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Frank Crumit

Frank Crumit: An anti-war singer of his day.

If citizens of our age need a scathing anthem, here’s one from 1927.

2012 bids fair to being a year of violence, which makes me think of Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and other chroniclers of the ’60s who eloquently and effectively wrote the anthems to which the peace movement marched.

This revolt against the government seemed to many of us to be a novel undertaking. We grew up when the government was the embodiment of the national interest. Songs should be like the Second World War songs, which glorified war and were mostly love songs. The First World War songs were the same, only more jingoistic.

But the anthems of the turbulent ’60s weren’t the first to parody the times. There was an earlier song which spoke of the ridiculousness of the issues that divide us into camps of war. I’ll get to that momentarily.

I have often thought and spoken about violence and war, and it seems to me when you can’t even get a village to pass a dog bylaw everyone can live with, how can we expect countries to agree on issues that divide them?

When I was a boy I had a gramophone record — kids, ask your grandparents about records — put out by RCA Victor by Frank Crumit and sung in 1927 called Abdul Abulbul Amir.

This was before my time! The reverse side (ask your grandparents again) was Frankie and Johnny. Hear the 1927 version and you will hear a great parody on human beings’ inherent dislike of peace.

Here it is as sung by Crumit:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Young man, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,
Singing, “Allah! Il Allah! Al-lah!”
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

As Abdul’s long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Czar Petrovich, too, in his spectacles blue
Rode up in his new crested car.
He arrived just in time to exchange a last line
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

There’s a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
Engraved there in characters clear,
Is, “Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
‘Neath the light of the cold northern star,
And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps,
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

I saw this as just a funny ditty until earlier this year when, for some unknown reason, I remembered the song and picked it up for 99 cents from my iTunes library and actually listened to it.

It was a timeless parody of man’s inhumanity to man. Today, the Sultan and the Czar live, and Abduls and Ivans abound.

We’re all Abduls and Ivans

2011 has been the year the world has been shaken by the Occupy movement, and unable to understand how a movement could be so successful without a leader or expressed purpose. It has polarized communities that see these young people as hippies and druggies who create a nuisance — which they do to attract attention, and it has worked brilliantly.

History teaches us that when there is a huge gap between the minority that has everything and the majority that has virtually nothing, bad things happen. And we would be fools to think that what’s happening today will go away.

We in the comfy West who have “made it” manage to believe anything that sounds reassuring. We refuse to connect any dots, even though the Arab Spring has connections to the economic positions of the one per cent in that region — in addition to their very real other grievances.

What is also a joinable dot is the political disconnect between the 99 per cent and the governments owned by the one per cent.

Then there’s a dot for the mainstream media which, supinely or maliciously or both, leaves the one per cent alone. It’s the same dot that sees the world’s mainstream media without a social presence, on the side of large corporations, and the establishment who run everything for their own benefit. It is not just what they print or broadcast, but often what they don’t say.

The consequence of this capitulation of the media to Mammon, the purchase of government by corporations and the world being governed and informed by the boardroom is that folks generally “tune out.” The public knows it’s being lied to by corporations and government, but who’s telling the truth?

What’s this got to do with Abdul Abulbul Amir and Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar?

The arrival of the Sultan and the Czar to cheer on their gladiators is symbolic of us accepting, uncritically, the doctrines we adhere to without caring very much about what they mean. Even though we know that governments and their corporate rulers are full of crap, we fight for our leaders because we don’t know any better. If we never darken the door of a church, we as part of the Judeo-Christian community accept the traditional certainty that our cultures and traditions are better than anyone else’s. Not only do we believe in this, we will take up arms against the foe whomever he may be (a few bars of Onward Christian Soldiers, please!) when one of them trods on our toe.

The other guys, we’re reliably informed, might have been smart 500 years ago, but they’re still fighting the Crusades, suppressing their women and killing infidels that tread on any of their faithful toes.

I remember hearing the words of a well-educated Egyptian woman interviewed when Palestinians were hijacking planes. She was asked how she could justify these atrocities.

She spat back saying: “You who slaughtered millions of men in trenches for a few acres of land, routinely bombed innocent civilians and dropped a bomb each on two cities and killed 150,000 people, and you have the gall to accuse me of supporting terrorism?”

The thought flashed through the mind that the lady could be right — it all has to do with whose ox is being gored.

We are indeed like Abdul and Ivan. We accept, uncritically, what Big Brother tells us, and will draw from our holsters whenever we’re challenged.

Ah, Rafe, I’ll be told, 9-11 was no mere trodding on the toe!

No, it was not. But then neither was the Iraq-Iran war that had probably one million killed and wounded, with Iraq being funded by the U.S.

There is no purpose served by tossing atrocities back and forth. Moreover, there is more than one Czar and one Sultan involved, more than one Abdul and Ivan.

The point is this. When the only information and leadership comes from corporation boardrooms or from mosques, pulpits or from any similar location, we the people will find it very difficult to find a dog bylaw we can all live with or, at the highest levels, a way to behave rationally when our toe is trod on.

On all sides of the chasms that divide the cultures and nations, there is no shortage of Abduls and Ivans prepared to gamble the very life of this planet by spending their lives looking for trodden toes or insults to justify the drawing of the sword from its scabbard.

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