Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do


Note: This paper was written originally for the conference in Strasbourg on:
“Cultures and training programs – Training of actors of civil society and public awareness in Europe. On social and cultural differences and their impact on development”
The conference was organized by the organized by Le Forum de Delphes and CEFODE in Strasbourg, November 23 – 25, 2005

Hatto Fischer

Athens 10.11.2005

The faint sound of the world drum

While preparing to go to Strasbourg, to the Delphi Forum, many questions come to one's mind due to recent violence which has erupted in French cities at the beginning of this month, namely November 2005. The violence can be explained partially as reaction of outrage by a youth coming from a different or other background than French culture. They are, literally speaking, without hardly any perspective in terms of integration into French society. By implication, full integration would mean unconditional acceptance of French culture and knowledge of to how to use its tools. All that is presupposed when the media and others judge differences between successes and failures in terms of integration. Moreover the events in the suburbs of Paris and elsewhere were marked by a specific violence, for the youth took out their anger mainly on cars by setting them on fire.

All that may invoke the immediate image of running feet. The police gives chase. The youth tries to escape but where to? What kind of freedom exists really in those suburbs? Whether they run down the streets, climb over walls, or hide in garages, just in order to escape the police, it does not really matter. They remain trapped in these poor urban districts. There the sound of the feet can be linked to the beat of rain coming down on parked cars; however, it cannot be compared with the faint sound of the world drum. The latter is a vague reminder of how African villages would communicate with one another, but that is not all.

Any explanation why all of this could happen in such an eruptive way, insofar as anger is unleashed by revolting especially against cars in streets, is difficult grasp. For one, it may suggest that the youth just reacted to an immediate violence they feel as being inherent in cars, and this because between walking in the streets but with no means to buy such a vehicle and those machines which can kill anyone by running over them, there is no mediation. The car becomes, therefore, a symbol for them as to what lies in-between that other world and the one to which they are condemned to.

Those on foot, they will experience the streets of Paris differently. Mainly alienated, they are separated from that affluent society which moves about as if it can afford to ignore what happens out in the streets, in the suburbs, in between houses, in dark staircases and crowded apartments of low quality but still a ‘stinking’ rent to be paid at the end of every month. And all of this has to be faced without perspective of a job to pay for it all.

Out there, in the street, awaits them a hostile world because filled with cars and no where to go. The danger for anyone on foot is that cars mean immediate violence. There is no mediation possible between them and those fast moving vehicles. They are forced to walk on the dark side of streets in the suburbs. The impact on their mind is at first confusion for they are stunned by many kinds of injustices. Then they revolt by resisting anything coming close to conformity. They defy and they are in anguish. They cry by being silent and they weep by shouting at all others who appear weaker than what they are prepared to do since they despair over the risks of giving up. There is no time to spare. All those people who pass them while commuting in their cars past these suburbs, they underline the social communication stops there. Already in West Side Story the gang fights took place in the shadows of the cement pillars supporting the overarching highway system. On the ground rubbish is blown by the winds against the fences and water drips to create pools turned black by oil spills. Desolate and left to themselves, they see no horizon.

Cars as symbol of a certain system of power reminds of the old May 1968 slogan calling for cars to leave and poetry to take over the streets of Paris. The aim then was to let the imagination, not power rule. It was an attempt to step outside the system. It was hoped to find another way to live. It required a change in the communication pattern so as to come to terms with a world burdened by the Viet Nam war. Unfortunately that search for a poetic language did not last that long. By September 1968 not poetry, but cars dominated again the streets of Paris.

But I do recall efforts continued to find another communication pattern. There was that repercussion group from Strasbourg. They played 1970 in the modern museum of Paris. Six percussionists had placed themselves at the edges of the vast, elongated room with a pair on the longer sides and one each at the two ends of the room. The audience sat in the middle of the room on the floor. The percussionists began like African villages sending out signals by using just one drum. It started softly. After tapping one, two or three times, they waited for a response very much as if to listen who is out there? It can be compared to humanity sending signals into outer space and not knowing if there is anyone out there, the drums paused to wait for a reply. Then other rhythms started and were altered as if to develop a communication code. It was done in the hope that the other side might understand the signals sent out.

How exciting was it when the first answer came. Dialogues started off first softly, then they got stronger between the first and fourth drummer. In the meantime, the second and sixth and the third and fifth interacted. They enriched each other in their understanding of the other as dialogues became possible.

In the end all joined in. Soon drum beats swirled around the room in both a clockwise and anti clockwise direction. It left a deep impression upon the audience.

Still today I hear the faint sound of those drums merged by now as if but one world drum is sending out signals so that the West may understand what it means to be in an African village and to communicate accordingly. But as the running feet in the streets of Paris, France indicate in November 2005, the sound of that drum is not heard or if at all, then only faintly and not really understood by Europeans.

'The faint sound of the world drum' underlines failed communication between Europeans and African people. Despite Biko and Nelson Mandela, and despite all pledges for development aid, as was intended at the G 8 meeting this summer in Gleneagle, Scotland when debt relief was promised, and this to the slogan “lets make poverty become history”, those other sounds and these different musical temperaments were not included when musicians of the Western World took to the world stage in London. The audience heard again the song “on the dark side of the moon” which significantly ends in the refrain ‘money, money’.

Shadows upon shadows cover faces. Aids, military contrabands, genocide in Rwanda, corruption in Nigeria and elsewhere, including North Africa, all adds to the confusion about pledges and what can be done to alleviate the situation. And all that was staged for one meeting: G 8. It collapsed immediately once the bombs went off in London on July 7th 2005.

'The global war against terrorism' waged since 911 by invading first Afghanistan, then Iraq has made the world spin around its own contradictions. No Western government has shown the courage to show solidarity with civilians. While lofty words are used to justify this permanent war, men, women and fore mostly children are being shot at, abused, threatened and curtailed not only in their movements but as well in their speeches.

Once without imagination people leave behind the moon, sun, trees and houses. Violence forces them to move even too late because one thing is certain: the next slaughter will take place with or without police protection.

What is then to be said about EU foreign policy, about the possible cultural component in the foreign policy of the European Union? In reviews of international relationships one thing stands out: they have come increasingly under pressure stemming mainly from business having gone global. Today economic interests are perceived out of just one global perspective as transmitted by CNN. These developments have forced, so the case of BBC to give up its widely spread local network of correspondents who are gathering news locally in favor of an Arabic television station. The shift of resources indicates where the battle is being waged, namely at the level of images. The latter replaces the explorative and investigative journalism. The battle of image means in the media business that the images have to undergo constant enrichment. The aim is to let the spectacle of ‘breaking news’ come continuously into the bedrooms or hotel lobbies around the world.

With this lift off of communicate to mere light bites of mere images the sound of the world drum faints even more into the background. Merely a rich enough imagination allows still the hearing of the sound of running feet down streets filled suddenly by that threatening whistle followed by bomb exploding upon impact. Then a moment of silence. It is followed by people screaming and sirens of ambulances wailing. These sounds are blended slowly out as the voice of the correspondent can be made out. How he made it so quickly to the scene when there are no longer local correspondents on the ground available, that question is answered by the term 'parachute correspondents'.

Whenever then ‘this is BBC London’ can be heard not the location matters although a way to establish authenticity but much more the sounds of the streets before any images can be flashed across the screen from the scene as news unfolds. What matters is that nothing changes. Stress is put solely on the fact that once again violence has erupted and people are fleeing their homes. It is the sameness being delivered by the media which marks an illusionary continuity. It reflects an effort by the media to create an ‘eternal present’ so that the viewer or listener can relax at home since despite of all the drama there is nothing to be feared. It is possible to go on consuming and doing the things one likes to do.

The global communication as propagated by the media separates people and victims of arbitrary violence. The media keeps them apart with no feelings lost on the way when making the separation. For clearly a distinction is made between success stories and failures. The 'cutting edge' has become the permanent institution in all walks of life, including the United Nations. The scandal about the ‘oil for food’ program applied to Iraq during the years of sanctions and prior to the war of occupation which started in March 2003 underlines that message. So many more made a living off the program while children were starving and dying in Iraq. That tragedy is repeated over and again.

Naturally the dramatic voice of the correspondent is supported by images of burning cars to underline the fact that this ‘other’ world is not in order. Since all of this is being communicated to a world assuming to be in order, it justifies not merely the presentation of the supposing facts, but also how reality is not shown. That shows itself in the way things are presented, for a special way of perceiving things creeps into the public mind with every further comment made. By giving the events a certain framework for possible interpretations, only certain arguments are strengthened. It is done best by underlining only specific facts. Moreover all this is done to attest information is best when it can be bought if more of it is needed, only then it will cost not just a bit but a lot more. For such communication confirming the world order does not come cheaply. The networks of communication have to be sustained and also the creation of these images is quite expensive. Of interest is that not only correspondents but everyone wants to communicate about everything as if they are talking exclusively about ‘our world’. The melt down of different worlds to one world, whether now news come out of Pakistan after a house has been struck by a missile since it is supposed terrorists were hiding out there or or else aid relief is shown as made possible by Christian organisations in the aftermath of the Tsunami so that victims become followers of that organization, it seems everything coincides with how things are organized in the world.

Indeed the world has gone global but without anticipation as to what it means, culturally speaking, for future development. Here then set in powerful problems straining international relationships and putting international institutions like the United Nations under extreme pressure. There is the credibility gap. The political reality is, therefore, determined by those forces who fill the vacuum. Here the European Union according to its foreign and development policy as major donor of aid and financial support for all kinds of projects takes on a role in need of much more reflection and discussion than what has been the case up to now.

In the meantime, people in developing countries have not been really able to cope with all the new global and local challenges. Consequently they are left to stay mainly outside such a communication process. No wonder then that in such a boisterous world filled with all kinds of music, but also constant oceanic like traffic noise that the sounds of the world drum are heard but faintly and certainly not audible enough to make out where it comes from and what distance lies in-between Europe and the developing world.

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