Saturday, 5 May 2012

Adam Yauch and Islamophobia

NB: The blogging has been light of late. Had a busy week campaigning on behalf of the Glasgow Kelvin SNP for our six candidates - four of whom got in, but as you may be aware, yesterday was a bit of a disappointing day for us in Glasgow. We'll just have to see where we're at after five more years of Labour.

Some elections you win and some you lose, but it was all put into its proper perspective waking up the next morning to the sad news that Adam (MCA) Yauch, of legendary hip-hop pioneers the Beastie Boys, had died, just 47 years old, of salivary gland cancer.

Fighting for your right to party was one thing, but Mr Yauch did something even more profound - on national television, at the 1998 MTV Music Video awards, he challenged the American people to break with underlying orthodoxies regarding US foreign policy and its implicit racism and Islamophobia.

While accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, he asked for a moment or two's patience from the crowd so he could speak his mind "on a couple things" - before making a few heartbreakingly prescient observations:

"I think it was a real mistake that the US chose to fire missiles into the Middle East, I think that was a huge mistake ... it's very important that the United States starts to look at non-violent means of resolving conflicts.

... Those bombings that took place in the Middle East, we thought it was a retaliation by the terrorists, and if we thought that what we did is retaliation, certainly we're going to find more retaliation from people in the Middle East, from terrorists specifically I should say, because most Middle Eastern people are not terrorists."

Hushed silence, and then huge applause. That was in 1998.

Putting this into the context of 9/11 and the ensuing decade of mindless war renders these comments very poignant indeed.

The United States attacks, the terrorists retaliate, and the retaliation is the justification for renewed attacks: we've seen it over and over again. Warfare like this is the oxygen of extremism. No one can surely wonder anymore "why they hate us". They hate us because we treat their lives, their limbs, their livelihoods, their lands, their children, with no respect. We - and I generalise to mean the US and her complicit military allies like the UK - bomb them, torture them, shoot them and put crippling sanctions on their countries that never harm their oppressive governments, indeed always strengthen them, and cause their civilian populations to brutally suffer. Indeed, if particular leaders of Muslim nations are nice to us, we give them money, and guns, and bombs, and nice Western-made planes to drop them out of.

The man who is alleged to have masterminded 9/11 is about to be tried, not in court, but by a secretive US military commission where evidence from torture is permitted, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty - or in Khalil Sheik Mohammed's case, martyrdom.

The atrocities of the war on terror are well documented. Kandahar, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and many more. From a Muslim's perspective, there have been almost too many hideous emblems of disrespect against them to count, from the invasion of sacred holy lands, to the recent bonfire of Qu'rans instigated by members of the United States military, to soldiers taking disgusting snaps posing with dead Muslims, to name only three among a litany of offences.

Almost 3000 people died on 9/11. All combined, at least hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 1990's, brutal sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqis, many of them children.

Every single one of these lives was precious, and mattered. Until we recognise that properly, by ending the policies of death and destruction, the situation in the Middle East will never have a chance to get better. Civilians in the West will be ever more targeted by Islamic fundamentalist forces. The Arab Spring will be corrupted and starved. Peace does not foster extremism and terrorism, war does. Muslims aren't the enemy. Muslims are people as valuable and "real" as Westerners. As people and as people alone, we should mourn the losses of the unnecessary dead on all sides and strive for peace.

The enemy lies within. It lies within a foreign policy paradigm that needs to be uprooted and shattered: the notion that "us" and "our interests" should be valued higher than them and their lives.

These wars need to end. The killing needs to end. The hatred needs to end. Foreign policies have to change.

Adam Yauch was right, and he'll be missed. Rest in Peace.

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