‘How sad and bad and mad it was’

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 30 Apr 2024


What a seething, daunting, restless place this world is.

Tensions are rising every hour, leaping from one spot to another like an infectious disease, without restraint or repose. What is happening in Gaza is foul and frightening. What is even more rotten and revolting is that this world is letting it happen.

From streets to squares to university campuses thousands are being forcibly silenced, denying them the inalienable right to free speech, as well as the constitutional right to protest and assemble. There are 110 conflicts and wars raging at present around the globe, can we even hope for total peace sometime, somewhere.

Each war is equally scathing, mutilating, and devastating, yet man is uncontrollably attracted to it, pursuing one good old war after another, embracing it like an old trusted friend. “The urge to kill, like the urge to beget is blind and sinister.”

At nearly all times since the dawn of history, some war is being waged somewhere and still man loudly advocates his desire for peace.

Sad beyond measure, war has a numbing, silencing effect on ordinary folk, “thrown in its brazen throat”. Artists, on the other hand, turn to their pen, brush or flute, struggling to keep fresh the memory of its horrors, in vain hope that others might not repeat its infamy, depravity and futility.

Their art brings out a catharsis, an unburdening, through their own creative mode of expression. They become universal soldiers bound together with a silent oath, to fight the savage attacks of violence, terror and bloodshed.

From Pearl Harbour to Gaza, from Hiroshima to Hanoi, from Moscow to Madrid, artists have depicted the disturbing realities of death, dismemberment and the violation of innocence.

What are the skillful tools, those mighty artilleries available to the artist? Is the pen really mightier than the sword? Writers try their best. Poets, with transparently sensitive and fragile souls, have used their searing words to express their deep revulsion and esoteric opposition to violent wars.

Countless novels have highlighted the tragedies of war, conjuring up images of drudgery and despair.

German writer Erich Maria Remarque (1898- 1970) vehemently expressed his anti-war sentiments, causing his books to be banned. His scorching account of WWI, All Quiet on the Western Front, was among the books consigned to be burnt by the Nazis.

Leo Tolstoy’s electrifying war classic War and Peace, set against a backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, is equally chilling. Both novels found their way to the screen, among many others.

“What good came of it, at last.” Does war benefit art? Art, inspired by war, continues to prosper. Would it not prosper still by other worldly inspirations?

Essayist Robert de la Sizeranne wrote: “The modern battle is of great use for writers, psychologists, poets, playwrights and moralists, but it is of no use to painters.” How wrong he was. A sketch of “church ruins, collapsed houses or two bodies lying in a trench”, appeal to the persistence of the human conscience enslaved by war.

Picasso’s “La Guernica” (1937) is considered the most powerful invective against violence in modern art. “The spike tongues, the rolling eyes, the frantic splayed toes and fingers, the necks arched in spasm” make it the most visual, credible, political, anti-war statement of our time. A woven tapestry of this masterpiece, measuring 10 by 22 ft hangs outside the UN Security Council. Has it deterred any wars? They view it, admire it and continue their wars, regardless.

Music has stirred the souls of many a pacifist in its denunciation of war. Dimitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) “War Symphony” became a worldwide symbol of the struggle against Fascism, harrowing in its expression of Russians under Nazis as well as Russians under their fellow Russians.

Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” was meant as a warning to future generations against the senselessness against man killing man.

Great works of art indeed, but have they made any difference to warmongers.

What about Hollywood? It is rare to find a form of art practiced with such universal popularity as the art of film-making. With its growth, a new class of elites was born —the movie stars. Proponents of humanitarian causes, they now hide their diminished heads, remaining silent, with a heavy sense of inadequacy. Whatever happened to their violent objections to other wars, Viet Nam, for instance? Their vocal, political, conscientious objectors have lost their tongues since 7 October, for fear of offending their Jewish bosses.

Only a few courageous voices from tinsel-town have been heard, about 25 in all, while the industry supports 2.74 million jobs. Even one Amal Clooney, nee Amal Alamuddin, born in Beirut, of fully Lebanese and Muslim origin, wife to George, a most prominent Hollywood figure, is too busy displaying the latest fashion, to notice the massacre of Palestinians. Shameful.

Kudos to Susan Sarandon, who lost her agent, Angelina Jolie, Mark Ruffalo among a few others who still have a conscience.

All the best reasons are still the worst reasons for waging war. Have we mentioned genocide?

War is a favourite screen topic and every war has had its share of memorable movies. From cowboys and Indians to world wars to Viet Nam, even Star Wars have had their share of exposure. Most significant of all and forever present is the Holocaust.

Will we see a Hollywood movie about another holocaust waged by the victims of that famous holocaust? Doubtful.


“It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war, is nothing but an act of murder.”

    Albert Einstein (1879-1955)


* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

Search Keywords:
Short link: