How much was understood by the average FBI agent who torched Waco? About religious fanaticism? And how easy it is for the unsuspecting to fall into the false comfort which that type of fantasy worship encourages?
I’d had good stabs at it beforehand. In earlier poems. On the first record it was mentioned in Sophisticated Beggar, the title track, which is now 36 years old, and a year or two later in McGoohans Blues, etc, but I really got to grips with a poetic treatment of where I wanted to be with regard to organised religion when I wrote ‘The Same Old Rock’ on ‘Stormcock’ in 1969. Joan Bakewell, (described at the time as ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’) reviewed it in some rag saying, “One hopes that he doesn’t believe in what he’s singing about” ! ! I thought that I had really done well, but the record met with ignorance from the record company and apathy from the critics. I was very frustrated with that at the time. Some people didn’t understand it. Most didn’t want to. It has been my second best selling record for the last twenty years.
So that by the time I got to 1990, and after a few more obvious attempts such as ‘The Spirit Lives’ on ‘HQ’, I thought that in the prevailing circumstances of the time, ie. a passenger aircraft being bombed out of the sky over Scotland, that I’d better state the case against religious fanaticism in a more graphic way. ‘The Black Cloud Of Islam’ appeared from the tip of my pen. It had been brewing for about 40 years. Along with all of the above.
A lot of people thought that it was imprudent, indiscriminate, and injudicious. It was all of those and much more. But I couldn’t help myself. I was immediately able to put myself in the middle of the minds of those who had planted that bomb. I’d grown up with it. I knew full well what kind of mental disease it was. And I lashed out. There is no way to tell anyone whose mind has been taken over to be reasonable, because they always think that you are being unreasonable in suggesting that. After about thirty years of that I lost my cool.
I felt like a prisoner inside a rotten concept. All the time, every minute of the day it seemed, I was not only surrounded by lunatics who were hell bent on forcing me to believe in something which nobody could show me had any basis in fact, but they were also referring to me as the lunatic.
The bear in me had been baited for years, and I wasn’t going to let the truth of what I felt be shrouded under any cloud of dishonesty. I knew full well that I would be disowned for it, but I did it anyway. It would have been hypocritical of me not to include the hysterical followers of the other great monotheistic doctrines. I’d waded into the christians for decades. The others were equally as bad. And what had been coming for some time came to pass with flight 103. They had made their point at the Munich Olympics where they had murdered about a million Israeli weightlifters. There’d been some dogma howling and gnashing before and after the 7 day war.
Apart from the fact that we didn’t want that one to start, I didn’t want anyone to win it either, but in the end American munitions won it in…. Well.. Seven days. I was angry at the time. Moshe Dyann? With his eye patch… and all. I was kind of hoping that Egypt would hold out, at least for a while, but it was all over before we could put the kettle on. My best friend at the time, Stefan Tyzko, who was a wonderful photographer, managed to get out there a day or two before it started. He brought back some really strange pictures. Dead men with very thin wires running across their faces. Gruesome booby traps in the desert.
As far as I can tell, the place which was at one time known as Palastine has been in a state of turmoil for at least the last five thousand years. It would seem to me that the walls of Jerico were first bashed down perhaps eight thousand years ago.
That particular strip of land has been travelled up and down for more than a couple of million years. The latest news is that there are Neanderthal bones there, along with contemporary human. It’s a spot like Gibraltar, where there were probably mass migrations of birds or apes and more to and from Africa in Spring and Autumn. It’s the way through. One of the manifestations of ‘civilisation’ started nearby in a place we know of as Sumer.
Sumer was approx between modern Bagdhad and the Persian Gulf, and was perhaps where the first written code was abstracted. That language is now known to us as cuneiform. Programming for computer is relatively easy and thousands of ways of writing a language now exist, but writing the first one; abstracting it from the ethos, gave it’s inventor immediate power. Is this perhaps a biological event that automatically arrives with settlement? The gradual settlement of a mind which had been on the run for hundreds of millennia? While symbols evolved. Could the written abstraction of language ever be understood as one of the consequences of social order?
Imagine arriving in front of the king and telling him that you had a means of scratching something on a tablet that could be understood 100 miles away. By anyone who knew the code. It would have been great fun for at least the first few days for the king and his mistresses. In it’s simple application the written word carried enormous power. It may well have been kept secret for as long as possible. Six or seven thousand years ago this must have seemed like a magic. Then the priests really got hold of it… And it became the word. And not long after that it would have become the word of god, well, after all, god, in the form of the ruler, probably put himself in charge of it being written.
History had begun, quietly, in three or four places on the planet… And men played with their women, and their superstitions. The seemingly most developed one, partly because of this geography, was this eastern mediterranean jobby. These guys could really fly with it. They had to, because in the moving traffic no one was hanging around. They eventually interbred with the entire district and got into heavy trading with everyone else. Because they could. They could imagine amounts.. And scratch out calculations. And the whole neighbourhood wanted to apply the same magic. Automatically, things got a bit more complicated…
What do you do with a codified language? It is immediately obvious that you can make anything mean anything else! Opportunities to mess with reality become hugely multiplied. Life is no longer as simple as it used to be without the written language. As soon as the written word is seen, it becomes an object of wonder which far outstrips it’s intended original definition. The Fertile Crescent of the Euphrates and Tigris had this shorthand before anywhere else. The semitic peoples invaded them, and bred with them….. And this culture was assimilated into the burgeoning cultures of the middle east.
The whole caboodle of this language and culture seems eventually to have been inherited by tribes who mutated into the people we call the Phoenicians, who were the first real big time international traders. These people had posts throughout the mediterranean and beyond. Phoenicia proper eventually covered an area approximating modern Lebanon and northern Palestine. In the middle of the traffic between two continents; where, in all probability purity was in constant question.
The tribe of Judea, which occupied an area in the south of this region, and east into Jordan, seems to have been part of the same origin, and the most determined of these tribes to hold on to it’s original culture and roots. Perhaps because it had developed a fear of being kicked out of here and there and was consequently always aware of lost relations. The rest of the girls on the block were beginning to question whether or not the one true god belonged to this tribe, and to this tribe alone …… (This will now be regarded as controversial).
Ancient Hebrew was succeeded by Aramaic and ceased to be spoken as a language after about 200AD. It was preserved as a ceremonial, poetic and ritual language by the descendants of this tribe, who became as far flung as the Phoenicians had been, with the same sort of heritage. The Phoenician language was last spoken as a form of Punic In north Africa about 400 years later. This ritual language and behaviour of the ‘exiled’ tribe of Judea was developed away from Palestine for about a thousand years. From North Africa to Mesopotamia, from Spain to Poland to Moscow. Eventually, it would seem, enough of a power base had grown to think about returning to Palestine, and to cut a long story short, en mass.
The Zionist movement was started in 1882 AD. It’s aim was to re-occupy land that had been effectively Roman and Arab land for the best part of 1747 years. (Since the last Jewish revolt in 135 AD). The impetus for this movement in Europe was provided by a state of general prejudice against the then large jewish population for their unwillingness to assimilate. Which the tribe of Judea had found difficult to achieve because of the prejudices against them……! Which mainly existed because a serious minority among them insisted on cultural and religious purity with no question of assimilation….. and so on …. and so on
At the turn of the last century they had the support of the French and then the English, for some kind of sentimental, partial return to a land their forebears had not been in for a couple of aeons. There were small numbers of immigrants before this who had been sponsored by wealthy Jews in the early 19th century. And in the 1840s Britain had been favourable to the creation of a Jewish state because it seemed to secure the overland route to India. I.e. They could then cut the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire out. The Turks had for long controlled most things below Austria, and had dominated most of the middle east for the previous 600 years.
In 1917, the British foreign secretary, A. J. Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild containing what is now known to history as ‘The Balfour Declaration’, which said that, “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights to existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” The British government was trying to rally Jewish opinion, especially in the USA, in order to keep all routes to the east open. Trade is all, but especially in oil.
From a population of a few tens of thousand in the early 19th century, there had been a steady trickle of expectant Jewish people to an idealised ‘homeland’. After the first world war, (and the final break up of the Ottoman Empire, who were on the losing side), one of the spoils of victory for the British was a mandate to govern Palestine as a ‘protectorate’. A sort of “we finally beat Saladin.. then.. chaps.” Jolly good show. Mmmm, the Jewish population of Palestine in 1924 had risen to 83,000. This serious drizzle was turned into a deluge by Hitler in the late 30s and 40s. The Arab population of Palestine was increasingly incensed. For them, all this was an unmitigated catastrophe. All they could see was their way of life being swallowed, by an international race of aliens with an intense agenda… who wanted to plant an alien way of life right into the heartland of Islam.
A couple of years after the original ‘Balfour Declaration’ was made public knowledge, a commission had limited the numbers of Jewish immigration, which was due to stop altogether in 1944. By 1942 Zionist politicians in the USA had won support from the US government for increased immigration. The British government ducked below the parapet. It was war time. Britain was happy to have it’s powerful ally take over the reins of what was becoming a pretty thorny issue. The surrounding arab nations agreed in 1945 to try to protect their Arab Neighbours in Palestine and their own way of life in general. The original fantasy of owning a piece of ‘the holy land’ was beginning to pale as the British found themselves in a guerrilla war against the Jews in Palestine because they refused to sanction an Anglo-US commission which called for an immediate 100,000 visas for Jewish refugees from Europe. Personally, I think that they were very aware that they had to save their relationship with Egypt to keep the Suez Canal open. Etc.etc.
Then there was an atrocity committed by Jews on an Arab village in 1948 which caused a mass exodus of arab villagers. It was time for the Brits to leave… as well. The Jews took more land than their allotted treaty share. The Arabs have been fighting them ever since. It’s been 56 years since. There are millions of displaced Palestinians. The population of Israel is now about 5,000,000. This is all 5th form History, which someone like Tony, our dearly beloved lead guitarist, would have known at the age of 15.
And just in case anyone gets any wrong ideas, I’ve got lots of Jewish friends, and a Jewish son I think the world of, and none of them agree with what passes for government in Israel at the moment.
It would seem that some of the suits now have the message; but will they have the balls to act upon it? Just in case they need it spelt out again in a few words, here it is….. UNTIL WE SORT THIS ONE OUT THERE WILL BE NO PEACE. We’ve had about a hundred years so far…..
In 1973 the last Shah of Persia said, “The days of cheap oil for the west are over.” He was succeeded by the ridiculously sour Khomeni. And another million Bin Ladens. And in the absence of reason the doctrines were dusted off and hullabaloo was resumed. How many more times do we have to be told, in the same alphabets, that religion is the tool of the oppressor. You are going to think that I am stark staring mad, but I have to say it again…. Animal farm politics are bad enough, but the mix with religion is lethal. Most people cannot understand any of this, but it’s like being run over by a bus because you refuse to look. There will also be those of you who are tired of me banging on about this, perhaps because you think that it’s too obvious, and that I’m being naive not to understand that. But 2 things occur to me immediately I begin to wonder whether or not I should loosen up a bit. 1. We have a bunch of leaders who are either being dishonest with us about what they believe in, or they are deluding themselves, along with everyone else. And 2, as long as there’s a human child alive on this earth I will reserve the right to bang. So I’ll devote a whole paragraph to it, at least one more time. Here goes..
Religion will land us all in deep excrement. It is a hiding place for thugs and bullys.
It’s also very difficult for someone like me to say “I told you so”, because as situations lurch from bad to worse, people just try harder to cope, and put up with things, and refuse to notice: and because I’m just the average poet in the street, without a publicity machine, banging his head on the pavement of Nigella Lawson, Don King, Page 3, Jeremy Paxperson, Buffy, Lord Bragg, Larry King, Sky News, WWF, Corrie, and Usama Bin Liner. And what do I know? Except that we’re all making more religious fanatics by bombing each other. Painful to watch. Some will say that if we address poverty then religion will take care of itself. While we are now absolutely forced to address poverty, I think that we absolutely have to address honesty. To ourselves as well as to others. We all realise that this can’t be done overnight, but can we make a start?.. Please… Or at least can we admit to needing to make a start?
The Afghan people are now beyond desperate. They are completely broke. In every department. They don’t have time nor space to think about politics. Or anything else. They are starving. They have NOTHING AT ALL. That means NOTHING. Can we now help them? Please? It is very difficult and depressing for me to have to watch the richest country on earth bombing the poorest. We all know that bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy need to be rounded up. We also know that the islamic nations don’t have the stomach, the will, the inclination or perhaps the means to do it. What is inescapable for me is that carpet bombing Afghanistan isn’t going to do it either. The only way to get these men out of their hole is going to take body bags. On both sides. I can understand softening up techniques, and I can understand the US/UK reluctance to get into body bags, and I don’t want to be cynical about the reasons for our great politicians to be so disinclined, but if we are going to clean up, it’s going to mean sacrificing some of our young people. No one wants to do this, but it’s the only way of sparing the innocents in Afghanistan and our own way of life over here.
One of the questions that has to be asked is not whether those young people will come through or not, because they will, but rather is this the price that we/they now have to pay for the heavy handed corporate globalization our side of the fence has been doling out for a long time, under some shady survival of the fittest banner? Will we not now owe our young people a great debt should they be able to be guided successfully to rid the world of this madness? And how come we have to put their lives at risk in the first place by acting so badly? And what do we do about Ariel Sharon? He has the excuse of being elected. Do we have to round up the couple of million who elected him?
What we have needed in the human world for at least the last 10,000 years is a universal code of honour. We have been unable to do this much before now because the index finger has had no idea about what the little toe was doing, and for thousands of years advantages based on force have prevailed. This no longer has to be the case. We now know the palms of each other’s hands. We now have the opportunity to put an end to brutish behaviour and corporate bullying. The first real opportunity to level the field for the whole of mankind is now in front of us. All it will take are magnanimous gestures by Europe, North America, China, India, Japan, The Arabian states, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Australasia, Indonesia and South Africa to fully co-operate. It’s our choice. And the window of this opportunity may not stay open forever. Easier said than done, you might say, but it’s now an imperative. We have to have the will.
There are now the beginnings of many formats for us to use to bring this all about. Though it needs a serious revamp, we do still have the UN, we also have the Olympic Games, shoddy as it’s ethics may be, we have training for a multitude of disciplines, we have world sport, we have learning, we have local sport, where young excess energy can be burned off without involving tragedy or cynical manipulation. We have growing adventure programmes. We have contemplative practices. We have art, science and invention from the most primitive levels. We have extreme sport, where you can break your neck if you choose to. We have nature. We have four or five world languages. There are many tools. They are all imperfect. A lot of work needs to be done to bring the human being into the light. Into the brighter side of globalization, the global village. It is not going to be easy. We have all helped to breed Usama Bin Laden. He is another product of our ignorance, neglect and strife. In the same way that Martin Luther, Christ, Hitler, Ariel Sharon, Stalin, Rasputin and Martin Luther King are products of neglect, ignorance and strife.
A perfect world is impossible, but we have to be more altruistic to survive. We cannot think about ourselves first, and the rest later. We must think of everyone. And we must all do this in concert. It’s no good Adolf or Jesus going off and trying to do it alone. That’s now a proven non-starter. We all have to do it together, with a collective responsibility. There will be little security for any of us until we do this. If we continue to be lazy about our hopes for human culture then the door may close forever. It wont be the end of the world, it’ll just be the end of us. Your attitude may be that we’re part of the fossil record anyway. My own would have to be that I would like to entrust my children with the inspirations of an ongoing quest.
I’m sorry that this is so long. I tried to cut it down. There is much more. Perhaps I will include some thoughts on energy next time round. I’m off now to listen to Jack Kerouac read some jazz poetry…. some decent anarchy. And to put globalization in it’s proper place.. in the bin…. …
Much love, Roy H
Friday the 12th of October, 2001.
P.S…! I’ve had more feedback from ‘no one is unarmed’. I must apologise to some of you for not making it quite clear that the economic devastation of the attack on the twin towers is a given. I’m sure that it will be true to say that the attack was made on capitalism. Which may have pleased a lot of people who have nothing to do with Islam whatsoever, had it not been for the horror and the loss of life. There are a dedicated minority of people, particularly in Europe, who have planned to riot wherever the G8 have chosen to hold a conference over the last few years. As I’ve been saying for 30 years now, I don’t think that this is necessarily the right way to go about protesting. The G8 leaders have been virtually driven out of town and very soon they will be holding meetings behind ten miles of ‘security’. This will not improve our contact with them. What we surely have to do is to vote some dedicated speakers onto the floors of these parliaments with no other agenda than justice in the world. With an express purpose of uniting like minds across party and national lines. Joining a party whose political agenda is already established will not work. We are fighting a war against terrorism perhaps, but a war we also need to be fighting is against our own greed, apathy and carelessness. Sod fashion politics… However,
Copyright 2001 Roy Harper