Of Lenin and Muhammad, or, “Why totalitarians hate Jazz”

It turns out Robert Spencer (1), noted critic of Islam and the danger to human liberty posed by the spread of Sharia law, is also, like me, an avid jazz fan. In addition to his own blog and a column at PJ Media, he’s started a new column in PJM’s “Lifestyle” section on the intersection of jazz and Islam. His opening piece examines why totalitarians, whether atheists such as Vladimir Lenin, or religious believers, such as Muhammad, hate music, particularly that most American music, jazz.

I think he nails it in this passage:

It isn’t hard to see why the creators of martial polities and new, aggressively expansionistic political and societal systems such as Lenin and Muhammad would disdain music. For music is an expression of the human spirit – the very thing that these totalitarians were trying to master. And no music so fully expresses the anti-totalitarian impulse, and the dignity and value of every human person, than does jazz.

For jazz is not jazz if it doesn’t contain a considerable element of improvisation, and improvisation is an expression of the individual soul par excellence. A musician who is improvising has nothing to fall back on except his own inner reservoir, and that is why jazz at its best is so immediate, so personal, and so affecting. Miles Davis and John Coltrane improvising on the same piece couldn’t sound more different from one another, not just because one plays trumpet and the other tenor sax, but because they are so very different from one another as human beings, and in their improvisations, one can hear into their very hearts and souls. One may learn their solos note-for-note (as I did back in the pre-9/11 days when I played a bit of saxophone myself), but this is just a musical exercise; the music itself can be copied but never replicated, for their individual expression is inherent and essential to it.

Totalitarian collectivists hate that individual expression. They are only interested in the individual not for the expression of his own soul, but as a cog to fit into his great machine that is marching toward the worker’s paradise, or the Sharia state, or whatever the outcome of their reign of terror is called today. As such, jazz music, a unique product of the nation that has enabled a flowering of the individual spirit unparalleled in human history, is a rebuke to collectivism, and a defiant and joyful reassertion of the one thing that totalitarians fear most: the individual.

Emphases added. And it probably explains why Muhammad hated music’s literary equivalent, poetry. (2) Like jazz musicians, the best poets are individualists, and totalitarian control freaks just hate that.

I look forward to further installments.

Footnote:
(1) Robert’s a prolific author, and I highly recommend his books on Islam. I reviewed his (so far) most recent work, “Did Muhammad Exist”, a few months ago.
(2) Hated to the point that the founder of the Religion of Peace and Tolerance had several poets assassinated for daring to criticize him. If he couldn’t control them, he had to eliminate them.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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One Response to Of Lenin and Muhammad, or, “Why totalitarians hate Jazz”

  1. Timothy J. McCorkle says:


    there will be Fatwas!

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