On the radio, the other day, after the arrest of Ratko Mladic, one of the reporters that had covered the Balkan conflict at the time of Mladic’s atrocities retold a tale of the terror, suffering and displacement that the actions of this man had inflicted on the general population. He told of a time when he saw people fleeing a war-ravaged city. They were scared, hungry, cold and uncertain about their future. In many cases, the fates of their loved ones were still unknown. They had abandoned their homes and everything they owned to save themselves. My childhood was filled with family tales of life as a war refugee, since both of my parents and all of my extended family were displaced persons from the second world war in Europe. I know, through the stories my parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents told, what this must have been like.
The reporter, recollecting the day, remembered seeing an old man on the road, walking away from the war zone, who looked to be in a terrible state. He was evidently struggling with what had happened to his city and was not in the best of health. His clothes were ragged and torn. The reporter stopped the man to ask him what had happened to bring him to this sorry state, no doubt to elicit some kind of usable war story and quotable sound bites for his television network.
When asked if he was a Croat or a Bosnian Muslim by the reporter, he replied with the last vestiges of his dignity and pride that he could muster. Looking the reporter straight in the eyes, as if trying to explain something painfully obvious to somebody so uncomprehending, he said with quiet fortitude, “I am a musician”.
I wonder how many other artists would have the courage and sense of our own purpose to answer in such a way? Consider this. If somebody asked if you were Republican or Democrat, Pro-Israel or Anti-Semitic, Labour or Conservative, Communist or Capitalist, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, Patriot or Terrorist, Genius or Dummy, Eastern or Western, First World or Rest of the World, American or Illegal Alien, Rich or Poor, Oppressor or Oppressed, Black or White, Christian or Muslim, would you have the strength and courage of your convictions to rise above the false dichotomies, the artificial divisions designed to command and conquer entire populations and the high-jacked agendas, to articulate your vocation and calling, with clarity and lucidity?
Would you reply, “I am an artist”?