The World Needs IslamaBob
by Ronnie Keohane

"Things will have to change. And one of these things that will have to change: People will have to change their internal world." This is part of the response that Bob Dylan volunteered to Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone magazine when he was asked if he saw any hope for the situation that we find ourselves in since September 11th.

Looking back over Dylan's career it appears that changing man's internal world has always been a part of his "calling." Only recently, has Dylan reflected on his lifelong contribution to society as a God-given calling. Others have seen it as such for a long time.

When Dylan burst on the scene in the sixties, America was in the throes of civil birth pangs. Many old societal paradigms needed to be done away with. But Americans needed a midwife of sorts. Someone to tell them that better times could be ahead and also to point out their failings that were causing them strife. America needed someone to alert them to the biblical challenge that Moses gave to pursue righteousness and justice, and to warn them that their very existence is dependent upon their Creator. To those who could not grasp the latter, Dylan would simply go out and say a prayer for them. In the early eighties, the man who many had already deemed a modern day prophet sang of the need for redemption through Jesus Christ and of God's plan for establishing His messianic kingdom on earth. Many would not follow Dylan on this path to salvation and they rejected this message but still clung to the words of Dylan's earlier writings as if they came through him from a voice on high. The reason that Dylan's lyrics have such credibility with those who have listened to them is simply that they know that they themselves were changed inwardly by just hearing them. Dylan's songs brought shame to those who would do evil, brought empathy to those who suffered injustice and brought hope for those who wished to make an internal change.

The cause of the Civil Rights movement was amplified and aided by a Dylan soundtrack. Across America attitudes were being changed by Dylan's songs. Even those who may have not had any daily involvement with race relations knew one thing: They did not want to be associated with those who denied freedom and dignity to others who share this world with us. As Dylan wrote about other issues in which America needed to change, we often found ourselves struggling indignantly at first but then adopting his sensitivities as our own. Which brings me to the purpose of this essay. Can Dylan do for the Islamic world what he has done for America and the western world? Would an "IslamaBob" figure be able to break down the strongholds in the Islamic world so that the escalating conflict could be eased by the introduction of new perspectives? Looking over Dylan's life work it is fascinating to see that he has dealt with many of the issues that the world faces today as long as forty years ago. Names, faces and places may change but there is a sameness in the problems which deal with man's inhumanity to man.

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In Egypt and Saudi Arabia it is hardly a secret that the regimes in power are there tenuously. The mobs in the streets are encouraged to vent their hostilities on the West and primarily the United States, never questioning whether their governments have the people's interest at heart. Dylan tackled this problem in Only A Pawn In Their Game. He shined a light on the wicked politicians who fueled the poor whites anger at those of the black race in order to preserve their own power and control.

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid,
And the marshals and cops get the same,
But the poor white man's used in the hands of them all like a tool.
He is taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
'Bout the shape that he's in
But it ain't him to blame
He's only a pawn in their game
.

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Another festering conflict in the area is the Iraqi regime headed by the megalomaniac Saddam Hussein. Many may argue about the effects that the US led sanctions have had on the government of Iraq as opposed to their effects on the people and children of Iraq. But one thing is certain. It is Saddam Hussein and his obsession with acquiring weapons of mass destruction that keep the sanctions in place. It is Saddam Hussein that directs the country's resources away from the people who he is responsible for. Sanctions and military attacks have not worked. Could Saddam's days be numbered if the cost of his regime with its prioritizing the feeding of his egotistical sick mind at the expense of feeding starving Iraqis became as plain as this - ?

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your vein

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There seems to be no shortage in the Islamic world of young men who are willing to become suicide bombers. Assured of glory and a dignity that they never possessed in this world, they aspire to shred their very bodies with as many of the "enemy" usually innocent civilians as they are blessed by Allah's providence to destroy or maim. From what type of environment do these young men come that would embrace such a fate. They come from a culture that offers them little and what eternal promises it gives are based on lies. A society that tells and expects parents and family members to rejoice over the barbaric act that ends all hope for their exploited and misguided child. IslamaBob could sing a Dylan song about another mother, who also could not count the cost of sending her son into a vicious battle. Somehow, all of the years that she cared for him and the dreams that she nurtured for him became overshadowed by her desire for boasting and the status that ribboned trinkets would bring. Maybe she did not expect a harrowing outcome, but she should have. The parents and teachers of the would be suicide bombers can not even claim that ignorance. Oh, that the radio stations in the West Bank and Gaza would play:

"Don't you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home…acting proud
You wasn't there standing in my shoes

I thought when I was there, God what am I doing here?
I'm a tryin' to kill somebody or die tryin'
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine

And I couldn't help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play.
And through the roar and smoke, this string it finally broke,
And a cannon ball blew my eyes away."

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The Taliban may no longer rule in Afghanistan but their rise to power was aided by a prevalent mindset in the country. That mindset still exists. It is one that still oppresses women, denounces individuality and sanctions violent death as necessary to the Afghan culture and Islamic faith.

IslamaBob could reach into his bag of lyrics randomly and would always find thoughts that if heard by the Afghanis may cause them to reflect on their methods and their desire to turn to something more beneficial to their nation.

The women may want to come together in the streets and slowly let their burkas slip from over their heads. As they begin to try to re-enter society and the workplace without fear of public beatings they might find it very cathartic to sing with linked arms…swaying slightly:

Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good
They'll stone ya just like they said they would
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone
They'll stone ya when you're trying to make a buck
They'll stone ya and then they'll say, "Good luck"
I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned

The men in the villages too may want to respond to the next warlord's call to arms with:

I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more
He hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
Are you havin' a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain't gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.

Well I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more.


Virtually every Afghani living today has never lived in an Afghanistan that was not at war, whether it be civil war or against an occupier. This refrain would easily be a prayer for even the most fervent Mujahadiin:

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And they fall to the floor
If God is on our side
He'll stop the next war

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Almost forty years ago, Bob Dylan was shook internally when he read in a newspaper the account of a black mother of ten children who was slain by a young white male for no other reason than his foul disposition. However, the real reason for Dylan's sense of outrage came from the U.S. Court system which seemed to have as much regard for the slain woman as did her murderer. When the terrorist assaults on innocent American's occurred, it was similar to the murderous act that Dylan sang of in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. The terrorists galvanized hatred and contempt for others amongst themselves and their "right" to act on that hatred should not be questioned or judged in any negative way. But as in the song, the evil committed in those and other terrorists attacks through the years, is made even more repugnant when leaders and those who are to act as judges condone it and devalue all human life. To those who refuse to call evil what is evil and to allow it to fester so that it will rear its ugly head again, there are these lyrics about a judge that failed to act judiciously:

Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin' that way without warnin'
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six month's sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now's the time for your tears

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Islamic extremists rejoice at the success of assaults that murder and maim civilians. They are blinded by their zeal and see their cause and the means that they chose as a way to do Allah's will. Support among the Muslim world for these actions even seems to be growing and not waning. America learned in the sixties, that our own extremists groups like the Ku Klux Klan must be isolated, shamed and brought to justice. However, there have been few voices among Muslim leaders that have been able to utter a stronger statement about 9/11 than that it was regrettable that it had to happen. These mullahs, sheiks and clerics have aspired to positions that are entrusted with concern for the spiritual needs of their people, yet they turn a deaf ear or in the case of Mullah Omar, his one seeing eye becomes his one dying eye, and they carry on as did the blind guides in the Bible that led their followers over cliffs to their destruction. They can not see that we are all made in the image of our Creator and that each life is sacred. God has revealed Himself to all his creation and in that revelation, we know that He is good. It is that goodness that his creatures should try to emulate with the assistance of those who feel called to lead us. After the murder of a young black man in the U.S. South Bob Dylan penned: The Death of Emmett Till which contains these insights:

If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

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Here is another example of when society's leaders fail those they are to educate. The bombing of a pizza parlor in downtown Jerusalem was celebrated by Islamic extremists from the Hamas organization at Al Najah University in Nablus (West Bank), when they erected a replica of the bomb scene. The exhibit featured mock torn limbs and fake splashed blood amongst pizza slices. Al Najah University should be held in the same contempt that Bob Dylan held for Oxford Town until its faculty and administrators remove and renounce this exhibit and the act that perpetrated it.

One last appeal to petition the Islamic world to rethink their present condition and what type of reformation may be warranted is heard in these lines:

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a'changin
'


Political commentator Anne Coulter got into hot water when a few days after 9/11, she called for (partly in jest) the commissioning of thousands of Christian missionaries to evangelize the Islamic world. Any efforts to try to win the Islamic world over by overtly exporting western culture or Christianity would meet violent opposition and would intensify the mistrust and hatred between our societies. Some may call what is reflected in Bob Dylan's lyrics western values or Judeo-Christian values. He would probably tell you that he sings about what he has found to be truth. Dylan's truth is based on scriptural teachings and therefore should resonate in some form with all those who share the same Creator, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Jew or Gentile.

The Lord has proven time and time again that He works in mysterious ways and maybe, IslamaBob will be another. Confirmation may not come as a burning bush, or parting of a sea or a resurrection. We may just have to wait til we hear across the Al-Jazeerah airwaves such tunes as Neighborhood Bully or In The Garden.

Ronnie Keohane
1/18/02

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ALSO SEE:

Time Out of Mind With New Eyes

Bob Dylan: The Prophet's Son

A Lily Among Thorns

 

Dylan & The Frucht (a book by Ronnie Keohane)