Challenge to Playthell Benjamin: Defend Obama’s war on Libya and Africa

By J L Samboma

As the first African-American leader of the Land of the Free lays waste to the African nation of Libya in league with co-imperialists from the rest of the West, international corporate media from ABC to the BBC are falling over each other to defend the indefensible with their skewed coverage.  A few pseudo-leftist intellectuals are also crawling from under their sinecures to join the massed ranks of the media mis-informers.

Of the latter is the well-known African-American writer and professor Playthell Benjamin.  The good professor and I locked horns recently after I posted my modest poem, “Shats for my Father,” on Facebook.  Before progressing any further, I believe it is necessary to provide some background to that episode, if for no other reason than to put the matter into context.  It would also afford the dear reader an insight into the mindset and thought processes of this pre-eminent American cultural commentator and cheerleader-in-chief for Emperor Barry war-Bama.

Innocent as a new-born babe

Although I will endeavour to make this tale as brief as I can, I may have to quote a few passages of our discourse for the benefit of those who don’t have access to my Facebook page. 

The spat began when, as innocent as a new-born babe, I commended Mr Benjamin on a piece he had written on President Obama and the Rev Al Sharpton titled “Message from the Grassroots.”  Here’s the totality of what I wrote: “Liked the piece, especially the quality of the writing. Re there being no alternative to voting Obama, maybe progressives should strive towards forging one?”  You would think a “thank you,” if even a grudging one, would have been in order.  You would have thought wrong, for we’re now in the world of the irascible Playthell Benjamin!

Like a Blitzkrieg by the Furher himself, Mr Benjamin (right) launched a pincer movement on yours truly: first, he posted under my poem that it was not “serious political analysis,” that it was “sophistry” and “lightweight prattle”; then he replied to my praise for his prose style by proclaiming that “Anyone who believs (sic) that it is possible to elect a more progressive President than Barack Obama in the US has their head up their ass so far they don't know if it's sunny or bright!!!!!!!!!!!”  All of this in the space of less than ten minutes!  Such choice French phraseology was a revelation.

Writin’ is fighting’

I was stunned, a hapless deer caught in the glaring, fast-advancing headlights of the juggernaut that is Playthell Benjamin’s ire.  “Obama is the most progressive, visionary and humane president in the history of the United States!!” he thundered.  “It's not even close!!!!!!!!!! Furthermore, he is also by far the most skilled politician in our history. If you wish to argue this point...(sic) I think you should first read my resume - in which you will discover that I am a former history professor, award winning journalist, and Journalism professor…”

He subsequently called me out for an intellectual duel, inviting me to critique his “over 200 essays” on Obama’s policies and the “Arab Spring” and Libya.  This was a man spoiling for a fight.  If one was in any doubt, he quickly ended such misery: “The thought that a brother who is obviously as intelligent and opinionated as yourself will seriously critique (sic) makes my pulse quicken...perhaps i have found a worthy adversary at last!!!!! However, you should know this about the great novelist Ishmael Reed; I think ‘writin is fightin.’ And i have never lost a bout in nearly fifty years! Like the great pugilist Sugar Ray Robinson, I pray to the Gods and the ancestor every night for a worthy opponent!!!!!!”

Idi Amin more humane than Caligula

My modest response was that I would not engage him in exchanging French phrases, but that, though award-winning writer or professor I was not, I could hold my own in any intellectual discourse.  I wrote: “I agree Obama is the most progressive etc president in the history of the American empire, just as Idi Amin Dada was more humane than Caligula.”  This statement, the brother-professor retorted, was “simple-minded,” “moronic” and “a false analogy.”

Mr Benjamin is apparently ignorant of the method known in rational discourse as refutation by logical analogy.  Otherwise, he would not have summarily dismissed it as he did.  He still did not get it when I stated, inter alia, that it was “a legitimate tool in rational discourse which you pretend not to understand. Compared to the abominable Bush-man, War-Bama is certainly more progressive. Compared to Lover-boy Clinton, he is not, but that is debatable. The point am making here is that my line of argument was legitimate.”

To make a long story short, the gentleman who had thrown down the gauntlet by calling me out, had been roundly creamed, as my old judo sensei would say.  I had demolished his arguments on two counts. 

The first was when he’d  called my poem “an argument” and charged that it was “sophistry” and “lightweight prattle,” to which my retort had been: “Poetry is a literary form which derives its poignancy from its use of language for evocative and esthetic purposes. Poetry, when it works, does so at the level of passion, emotion; by definition it is not objective, scientific argumentation. It does not aspire to be. To say that it is "lightweight prattle" and "sophistry" – which is defined as a plausible but fallacious argument - is itself a fallacy. It is comparing apples and oranges.”

Exquisitely-executed kata guruma throw

In the facebook exchanges, I likened our duel to fencing; this time I will liken it to judo, which is less brutal, as he's a very polite gentleman.  My retort was an exquisitely-executed kata guruma, or shoulder wheel throw, which sent him through the air and on to his back.  Professor Benjamin, to his credit, was gracious enough to acknowledge when he was beaten, although he tried to put a spin on it by claiming my deft manoeuvre was a plea” needing his  consideation.”   Hear him: “As to your eloquent plea for a proper consideration of the place of poetry in human discourse: It is both true and very well said, Bravo!”

My dear professor, that was no plea.  Those crunches you heard – Ouch! – were the sounds of you landing on your back and of me taking apart your imbecilic assertion that a poem is an argument.  Even my teenaged daughter knows better than to make such a blooper. 

No coherent comeback

Now to my logical analogy about Obama being to past imperialists what Idi Amin Dada is to Caligula.  He refused to acknowledge I had scored another point, dismissing it instead as a false analogy.  (And, yes, when you’re forced into a “duel” by a playground bully who does not know you do judo, it’s all about point-scoring and slamming them as hard as you can).  I will liken that logical analogy to the move in Brazillian jujitsu known as the rear-naked-choke (above left):  It put his lights out, for he had no coherent comeback!

The man who said he had never lost a “fight” in more than a millennium had met his first defeat not in the pages of a groundbreaking political treatise or at an academic symposium, but in the school playground that is Facebook.  The bullying, award-winning professor addicted to caressing his credentials in public had been bested by a non-professor and non-award-winning writer who he described as a “poseur lacking gravitas.”  ‘Nuff said!  No self-promoters or poseurs here!

Search-out and destroy

Now, to the present!  As the greatest detective who ever lived - my idol Sherlock Holmes - would have said, the game was afoot.  This was bloodsport – and I had tasted blood.  I craved more.  So I headed for the professor’s blog to search out and destroy those much-vaunted "200 essays" on Obama’s foreign policy and the Arab Spring as they related to Libya.  (It was my poem about President war-Bama’s Libyan adventure which the award-winning writer had taken exception to.)  In a word, I wanted to do to Playthell Benjamin’s half-baked arguments what the bombs and aircraft of his boy war-Bama were doing to my homeland.

I could find nothing on Libya on the blog.  Zilch! Nada!  However, I recalled he did say the essays were on “foreign policy” and the so-called “Arab Spring.”  These would do for now, I thought as I got down to work.  The more I browsed, the more it became clear that the much-hyped items were a handful of essays numbering nowhere near two hundred.  They can be categorised as the sort of endlessly-recycled, imperialism-promoting nonsense churned-out by policy wonks in the State Department.  And this is from a so-called original thinker who fancies himself as a leftist and the man who invited me to critique his positions on Libya.  But, apart from his animosity towards me for being implacably opposed to President war-Bama’s attacks on that country, there was nothing on his blog for me to get my teeth into.

Given this situation, any attempt to embark on such a critique would entail making inferences about his position on Libya from articles he has written on other countries in North Africa and the Middle East and on the “Arab Spring.”  While Libya may share characteristics with those other countries, it is also unique in the sense of being the wealthiest, most socially advanced, and the  most anti-imperialist, the latter characteristic being also the main reason it is the only country which has been invaded by the imperialist dogs (of war!).

It’s your move, sir

Therefore, what he has written on his blog has only a tangential bearing to what is happening in Libya.  He has sent me on a wild goose chase, a fact which may account for his being so confident in calling me out.  This is bordering on intellectual dishonesty.  I remember someone accusing me of being a “poseur” enamoured of writing graffiti on Facebook walls.  Perchance the good professor had someone closer to home in mind he wrote those words on my Facebook page.

So I say now to Playthell Benjamin:  Dear Professor, write your best apologia for war-Bama’s and the West’s murderous, imperialist adventure in Libya and I give you my solemn word, as a Marxist and a gentleman, that I will make mince-meat out of whatever you write.  I’ve done it before; I can do it again.  You’ve bitten-off more than you can chew.  Has it dawned on you yet?  It’s your move, sir.