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Morrissey’s Apartheid Shame

A fellow teacher approached me after the weekly timetables had been handed out on Monday at the language school where I work part-time in Istanbul.  Would I be willing to exchange my Tuesday night for his Thursday night this week with the class we share?  No problem, I said.

“Thanks.  I’m going to the Morrissey concert,” he explained.

“Hey!  I’d like to go to that!” I exclaimed.

“The tickets are all sold out,” he said.

“I could watch it from the hillside outside the venue,” I said, thinking the concert was to be held at a huge nearby football stadium.

“It’s at the Cemil Topuzlu Open Air Theatre.  There are no nearby hills.”

“Well.  Enjoy the concert!”

I’ve always admired Morrissey, ever since I first saw him performing ‘Hand in Glove’ with The Smiths on The Tube in 1984, writhing about campily with daffodils sticking out of his back pocket.  On hearing more songs I loved the strange strident music and Morrissey’s lyrics of working class victimhood, resignment and rebellion, sung with a swoop and soar in his melancholy Northern voice.  His dirges were therapeutic, stirring a sympathetic solidarity in lonely displaced souls.  I didn’t show concern when fellow flatmates at our Brixton squat worried about a depressed girl who hadn’t come out of her room for two days.  I knew that The Smiths album she played over and over in there was working as an antidote on her angst.  Sure enough she emerged shortly after resurrected and refreshed, although still redundant.

Apart from their great music, The Smiths also gained my respect for playing a Benefit for Artists Against Apartheid at the Brixton Academy in 1986, and I also admired Morrissey for his advocacy of vegetarianism and animal rights, agreed with his take on the British Royal Family as ‘benefit scroungers’, and his opinion of world leaders also struck a chord:

“Whether it’s Assad in Syria, or the British so-called royals, all world leaders are dictatorships, and from what we’ve seen in the Middle East, they will all not hesitate to turn the tanks onto their own people should anyone question their morality….People everywhere have lost faith in politics, and rightly so.  Something different needs to happen.  I think we were all initially swept along with the Obama win, but he’s proven to be simply a set of teeth, and useless in every other regard.  Time and time again we see the same scenario whereby political figures only see the public as electorate, and once anyone is elected they appear to hate the people. British politics, as the world knows, is a joke. Yet it’s rarely funny.”

Checking out the internet in the vague hope that Morrissey might be performing more than one concert in Istanbul, I made a chilling discovery that sent the singer plummeting down on my scale of respect.   What was the cause of this sudden disaffection?  I learned that two days after his Istanbul concert, my former idol Morrissey will be giving another gig on July 21st in Tel Aviv, Israel!  Not only that – this will be his second concert in that colonialist racist apartheid-ridden country, his first having taken place in 2008.

Was this the same the man who is quoted as saying “I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is. Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society,” and who in 2008 saved the Rock Against Racism Festival from financial ruin with a generous donation after a major sponsor withdrew, saluting the free event’s “important, anti-racist, message”, saying that it was a “historic event that must be allowed to go ahead”?

Activists from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel say a full-fledged cultural boycott against Israel could isolate the country and help persuade it to end its control over Palestinians, just as it is credited with contributing to the collapse of the apartheid regime in South Africa.  And yet while fellow musicians such as Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Jon Bon Jovi, Marc Almond, Mirreille Matthieu, and Elvis Costello have called off planned gigs in Israel, (Costello citing what he called the “intimidation” and “humiliation” of Palestinians), Morrissey, after ignoring calls to pull out of his first show, is now heading for his second!

In a video statement announcing the 2008 visit Morrissey, with the word ‘ISRAEL’ boldly tattooed on his forearm in Hebrew, ended with the words “God Bless Israel.”

After just over sixty years in existence, Israel is a state that is still denying Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights, simply because they are “non-Jews.” It is still illegally occupying Palestinian and other Arab lands, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. In the occupied Palestinian territory Israel is continuing the construction of its colonies and massive Wall in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is still persistently and grossly breaching international law and infringing fundamental human rights with impunity afforded to it through munificent US and European economic, diplomatic and political support. It is still treating its own Palestinian citizens with institutionalized discrimination.

These lyrics by Morrissey, although written about the troubles in Northern Ireland,  vividly reflect conditions fort he natives in Occupied Palestine:

Road blocks and fire

Barb wire upon barb wire
This is not your country
Armoured cars, corrugated scars
Grafitti scrawls:
“This is not your country”

Home sweet fortress
Gunshot – we hate your kind
Get back !
This is not your country

I need some air
And I’m stopped and repeatedly questioned:
“Born and raised ?”
But this is not my country.

However commendably vociferous Morrissey might be on the British occupation of Ireland, his ‘Big Mouth’ is obstinately shut on what he thinks about the situation in occupied Palestine, or the call for him to cancel his performance in Tel Aviv, only that on his last visit he would like to “sit on the Dead Sea beach, cover myself in mud, and then get inside and float on the water.”

Neither has he mentioned the siege of the Mavi Marmara, the bombardment of Gaza or any of the atrocities Israel has committed since his last show there.  I wonder if Morrissey is even aware of the existence of the ugly Apartheid Barrier, the only Wall in Israel worth really wailing about?

“Whenever I go past a Mcdonalds I get very, very angry,” said Morrissey in 1989.  Fine.  But could he not include on his ire-inducer nowadays the hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints built in Palestinian territories that people have to queue for hours to pass through every day?

Has he heard of the Nakba, (the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948), when three quarters of a million Palestinians were dispossessed and uprooted from their homes, scattered by Israeli landgrabs, condemned to a refugee life of exile and destitution, the thousands locked up in Israeli jails, political prisoners on continual hunger strike, the ultra-orthodox gangs who are allowed to beat up Arabs on Israel’s streets with impunity, the members of Israel’s parliament calling for African refugees to be summarily deported, and that Israel is armed to the teeth by the west and one of the world’s top military spenders as a proportion of national income?  Surely if Morrissey knew about all this, he would cancel his concert and condemn the country?  But he is silent.  Is it all about the Money and the fame?

Morrissey has spoken scathingly of Madonna and Elton John in the past, not because of their own performances in Israel, (along with other stars such as Sir Paul McCartney, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Leonard Cohen, and Rihanna), but because he says their lyrics are pointless and they are more interested in being celebrities than in their music.

“Obviously Madonna reinforces everything absurd and offensive,” he said. “She is closer to organised prostitution than anything else. I mean the music industry is obviously prostitution anyway, but there are degrees.  Some artists would sell their own blood at the right price.”

Yes indeed, Moz.  Are you a whore or a courtesan?  And who’s your current pimp or manager?

In September 2011 Anglo-Egyptian singer Natacha Atlas cancelled a tour in Israel and published the following statement: “I had an idea that performing in Israel would have been a unique opportunity to encourage and support my fans’ opposition to the current government’s actions and policies.  I would have personally asked my Israeli fans face-to-face to fight this apartheid with peace in their hearts, but after much deliberation I now see that it would be more effective a statement to not go to Israel until this systemised apartheid is abolished once and for all. Therefore I publicly retract my well-intentioned decision to go and perform in Israel and so sincerely hope that this decision represents an effective statement against this regime.”

Would that Morrissey, described by the New Musical Express as “one of the most influential artists ever”,  should make such a statement!  A message by one of such iconic status would reach the ears of millions, awaken them to injustice, teach them to demand change.  “This artist is not prepared to be used to whitewash the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of Palestine.”  Simple as that.  Are you listening, Moz?

It isn’t as if he hasn’t cancelled concerts before for a noble cause.  This year for the second time he has called of a Canada tour to protest against the culling of seals.

 “The Canadian Prime Minister states that the slaughter is necessary because it provides jobs for local communities, but this is an ignorant reason for allowing such barbaric and cruel slaughter of beings that are denied life simply because somebody somewhere might want to wear their skin. Construction of German gas chambers also provided work for someone – this is not a moral or sound reason for allowing suffering.”

Does not the deaths of countless of Palestinian children and teenagers shot and killed by Israel Security Forces deserve a similar stance as to the innocent seals?  Or is it “One Palestinian child shot, but so what?”

At his last concert in Tel Aviv in 2008, Morrissey, looking “dumpy, fat and middle aged” as he now describes himself, could hardly be heard.  Every one of the huge well-off Jewish audience knew the words of the songs and swayed and roared away as if singing favourite anthems at a rally.

“I’m my own master on the stage,” says Morrissey.  “I do what I want. I decide which songs I’ll sing, what the setlist will be, and if I suddenly want to sing something different, I do it.”

Perhaps at his next concert he might consider, in that land where ‘those feet in ancient times did walk’, throwing in old favourite “I have Forgiven You Jesus”.  And as the thousands of Jewish fans roar along with the chorus in unison, a sudden loud stern voice reverberates from the sky, making all fall silent.

“But I have not forgiven YOU.  Nor shall I till each man is reconciled to his brother.  When will you obey the only law and hear the voice of the prophets?  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Do not do to others what you would not want done to you.  It’s as simple as that.”

Morrissey, to draw back the attention of his awestruck audience, breaks into a chorus of:

 “I am human and I need to be loved,
just like everybody else does.”

“Exactly,” says the voice, and is heard no more.

Freedom and Justice for All!

Michael Dickinson can be contacted at his website – http://yabanji.tripod.com/

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Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

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