them? Can we afford the luxury of aligning ourself with the state and being against the people?

There are some that are insisting that those artists who performed for the Gadhafi clan have blood money and they should give what they earned to charity. Folks are outraged that such prominent artists would perform for the leader of that country. That’s something to consider.

Dick Cheney's old company Haliburton has done business with Libya. Do they have blood on their hands?

I wonder if folks are just as upset with the US-Libya Business Association which include American companies like Dow Chemical, Chevron, Exxon, Halliburton, Shell, Raytheon and Occidental Petroleum to name a few. There are more companies including some prominent lobbying groups like the Livingston group, White & Case and Blank Rome who have all broken bread with Libya. Do these companies have blood on their hands and should they like the aformentioned artists be giving the money they earned to charity as well?  Do we give any of these artists and companies a pass because they all got down with Gadhafi after sanctions were lifted under George Bush?

In any case if these artists and businesses don’t give back their earnings are you willing to boycott them to avoid having blood on your hands?  It’s interesting to note that the website to the US-Libya Business Association has suddenly went dark once all the drama started. It seems like an attempt to erase their digital footprints.

As I said earlier global politics are always complicated and the reason is because we as a country have a hard time breaking our habit of propping up and supporting dictators. Over the years we’ve made all sorts of excuses. Back in the days we were afraid of communism spreading so we put our money behind all sorts of crazy despots who seemingly took glee in smashing on their people. No one wants to talk about how years later we do robust business with China, a communist country with a shoddy human rights and free speech record, while decrying the our disdain for that form of government at Tea Party rallies. Are we trying to have it both ways?

As a country we stood steadfast behind this dictator Saddam Hussein for Years

Later we said we had to protect our ‘national interests’ in the Middle East (translation Israel), so it didn’t matter who we got behind as long as they promised not to attack Israel. So we supported the Shah of Iran, We supported Saddamn Hussein, We turn a blinds eye to the abuses in Saudi Arabia. We supported Muburak. What’s crazy is that earlier on, there were News pundits that were ok with keeping Mubarak in power for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood boogey man taking over Egypt.

We can go on and on listing our glaring contradictions. The list is long, especially as we started bending the rules and tossing aside our principles in the wake of 9-11 as we been engaged in the ‘War on Terror‘. It’s from us propping up Osama Bin Laden to our support of the Contras to our full embrace of South Africa’s Aparthied regime.

We as a country have long layed down in some strange political beds. What’s even sadder is that many of us try to act like the rest of the world doesn’t notice. Trust me, they do. When such contradictions are pointed out, there are apologist who are quick use the labels Unpatriotic  and Anti-American.

Even now with President Obama, while he made history in being the first African-American president, him aligning himself with Wall Street and carrying out wars and alliances with some of these same ruthless despots is just as troubling as when Bush was doing it..

As a country we’re quick to point out the human rights abuses of everyone but the dictatorships we support along with our own. As Minister Farrakhan pointed out the other day in his remarks about Gadhafi, if he’s persecuted for crimes against humanity, the same should apply to former President George W. Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a real talk.

With that being said, all of us need to look beyond the neatly packaged revolutions we’re seeing on TV and take some unattractive things into account. First, we need to ask ourselves why are we aligning ourselves with dictators and tyrants in our quest to smash on oppressive forces here? Are we doing so because they can open up purse strings? Is it because we find ourselves powerless here and gravitate toward anyone who exudes it themselves? Is it because we don’t trust our media and concluded that anything they report needs to be viewed with lots of skepticism?

Is it because we hate US imperialism so much that we blindly get behind anyone else who shares the same sentiment and is willing to pressure or stand up to the leadership without fully examining their position on other key issues? If so how are we any different from the people and policies we say we detest?  For example, I know there are white supremacist who dislike the police. Do I stand alongside them if I’m in agreement?

Why have so many supported Ghadafi over the years?

At the same time those who are in the mist of liberating themselves need to be honest in assessing whether or not they want freedom for themselves or for all people?  For example, in Egypt we saw the coming together of a large poor  voiceless class of people and a middle class population. In victory will the poor be forgotten as the Middle class rushes to fill the seats of power? Will things change for those who are down and out? Such lines aren’t always rich and poor, a lot of times they center along Tribal, religious and ethnic lines.

In Libya we hearing reports about Black Africans being beaten in the streets accused of being foreign mercenaries when in fact many are fellow Libyans? In places where there are Black-Arab tensions and conflict how will that be resolved or will we have a situation where freedom comes in these uprisings, everyone dances in the streets and when the dust settles we have new group of oppressors in power?

None of this is easy, but true freedom comes about when everyone is liberated and we act upon principles not selective alliances that allow us to get caught up in to where we are indistiguishable from the despots being challenged.

Bottom line Which Side are you On?  Its a question we better ask ourselves over and over again as we fight the power.

-written by Davey D


10 comments on “Which Side Are You On? Why Do So Many Rappers & Politicians Support Dictators

  1. We tend to watch and cheer as if it is a sporting event at the end of 90 minutes the game is over.
    Now lets go on to the next game.

    If Louie has run 3 blocks with an iron fist for 10 years and now Louie is wacked out.
    Games not over.
    Actually it has become worse. There is a Power Vaccuum. Violence will get worse. Why? Because there is no order and people are positioning for that opening.

    In Egypt the real game has just begun. But that doesn’t get covered because theres no sex appeal or T.V. appeal anymore.
    Getting back to your question. Rappers will show up when theres a spotlight on the problem. Example, Haiti. The real gangsters will show up when nobdodys looking. Thats when they move thats when they do there work

  2. You bring the noise each time you post and I for one am better for it. I tweeted earlier the following statement and I wondered what you think of it: “Can anybody talking shit about Khadaffi doing what he’s gotta do to keep order in his own country talk that same shit at the Oscar Grant rallies?” I remember when people would talk shit about some guys I knew and I used to talk similar crap about these guys until I met them and they became my friends. Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, both of these cats were friends of mine and we broke bread together and slept in the same quarters and tried to make money together and imbibed certain elements together. I just knew them as Doc and El. When I hear people talking some of the crap that they do about these guys I find myself on the defense, getting heated because people are saying things that they think they know about these brothers because they have been spoon fed some shit or they are just spouting party line.

    And these guys were right here in the town. It must be very easy to demonize Khadaffi with him where he is but people forget or just don’t know about his wanting to invest millions of dollars in Black American businesses not that long ago. So in a way I know how Carol Braun or Jesse feels right now with Moamar’s nuts in the fire the way they are. I guess in the end you’ve got to follow your heart and if you were down with somebody you got to stay down with them. You can be against what they do without throwing the baby out with the bath water. We can’t believe the hype because doing that makes it convenient because after all, these are still human beings. It goes to the root of the whole concept of trying and executing a head of state for war crimes just because he is the head of state. What I think i know, is that Hitler never pulled a single trigger himself. War is hell but once the human element is taken out of it, it’s easy to villianize the losers.

  3. Davey,

    Great piece! I think the answer lies in not picking a side. Didn’t Bob Marley sing about your best friend being your enemy and your enemy being your best friend. The principles are idealized concepts that people strive to embody. The paradox is flawed human beings attempting to do so in one lifetime.

  4. The pains of oppression and the spiritual uplift felt in overcoming it are are great denominators for people of color throughout the world. Those who are oppressed can easily relate to those who’ve overcome oppression, and vice-versa. Black Americans have been COLLECTIVELY oppressed for most of America’s existence. Many dictators (or that style of rule) have come to power after some type of “oppressed people’s” revolution. So it stands to reason that black Americans (especially those who’ve achieved in spite of…) could easily relate to dictators and revolutionaries.

    I feel safe in stating that white Americans have never COLLECTIVELY experienced oppression. There may have been groups here and there that felt it, like the early Irish immigrants. But to my knowledge, whites (as a race) have never faced oppression regarding anything in this country. The Irish and those other groups felt xenophobic exclusion more-so than they did oppression, because of who their oppressors were. White Americans seem to have a different view of dictators and revolutionaries. Their view leads to an American government that will cut private deals with dictators they can influence/control (ie. Mubarak), and publicly demonize and sanction dictators/countries they can’t (ie. Gaddafi, Castro).

    The news and every nanosecond of tv is bought and paid for by parties who have a vested interest in controlling what the masses think. It has gotten ridiculous. So much so that I’ve stopped watching tv altogether, and have started viewing foreign media outlets for my world news coverage. I’ve picked my side: Love, Truth and Knowledge!!! Feed love to your soul, and arm your mind with true knowledge, for the road ahead is very bumpy!!!

  5. Same reason rappers idolize drug dealers, they come up from nothing, which alot of rappers (brothas) in the hood strive for. And do it in a violent way that appeals to that aggro-male outlook that dominates rap. It’s a man’s field. Plus alot of dicatators achieve their power by taking over a former European rule. So that also appeals to brothas as well. Hey I have issues with Robert Mugabe, but I love it that he did land redistribution for blacks so the British “while not in power” would still own all the land and resources like South Africa.

  6. you know, i always wondered why Capone-N-Noreaga supported that corrupt regime in Panama too. but some would consider Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez dictators. the real issue is why does the US government support so many foreign leaders and foreign governments who abuse human rights, from the Middle East to Africa to South and Central America to Europe. i dont really think rappers are the problem here.

  7. “the real issue is why does the US government support so many foreign leaders and foreign governments who abuse human rights.”

    @e-scribblah: Because its cheaper to get their resources and keeps them buying only from us. Noticed all the places you named. If you got a Goverment you gotta deal with the body of the people. With a Dictator you just gotta lace his pockets. And plus it keeps his people and their country down, and not coming up and become a superpower like China. China right now is about to cut minerals resources to the USA. The mineral resources that makes our computers and labtops. That mean a major cut in money. If it was a dictator dude would just shut the fu*k up and get paid. lol.

  8. Pingback: Libya? « Connecticut Living

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