Haaretz has a piece about the arrest and trial of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, recalling similar cases where artists were arrested and incarcerated for their anti-establishment music. You can read the whole thing here.
Obama and Madonna, EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton and Bjork, Paul McCartney and Garry Kasparov (who was even arrested over the weekend in a demonstration ), as well as international human rights organizations, leading newspapers in New York, Washington and Chicago, tens of thousands of people wearing colorful masks at angry demonstrations all over the world, millions on Facebook pages – the Western world has mobilized on behalf the previously unknown Russian punk rock band, Pussy Riot. In particular, it has mobilized against the despicable show trial orchestrated against the group in Moscow, which ended over the weekend with a two-year jail sentence for its three members on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
They go on to list other cases in the world:
In Morocco, for example, the popular rapper Al-Haked (which translates roughly as “the enraged one” ) was sentenced to a year in jail for insulting public servants. As Mark LeVine reported in Al Jazeera in June, his protest song, “Kilab Al Dawla” (“Dogs of the State” ) was what sealed his fate.
In Angola, the rap star Luaty Beirao was sent to jail in mid-June due to trumped-up charges of drug smuggling after a group of 15 government militia members armed with machetes and steel batons attacked popular rap musicians.
In Turkey: Ferhat Tunc, the wonderful Kurdish singer, is again in jail after receiving a two-year sentence in June; his friend, Seckin Aydogan, a member of the band, Grup Yorum, who has been in prison for a while for performing Kurdish music, was violently attacked in his cell; and the virtuoso classical pianist Fazil Say, a particular favorite of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra audience, was indicted on suspicion of “inciting against Islam and insulting religious values” – and if convicted he could face an 18-month jail sentence. The trial of Say, who has become an outcast in his country for declaring that he is an atheist, is scheduled to take place in October. And this is just the beginning.
In May, several persecuted musicians fled Azerbaijan and sought political asylum in Europe while the glamorous Eurovision song contest was taking place in Baku’s Crystal Palace, led by guitarist Jamal Ali, who was arrested and tortured by the police.
In Pakistan, the young pop singer Ghazala Javed was shot dead by assailants on motorcycles as she was on her way to a concert at the Peshawar Festival (and her father was also killed in the attack );
The Belarus folk rock group Krambambula, led by pop star Lavon Volski, had to launch its newest album in neighboring Lithuania, because its members are blacklisted in their own country.
In Tibet, singer Lolo was arrested by Chinese security men and he has disappeared without a trace.
In Brazil, songs have been censored. In Kenya an investigation was opened against three pop singers including the beloved John De’Mathew, on charges of “incitement against the prime minister,” and in Iran this summer where there has been a wave of rock concert cancelations, 28-year-old singer Aria Aramnejad was sentenced to a third jail term.
All of this has happened over the last three to four months. The list goes on and also includes increasingly tougher supervision of music publishing companies (China ); a ban on doing the Halai folk dance to Kurdish music, based on the claim that it foments and encourages terrorism (Turkey ); an attack at a rock concert that left at least 10 dead (Somalia ); and the kidnapping and torturing of to musicians, a singer and a conductor (Mexico ).
Naturally, this being Ha’aretz, the second half of the article deals with Israel. Unfortunately for the paper, no Israeli, Jew nor Arab was ever arrested or harassed by the government for their music. Thus Ha’aretz can only write pathetic praise for Leftists protesting the government and Arabs wishfully thinking they’ll one day get rid of the Jews.
A few years ago at a demonstration in Tel Aviv one of the leaders of the conscientious objector movement took the megaphone and appealed to the crowd: “There are now seven conscientious objectors sitting in jail,” he said. One would have expected him to continue with a speech protesting the injustice being done to them and demanding their immediate release, but instead he suddenly raised his voice and roared: “Let their numbers increase! If only there would be dozens of jailed conscientious objectors, hundreds! Thousands!!”
I recalled this speech in the wake of the Pussy Riot case: If only thousands of Israeli singers and musicians would sing and play to protest the injustices of their government, and endanger it, disturb it, until they have the upper hand – this silent wish surfaced in light of the jail sentence given the Russian group’s members.
Meanwhile, here in Israel it is commonly thought that there is no one in the music world today who challenges the government or the social order in general. It is argued that even if there were someone like that, persecution of singers in this country could not be possible: After all, there is democracy here, freedom of speech is zealously protected and everyone can sing about what he wants, without being blacklisted by the Shin Bet security service or being attacked in the middle of the night by government thugs armed with batons.
Still, to assess the stability of the democracy, it is vital to pose a challenge. Where can that be seen here? Playlists of Army Radio? Government radio stations? University campus radio stations? In all of them it is hard to see any subversion, or hear words of criticism, even gentle ones. This is understood because protest music does not sit well with the establishment. Such music has difficulty both drawing from it and coming out against it at the same time, and therefore it is not present in the Israel mainstream. The important singers, the leading bands – they are careful to avoid any kind of statement, even veiled, about politics or social affairs, and apart from “forays” stemming more from a desire to ease the conscience than from activism, you do not hear a thing. In Western pop and rock and all its many variations, certain attempts in the 1990s – inspired by the sharp Pollyanna Frank and radical groups such as Dir Yassin or Smartut Kahol Lavan or 21 – were heard for a time here and then stopped.
Musical protest in Israel today is heard on the margins. In over 100 clubs catering to people of Russian origin – where groups like Shitty CT emerged – and in neighborhoods of Ethiopian immigrants, it is possible to hear protest over social neglect and cultural oppression – in heavy rock, hip hop and rap, from bands like KGC from Kiryat Gat. Furthermore, it is also possible experience sounds of protest there, not just hear lyrics of protest. Because protest music, as the members of Pussy Riot showed, is not just about the words, but much more; indeed, the weakest element in such music is the words.
“The rhymes are the bullets,” sings Saz, who three years ago told the story of the genre’s birth to Haaretz: “Hip hop Palestine – it’s the way to protest the situation without a weapon,” he explained during an interview in Bethlehem, during a break in the Palestinian international concert of the same name, which also featured the British-Palestinian rapper Shadia Mansour. “And it’s the way to instill hope in people. To prove even to someone who comes from nowhere that he has where to go to.”
During a visit to Ramle shortly afterward, he said proudly, “From here we wield influence – on the entire region, Arab countries and Palestinians around the world. An Israeli leader once said, ‘So long as the Arabs are not united, we have nothing to worry about.’ I have news for you, in hip hop they are behind a single front. What the politicians didn’t manage to do, to create unity, is happening through the small and lonely message that is growing here. Ahmad is no longer nice.”
What Haaretz don’t mention are the numerous blacklisted musicians from the right of the political map, who are not played nor aired on mainstream radio stations. Artists like Ariel Zilber and Amir Benayuon, who are open opponents of the political Left, are being shunned.
About the AuthorDan Smith has been exposing anti-Israel fallacies since the first time he opened the world wide web on Netscape Navigator, sometime in the late 90's. His lack of formal journalistic, political and sociological education means he is still capable of objective, unbiased views and opinions. A judge of media, pundits and media pundits.
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