The Revolution Will (Still) Not Be Televised
Gill Scott Heron's death reminds us that in the fight for individual freedoms, the revolution will (still) not be televised.
In a strange and sad coincidence on Saturday morning I turned up the volume of Gill Scott Heron’s classic ‘The revolution will not be televised’; mainly because I like the song, but also because its lyrics reminded me about the continuing struggles on-going in the Middle East, and those fighting for freedom and justice.
The death of Scott Heron magnifies the words of his most famous contribution to music, and serves to sharpen the relevance of his message in relation to the people of Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Iran. ‘The revolution will not be televised’, concerning the plight of Black Americans, had the message that one could not ‘plug in, turn on, and cop out’. Indeed, active participation and crucially, one’s state of mind, are the all important factors.
The Arab Spring is still fundamentally about mindsets. Sure, the impact of Facebook, Twitter, and the role of the international mass media to spread a message of rebellion against the entrenched oppressors of freedom is vitally important, but the media can only react to the initial uprisings, to the initial calls for self determination. At the heart of the Arab Spring still lays the dilemma of the individual: to protest, to march, and to fill the streets.
For Scott Heron, the activist could never ‘watch’ proceedings, as the revolution was a state of mind, and once you had it, there was no turning back. Although this may be true for the protestors in the Arab world, there remains a choice between risking their lives for the sake of freedom and democracy, or to accept the miserable yet safer fate of accepting the ruling elite. If it was your son, your sister, or your best friend risking their life, what would your advice be?
As the months pass by since the start of the uprisings, maintaining the campaign for freedoms is proving just as tough as the igniting the initial spark of rebellion, as the established rulers of the wider Middle East learn the lessons from the Iranian elections of 2009, and violently suppress any attempts to erode their supremacy and control. A quick glance at London’s newspapers during the evening commute indicates that the Arab Spring is naturally slipping down the list of current issues. NATO–led bombing campaigns on Colonel Gaddafi’s regime sometimes do not even make the headlines, while the protests in Yemen and Syria are merely ‘ongoing’.
So as we sit here in the West, fortunate enough to hold the liberty of freedom of speech, we should continue to be vocal regarding the rights of our ‘brothers’ (as Scott Heron would put it) who are silenced throughout the Middle East, and stand behind them with more than just a camera in offering our full support. The camera wasn’t enough in Libya, and it won’t be enough in Syria or Iran. Here, as in Egypt and Tunisia, international pressure and in some cases force will be needed to secure the rights of the people; yet it will be the actions and mindsets of the Arab individuals that ultimately establish the liberties and human rights of the region in the long term.
For now, there is a new generation of Black American musicians commenting on the struggle for freedom and representation. Whether in forty years time someone is quoting Lupe Fiasco with the same historical relevance as Gill Scot Heron will remain to be seen, but the fact remains that the struggle for freedom is (still) an individual pursuit, collectively undertaken.
As Lupe puts it, and is true for protestors worldwide: (it is) ‘Not pretty if you don't comply; pretty easy if you don't complain.’
John Corner is a Defence Analyst and former Research Assistant at the Henry Jackson Society
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