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   Vol.66/No.41           November 4, 2002  
 
 
Controversy over Baraka poem
on conspiracy theories
 
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS  
"Somebody Blew Up America," a poem written by Amiri Baraka, a radical political activist who was recently appointed poet laureate of New Jersey, has unleashed a controversy in that state. Baraka wrote the poem in October 2001 as a response to the events surrounding the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The 200-line poem presents a long list of historical events as the product of conspiracies. The lines that have sparked the most criticism imply that the U.S. and Israeli governments and other ruling-class institutions knew in advance about the September 11 attacks. They read:

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed

Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?

The controversy came to a head after Baraka read the work on September 19 at a poetry festival in Stanhope, New Jersey. One week later Gov. James McGreevey, who had appointed the writer to the position at the end of August, called for him to resign.

State politicians from both major parties have also condemned the poem, as have editorials and opinion columns in New Jersey and New York dailies. "Mr. Baraka continues to spread lies [and] spew venomous hatred," said Richard Codey, the Democratic Party co-president in the state Senate.

Adding his voice to calls for Barakaís removal has been Shai Goldstein, the New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who labeled the poem anti-Semitic.

Baraka defended the point of view put forward in the poem at a meeting held October 2 in the Newark Public Library. "I will not apologize [and] I will not resign," he said in a statement released that day. The political history of the poet, who strikes a Black nationalist stance in his work and statements, includes a period starting in the 1970s as a Maoist.

"The Bush administration knew" about the September 11 attack before it happened, he insisted. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the FBI, and government leaders in Germany, France, Russia, and the United Kingdom also knew, he said, explaining that testimony to this effect "is everywhere on the Internet."

"Stockholders of American Airlines and United, which were the carriers hijacked to commit the terror, began withdrawing stock from these companies in August before the attacks," he added.

In his statement, Baraka asked what "our" intelligence community knew in advance. His arguments that the government and FBI should have done a better job of predicting and preventing such attacks echoed the remarks of liberal Congressmen who have criticized the Bush administration and police agencies for being caught by surprise.

"The Israelis didnít pull the attack," Baraka added, "but they were smart enough to get people out of the way. How come our government didnít do the same thing for us?"

The poem lists a number of crimes carried out by the imperialist powers at home and abroad, from the holocaust suffered by Jews in Europe at the hands of German imperialism, to police frame-ups of and attacks on leaders of the Black Panther Party.

The refrain "who?" is repeated throughout, adding to the strong implication that a conspiracy lies behind these disparate developments, with Washington at its center.

The poem also laments the passing of the New Deal in the lines, "Who decided Affirmative Action had to go, Reconstruction, the New Deal..." First used in 1932 as a campaign slogan by the Democratic Party presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal was the name given to social legislation enacted with the aim of stimulating the stagnant capitalist economy and heading off the powerful social movement of labor struggles that reached its peak in the rise of the Congress of Industrial Organizations.  
 
 
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