There’s something on this earth with its water, mountains and hills that’s worth living. Arts flourished when spirits were innocent and when they found great pleasure in the sound of the rebab, performed the Samri dance and celebrated weddings to the music of drums. Songs in their general concept are lived from the sunrise to the sunset. They live with the nature, the mud, the fresh evergreen and the dance-like walks to rugged mountains.
Art has been part of the soul and part of one’s inherent right. It was never a luxury. Even during the worst times of famine, people sang despite the burning hot temperatures and their torn soles.
The innocent society lived through an unimaginable storm. Those with a mourning spirit delivered politicized preaching and brought people out of the bliss of innocence, love, art and joy and took them into the hell of doubt urging them to waste away life. When we went to war, the drums played Ardah music as the war was declared. There’s no contradiction between deriving power from art and angering enemies with war poetry. The Ardah became linked to the unification wars King Abdulaziz led. The sound of the drum while reading Ardah poems causes panic and weakens the enemy. Therefore, there’s absolutely no contradiction between war and art.
During the wars he led, Adolf Hitler was fond of Richard Wagner and particularly of his piece The Valkyrie. He named one of his army forces after it. The role of this music was clearly depicted in Tom Cruise’s movie Valkyrie which was released in 2008. The movie is about the 20 July plot by German officers to assassinate Hitler. The song is played in certain scenes throughout the movie. This piece brings most children to tears due to its military and fierce vengeful rhythm. Politicians employed art like they should in war and there are countless examples to that.
War and art both play part in the will of survival. Art is war and dancing is like war, it resists stillness and depicts an image of power. Late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz mastered the Saudi Ardah in such an exceptional manner. It’s such an artistic and martial dance! As Georges Canguilhem put it, war is conflict and it entails creating risks and suffering. And so is art. What’s strange is that those who oppose art under the excuse of war believe Hollywood is carrying out an ideological invasion. So why do they view it as an invasion there but think it’s reckless and leads to disintegration here?
History and wisdom
If we take a look at Greece’s history, we’d see how arts revived in wars as they nurtured and empowered the society. It’s through art that they showed how relaxed the society was and how it was not in crisis while managing the war. In this case, art sends a message to infuriate the enemy. The war is led by courageous men. People in towns and cities will listen to works of art which conveys the message that they’re enjoying art and they are completely relaxed. They do so instead of spreading discouragement as if the enemy has won a round!
In his book Wisdom of the West, Bertrand Russell writes about the history of arts’ development in Greece. He wrote: “In a short time, that’s no more than two centuries, Greek cleverness overflowed in the arenas of art, literature and philosophy. The Greeks created masterpieces that ever since have been a general measure of western civilization.”
Let’s take Greece, its wars and arts as an example. In the book The History of Political Philosophy from Thucydides until Spinosa, David Bolton published a research about Thucydides (400 B.C.) and wrote: “Pericles spoke in detail about what the Athenians said in Sparta. He addressed the Athenian people and described them as people who love beauty and wisdom. In addition, he commended the Athenians for their desire to be brave in the battle without needing to depend on a long and tiresome training.” Bolton added that the city with all its details, including art, is part of the martial power, because in this case it will be a complete city. Bolton also wrote: “The Athenians willingly chose to employ their intellect and other talents to serve the city. They were also willing to risk their lives for it. To them and according to how they view themselves, this is part of what made them noble.” Bolton also wrote in detail about how war also sends civilian messages as art reflects the peak of stability. Darkness and sensing fear contradict the aim of war which is to solidify stability and the will to stay. They must incite fear, terror and horror to break the enemy and they can do so via weapons, imagery and sound, through poetry and statements and through music and display of arts.
Entertainment is not luxury but it’s an inherent right that’s linked to the individual and part of man’s existence in this world. In his book “What is Literature?” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that it’s not about choosing the times in which we live but in choosing how to be during these times.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 23, 2017.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.
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