Musicians, torture and morality

Zack de la Rocha, singer of the US rock band &...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

A lot has been said about the musicians who have joined The National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, but none of them are quite as deliriously out-of-touch-and-context with what Keep America Safe‘s director Debra Burlingame told The Washington Times [via TwentyFourBit]:

“It’s almost laughable to think that heavy metal bands like Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine have a moral authority on national security issues,” Mrs. Burlingame said.

“They’re worried about torture of hard-core terrorists? This is really something I would expect to read in the Onion.”

Normally, I may concur with Burlingame’s underlying sentiments – that being, why does it matter what some celebrity with a guitar thinks. However, Burlingame’s commentary completely undermines the real issue at hand: these artists have the moral authority because their music was misappropriated for an act they disapprove.

Beyond the fact that these musicians morally object to torture, they have every right to disagree with their work being used in what is basically harming another individual.

In any case, this hardly has to do with moral authority on one issue or another – something in Burlingame’s tone suggests that these musicians shouldn’t have the authority to say anything political. And that’s something I can’t get behind. For as annoying as it may be that celebrities are handed stage time to speak on political issues and get the kind of attention that some knowledgeable officials cannot get, in this case, these musicians are the authority because it is their music that was used as a weapon.

(As an aside, celebrities, just like any other individual, have every other issue to speak about political issues – I would just rather listen to a celebrity/musician/actor who appears to have some factual knowledge on an issue than the usual case of some 15-minutes-of-fame individual spouting something on E!)

What strikes me as so odd is the catch-22 that Burlingame has thrown herself into. If she thinks it’s “laughable” for musicians to have a moral – or any other kind of – authority on national security issues that involve their own work, shouldn’t it be just as hilarious that Burlingame is taking the time to comment on the issue at hand? Would it be laughable for her to respond to this commentary on her inability to see the issue at hand? After all, she doesn’t have the moral authority on blogging, but I’m sure she’s got an opinion on it. And isn’t the ability to express one’s opinion – be it through “heavy metal” music, political discourse on terrorism and torture or blogging – the very essence that folks say is what makes America great, is worth protecting and what’s getting Burlingame up in stitches?

All I can say is I hope no one uses this piece to torture someone… otherwise I might fear my moral authority over my own words may be called into question.


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