Thursday, 20 September 2012

Joseph Anton comes out of the shadows

All those years in hiding 
I can't quite remember when I first heard the word 'fatwa' yet I distinctively remember that whenever that suddenly familiar word was uttered, it was inevitably associated with the writer Salman Rushdie, who had had the 'temerity' of writing a book that had been labelled as offensive towards Muslims.
In that fateful year of 1989, at a time when the world was still divided in two blocks, that fatwa came to symbolise many things really, and in my eyes at least, Rushdie became a sort of hero, a true artist who defied everything and everyone in the name of creative freedom, an icon of free speech against religious intolerance and narrow-mindedness.Admittedly, this might have been a bit of a romantic idea of  mine but then again I was a quite impressionable teenager in search of references and trying to make sense of what was going on all those years ago.
As it is well-known, that edict so solemnly proclaimed by Ayatollah Khomeini would completely turn upside-down Rushdie's life, who subsequently spent over 10 years of his life as an anonymous citizen, hiding from a more than likely fate that so pointlessly had been bestowed upon him; all that for a book many of the people protested against had never read.
We now know that all those years living in the shadows, Rushdie had become Joseph Anton, in an attempt to keep his potential killers at bay.Thankfully, he managed to do so though I can imagine that the cost of living undercover all those years may have had quite an impact on his life.
I find it quite ironic that in the same week Rushdie's memoir is being published, similar cases concerning freedom of speech and religious sensibilities are still making the news.Once again, there are people claiming to be offended and outraged because their beliefs are mocked (in this case by a film as insultingly bad as Innocence of Muslims); sure, being offended should be a right though threatening and even killing in the name of a religion shouldn't, so it would appear that despite living in a world that has seen Salman Rushdie let Joseph Anton go and has retrieved his own self, we are still a long way from the maturity and self-assurance required to deal with these supposedly insulting artists without making a fuss.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Hillsborough truth revealed

The Liverpool Echo front page in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster 
In 1989 a football match between the Liverpool and Nottingham Forest teams in Sheffield became the deadliest sports disaster in British history as 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death when the stadium's crush barriers broke.To a city that was still healing the wounds caused by another football-related tragedy that had taken place only four years before Hillsborough (Heysel 1985 this was, as one can imagine, too much to bear. Liverpool is a city that lives and breathes 'footy'; football is a major passion, a sort of religion and the Pool is actually responsible for my interest in this sport; anyone who has lived or even visited this unique city knows what I'm talking about.So 23 years ago, Liverpool was again going through a nightmare and a collective feeling of despair and grief; however, this time there was something that turned Hillsborough into something else that would unite and bring the city even closer, if that were possible: the treatment received by that infamous newspaper, The Sun,which blatantly lied and insulted Liverpool fans by holding them responsible for this tragedy. Likewise, the South Yorkshire police eluded all responsibility and equally blamed fans .Ever since those fateful days, The Sun became a sort of enemy of the people of Liverpool.Scousers and everyone in Mersyside knew and suffered the humiliation and pain brought by a newspaper specialised in ruining people's lives (another recent example is the phone-hacking scandal). So it was a major step in the process of vindicating and clearing the names of the 96 Hillsborough victims, the findings that yesterday have been made public by an independent panel that lays bare the truth, stating that fans were not to blame and that it was actually the Police who massively failed, not only by not acting properly and professionally on that day but by ensuring that their own members wouldn't be held responsible; in other words, a proper cover-up coming all the way from the cops' hierarchy.
These findings were made even more relevant when David Cameron unreservedly apologised to the families' victims on behalf of the British Government.
Liverpudlians have known and fought for all this for the last 23 years; now the rest of the UK, and the world, knows the actual truth too. Lessons must be learnt and people such as The Scum's-sorry the Sun-editor Kelvin MacKenzie and Police Constable Norman Bettison should face their responsibilities.The 96 Hillsborough victims, their families and Liverpudlians deserve no less.

You'll never walk alone

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

This land is your land (on the centenary of a legend)

Voice of the wretched of the Earth
Better later than never but this post should have been published around the time of Woody Guthrie's centenary on 14 July. He may not be an instantly recognisable figure for most young readers yet his influence amongst those songwriters who went to achieve worldwide success and fame from the sixties onwards (Dylan, anyone?) remains huge.
Born in Oklahoma at the beginning of the century, he witnessed first-hand the harshness that migrant workers from the Dust Bowl had to endure on their way to a better life.Very appropriately, he was known as the 'Dust Bowl Troubadour'; he could have been a character of one of Steinbeck's novels, albeit one with a determination to fight his and other fellow migrants' destiny.His best known  song- 'This Land is Your Land' -belongs to the North American's cultural heritage, and it's still sung in most American schools nowadays.Likewise, it could be the soundtrack to 'The Grapes of Wrath'; I can almost picture the desolated and helpless faces of Tom Joad & Co. whenever I listen to this song.
 Woody Guthrie,with  his guitar famously displaying the slogan 'This machine kills fascists' is undoubtedly a   key figure in the US folk movement, and particularly within the so-called protest song tradition and went to inspire many other musicians.Together with Peter Seeger and Johnny Cash, he is an icon, a legend and a major figure in the finest songwriters tradition.
For those wishing to dig further, I highly recommend the recordings of his songs covered by British artist Billy Bragg and the American band Wilco back in 1998 in the delightful album 'Mermaid Avenue'.Pure fire! Better still, you can find the great man's music available on the internet and judge for yourself.