Leonardo Thinks; call for articles and podcasts on the role of artists and scientists in times of terrorism


Leonardo Editor Michel Emmer is issuing a renewed call for articles on the role and work of artists and scientist in times of war, now in an era of terrorism > We also welcome podcasts for publication on Creative Disturbance:

Leonardo Journal call for papers: http://www.leonardo.info/isast/journal/calls/artandwar.html

Creative Disturbance: creativedisturbance.org 

Interested authors can contact me at rmalina at alum.mit.edu

Roger Malina

Editorial by Michele Emmer

Are We an Intelligent Race?




One evening at 9:40 pm a father, mother and two daughters aged 11 and 13 years were having dinner in the dining room. The windows look out on the corner of two streets. One of the daughters went to her room for a moment. At that moment the shooting began. They did not understand immediately, but after a while, never having heard the sound of gunfire from an automatic war weapon, they understood. From her room the girl saw very bright lights that followed the noise. The parents made the girls lie down in the kitchen away from the windows. And the gunfire continued for 3, 4 minutes, relentless, repetitive, and they began to hear the screams of the wounded, as well as those who were shooting. Then silence for a moment, a car fled quickly to go to kill others, but that was to be understood later. The firemen arrived, ambulances arrived, the police arrived, late, long overdue. Behind their house there is a police station but the police did not arrive until twenty minutes later. Very close by, special forces arrived to usher out the prime minister Valls. After the silence, the screams, looking out the window and seeing the blood, the dead, the wounded. Not allowing the girls near the windows. At that point everyone understood, but it was not over, it was only a part of the long night. Many more were to die that night and the following days. Paris, 13 November 2015. There is no doubt that many reasons led to this situation, economic reasons, political reasons, vengeance, hatred. A few months before the Pope had spoken of war, saying that World War III had begun, a different kind of war, widespread, which did not spare anyone. Like all wars, at least those so-called modern.


War, said French President Hollande, and others followed. Others did not want to pronounce that word and did not want to take part in the bombing in Syria, a bombing which probably will be useless the Islamic state, is not a regular army but fighters that hide, disappear into tunnels dug under the ground, and return after the bombings. Not a war in which only the military power counts, but also the will of people willing to die, willing to commit suicide. An idea which could not be farther from the European and US armies. People willing to kill anyone anywhere without any other strategic goal than that of spreading terror. Various means, objectives similar to those of carpet bombing in World War II. There is no doubt that many economic, political reasons have led to this. The inability to handle the Syrian crisis despite it being clear that a civil war in one of the most sensitive parts of the world could not be left to go on for years, with the interests of the great powers clashing with different ethnic, cultural and religious situations. It was entirely predictable that we would have had an explosion of violence linked to the possibility of training many fighters in a free zone: It is the creation of a kind of ideal war against the oppression of the great powers also camouflaged as a religious war. A war that would attract young people from many countries, as has happened. An area where fighting has been going on for decades and where the massacres, killings, bombings are still on the agenda. It has been “prepared” through the inability of governments, intelligence agencies with the help of the many economic interests related to the energy resources of the area: a perfect storm that has exploded as was widely expected. Was it only incompetence, or did it suit somebody’s interests?


But to people, all people involved in these wars, does it matter much if this impasse was created intentionally or unintentionally (and we do not know which of the two is worse)? The situation immediately affects the elections in the countries involved, as happened in France with the regional elections. Democracy is difficult to manage when there are serious problems, it is better to rely on a single head, an ideology which simplifies, which makes everything clear. There are the bad guys, there are the good ones, the bad ones are hunted down and killed. And so we will perhaps move in Europe towards a new fascism which will fight the technological medieval terrorists. And humanity will once again prove not to be capable of understanding, the younger generation will make the same mistakes of their parents and their grandparents. And there is an illusion that everything is resolved with the global economy, with its indecent imbalances, where some dictate rules for others, and all others must accept. And then it happens that new situations burst into the scene about which few had thought, in which the rules are not accepted but put into discussion. And the world continues to think that the great military and economic powers will sweep away everything and everyone and soon will restore the world order. It will not be so easy when Frenchmen in their twenties kill dozens of people their age and then commit suicide. Maybe Hitler was crazy but not all the millions of Germans who for different reasons followed him were crazy. There are so many examples where madness and sadism is not the only possible explanation. Certain inequalities, lack of hope, of jobs, hunger, but also the liberating virtue of violence, the power to kill an unknown human being, who did not do anything. Only to assert our power; our diversity, our superiority.


From all of this emerges a great demand for culture, a great quest for humanity and art, literature, ethics, politics. It is always necessary to re-found the world, understand the reasons, understand the causes, and even fight if necessary, if at stake are the lives and livelihoods of millions or hundreds or thousands or tens or even one person. From this point of view the biggest failure in recent decades in terms of economic and political as well as cultural ideas is the European Community. The leadership of the European countries and the pseudo-political leadership of Europe did not understand, not to say foresee, what was happening as they were busy keeping up with the regulations on the documentation required to declare when a mozzarella could be called mozzarella. But the humanity, the ethics, the solidarity, the understanding and thus the ability to think about the future, the ability to create a culture, an art, a philosophy, a European literature that was the basis of a political Europe capable of expressing and fighting for its fundamental claims of freedom, equality and brotherhood was lost on the way. And political figures with a tiny capacity of political culture (where both words are necessary) emerged. Concerned about their little power and how to maintain it. Persons who have not been able over the years to give a perspective of development and peace by foreseeing, intervening or even dreaming. The world, the new generations need dreams, while the PlayStation and iPad take away their dreams, don’t allow their existence. It is easier to manipulate minds which are not well prepared to concentrate for critical and creative reflection. And so the charm of the annihilating nihilism, which wants to rebuild after destruction and death, exerting fascination with annihilation, incomparably more than that of our small and unrealistic European leaders and beyond. The USA, not only Obama, have not been able to predict, understand and manage many areas of the world in which they intervened. It does not suffice to make a film a few years after the events for a clean conscience. All this is doing is to regenerate a new fascism and racism, because they have the great advantage of making everything simple. We are concerned only about ourselves, out go all those who are different, we are right, all the others are wrong, we have to silence them; and the war is already here, we do not have to declare it.


If the need is of a new hope for future generations, with reachable and vital ideals, vital is the role of those who make culture, teachers (one of the latest terrorist directives is to kill teachers), intellectuals, artists and scientists and not only them, but all those who want to change the world  to make it more just, reliable, sensible and efficient, because no one has the right to proclaim intellectual or political superiority above the other, it is necessary that all those who are creative spend their energies to change the situation by inventing, creating,  even if the moment does not seem to give much hope, even if it seems that there are no ideas, that there are no solutions. To simplify is simple, to understand and to try to solve is complicated, arduous. But it is people who have thought, designed, created things that no one could even think could be created who make the world go ahead. And here is the important role that a journal like Leonardo, together with the many networks that it involves, starting with the community of Yasmin rooted around the Mediterranean–cradle of many civilizations and many wars, massacres, barbarity–can play. We must stimulate, create, invent tools, ways to tell, to tell ourselves. And if it is easy to convince with a website those who want to hear simple words and simplifying, much more sophistication is needed in order to restore hope to the youth of the world.


In May 1999 I wrote in Leonardo an essay entitled “Only Bombs Are Intelligent?” at the time of the “humanitarian” war in Kosovo. A few years later I wrote “Ideas and Words Can Be Useful”. How many wars have there been, how many dead, how many massacres since then. One for all: the killing of 7000 Muslims in the former Yugoslavia under the guilty eyes of UN peacekeeping forces. I wrote:

“The responsibility concerns everyone…No one has more insight into the truth than anyone else, so there is no point in asking scientists or artists what they think about war. But perhaps there is one question worth asking: Do we believe that artists produce art, mathematicians mathematics, scientists science and fighters wars? Each one of us deals with our own specific field and therefore should not waste time in discussion?”

And yet there is not a war between cultures but a struggle for culture, for its diversity, for its infinite variety. Recalling that all humanity is born from a single species, Homo sapiens, women and men who began to migrate from central Africa to Northern Europe, to Asia and to all parts of the world, migration that continued and hopefully will continue forever in complete freedom without the pressures of need, hatred and terror of war. Utopia certainly in the light of what humanity has done in the last thousands of years, but only with utopia can we dream of a different world and make it feasible.



Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one


(sung under the windows of the family which saw the massacre, a week later)



Michele Emmer

Leonardo Editorial Advisor

Email: emmer@mat.uniroma1.it


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