Roger Waters, the primary composer and lyricist of Pink Floyd during their most prominent years has for decades, used his music to convey a message of peace and humanity. He has typically got it right and occasionally gets it wrong.
One issue he has got totally right is the issue of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli war, occupation and economic blockade. For over ten years, Waters has made the issue of Palestinian freedom a central point in his music and accompanying dramatic stage shows.
Waters is part of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement which encourages individuals to boycott Israeli products and tourism. Waters uses his status as a ‘music legend’ to highlight the plight of Palestinians. In 2012 he spoke at the United Nations on the issue. He frequently pens open letters to fellow musicians asking them to refrain from performing in Israel until a meaningful peace settlement is reached.
“Roger Waters, speaking on behalf of the Russell Tribunal, delivers a very nicely put speech in front of delegates on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This day also marks an important development in the Palestinians’ bid to statehood as they are now recognized as a non-member observer state. Hopefully the world sees both sides of the story and that both conflicting parties go into negotiations towards a two-state peaceful solution and put an end this long and dragged out conflict. Enough is enough!”
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Waters is a perfect example of how the media-industrial complex punishes individuals who do not fit the tired stereotype of a veteran rock star.
Late last year, a grossly under-reported story explained how American Express ditched a planned sponsorship deal with Waters for his 2017 tour in a move which was said to be worth $4 million.
American Express like any other company has the right to refuse sponsoring any individual or organisation however they see fit. But in doing so, American Express has shown that they are willing to sponsor events of every variety including politically charged music performances by Beyonce.
Why then is American Express put-off by Roger Waters’ embrace of the Palestinian movement?
Are they opposed to Waters’ calls to end the starvation and medical deprivation of Palestinian children?
Are they opposed to Waters’ please for justice and democracy for Christians, Muslims and Jews in the region?
Are they appalled by his anti-war message?
Where many celebrities use anodyne political causes to enhance their status, I can see no evidence that Waters has profited from his endorsement of Palestine. Quite the contrary is true. It seems that his message of peace for everyone and hatred for no one has cost him millions.
Waters described the situation in his music industry in the following way,
“My industry has been particularly recalcitrant in even raising a voice (against Israel). There’s me and Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Manic Street Preachers, one or two others, but there’s nobody in the United States where I live. I’ve talked to a lot of them, and they are scared shitless.
If they say something in public they will no longer have a career. They will be destroyed. I’m hoping to encourage some of them to stop being frightened and to stand up and be counted, because we need them. We need them desperately in this conversation in the same way we needed musicians to join protesters over Vietnam”.
The fact is that most musicians neither win nor lose the majority of their fan-base because of politics. The fact is that most people buy albums and concert tickets based on the fact that they like the sound of a song or enjoy singing along with the lyrics, even if they’re hardly paying attention to what the lyrics mean.
But for those who do care, the reaction to Waters’ Palestine politics is shocking. If Waters was advocating for genocide, cruelty, hatred or imperialism, I would agree that his concerts should be boycotted. But the fact that he is advocating for precisely the opposite of the aforementioned things makes the position of American Express seem not only extreme, but illogical.
Roger Waters is being punished for free speech on a subject that ought not to be controversial. The fact that some find it controversial demonstrates how low and beastly the nature of modern debates about human rights have become. No innocent people deserve to be suppressed, repressed and occupied, but that is exactly what is happening to the Palestinians and it has been happening for decades.
I personally disagreed with Roger Waters’ statements about Donald Trump and I also disagreed with his characterisation of Leonid Brezhnev on the otherwise stellar 1983 Pink Floyd album The Final Cut. But at no time would I seek to shut down Waters’ free speech or his ability to peacefully perform what millions consider to be important pieces of music in a peaceful and safe environment.
American Express has shamed its own reputation by treating Roger Waters in the way they have done. Roger Waters remains undeterred and will continue to tour his new show across the world.
As someone who has seen Waters perform many times, I highly recommend it, even for those who disagree with his views but enjoy a challenge.
Roger Waters: Why I must speak out on Israel, Palestine and BDS
Salon exclusive: The Pink Floyd star details why he supports the boycott
Seventy years ago, my father – 2nd Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters – died in Italy fighting the Nazis. He was a committed pacifist, and a conscientious objector at the start of the war, but as Hitler’s crimes spread across Europe, he swapped the ambulance he had driven through the London blitz for a tin hat and a commission in the Royal Fusiliers and he joined the fight against fascism. He was killed near Aprilia in the battle for the Anzio Bridgehead on Feb. 18, 1944. My mother – Mary Duncan Waters – spent the rest of her life politically active, striving always to ensure that her children, and everyone else’s children, had no Sword of Damocles in the form of the despised Nazi Creed or any other despicable creed hanging over their heads.
Last month, thanks to the good people of Aprilia and Anzio, I was able to pay tribute to the father I never knew by unveiling a memorial in the town where he died and laying a wreath to honor him, and all the other fallen. Losing my father before I ever knew him and being brought up by a single, working mother who fought tirelessly for equality and justice colored my life in far-reaching ways and has driven all my work. And, at this point in my journey, I like to think that I pay tribute to both my parents each time I speak out in support of any beleaguered people denied the freedom and justice that I believe all of us deserve.
After visiting Israel in 2005 and the West Bank the following year, I was deeply moved and concerned by what I saw, and determined to add my voice to those searching for an equitable and lawful solution to the problem – for both Palestinians and Jews.
Given my upbringing, I really had no choice.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society appealed to people of conscience all over the world to act where governments had failed. They asked us to join their nonviolent movement – for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) – which aims to end Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, to secure equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to uphold the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the cities and villages they were violently forced out of in 1948 and 1967.
What can we all do to advance the rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel and the diaspora? Well, BDS is a nonviolent, citizen-led movement that is grounded in universal principles of human rights for all people. All people! In consequence, I have determined that the BDS approach is one I can fully support.
I feel honored to stand in solidarity alongside my father and my mother, and alongside my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and so many others of all colors, faiths and circumstances from all over the world – including an ever-increasing number of courageous Jewish Americans and Israelis – who have also answered the call.
In the furor that exists in the U.S. today about BDS and the right and wrong of a cultural boycott of Israel, a quote from one of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, has been on my mind. He prophetically said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The BDS movement is fulfilling its promise and fits Gandhi’s description. Once dismissed by many as a futile strategy that would “never work,” BDS has gained much ground in recent weeks, bringing with it the expected backlash.
Divestment votes at major U.S. universities, European pension funds divesting from Israeli banks that do business with illegal Israeli settlements, and the recent high-profile parting of the ways between actor Scarlett Johansson and the global anti-poverty group Oxfam are symptoms of a growing resistance to the Israeli subjugation of the indigenous people of Palestine, and also, to the decades of occupation of land designated by the U.N. as a future state for the Palestinian people.
And with each new BDS headline, the ferocious reaction from the movement’s critics, with Netanyahu and his AIPAC fulminations in the vanguard, has risen exponentially. I think it’s safe to say BDS is in the “then they fight you” stage.
Some wrongly portray the boycott movement, which is modeled on the boycotts employed against Apartheid South Africa and used in the U.S. civil rights movement, to be an attack on the Israeli people or even on the Jewish people, as a whole. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movement recognizes universal human rights under the law for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or color.
I do not claim to speak on behalf of the BDS movement, yet, as a vocal supporter, and because of my visibility in the music industry, I have become a natural target for those who wish to attack BDS, not by addressing the merits of its claims but, instead, by assigning hateful and racist motivations to BDS supporters like me. It has even been said, cruelly and wrongly, that I am a Nazi and an anti-Semite.
When I remarked in a recent interview on historical parallels, stating that I would not have played Vichy France or Berlin in World War II, it was not my intention to compare the Israelis to Nazis or the Holocaust to the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians. There is no comparison to the Holocaust. Nor did I intend or ever wish to compare the suffering of Jews then with the suffering of Palestinians now. Comparing suffering is a painful, grotesque and diminishing exercise that dishonors the specific memory of all our fallen loved ones.
I believe that the root of all injustice and oppression has always been the same – the dehumanization of the other. It is the obsession with Us and Them that can lead us, regardless of racial or religious identity, into the abyss.
Let us never forget that oppression begets more oppression, and the tree of fear and bigotry bears only bitter fruit. The end of the occupation of Palestine, should we all manage to secure it, will mean freedom for the occupied and the occupiers and freedom from the bitter taste of all those wasted years and lives. And that will be a great gift to the world.
“Ashes and diamonds
Foe and friend
We were all equal
In the end.”