05 September 2004

Rumble in the Jungle

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Nearly 10 years ago, I happened to be on the Winnifred Beach at Fairy Hill in Portland when my ears were assaulted by a boombox, pumping out a song I'd never heard before. As I listened, I heard the most alarming lyrics, inciting people to kill informers and homosexuals.

A few weeks later, I was invited to replace Trevor Munroe as keynote speaker at the annual bash of the Public Relations Society of Jamaica (PRSJ). At the lunch, having in the interim got further and better particulars, I launched an attack on the author Buju Banton and producers and promoters of the song Boom, Bye Bye because it was, in my opinion, not only anti-social and uncivilised, it was also against the Jamaican law and constitution. In the most basic sense of the phrase, "Boom, Bye Bye" was a dangerous public mischief.

Photographers and reporters were present at the PRSJ bash and everything that happened there was reported at length in the papers and on radio and TV; everything except my remarks, not a word of which made news.

Since then, the Jamaican media has continued to develop its unholy alliance with the dancehall community, one now characterised by extreme homophobia and anti-law and order sentiments. At the same time, the media is awash with fevered speculation about what to do about crime and violence and most are busy arguing for greater firepower and more repression.

It has taken various homosexual rights groups to bring this contradiction to the attention of most Jamaicans. In fact, it has now even made TIME magazine, which has noted this week that while "dancehall reggae may be one of the hottest things thrumming in the US club scene. the genre's current headline act Beenie Man is also taking heat from gay activists for his violently homophobic lyrics".

In fact, it isn't only Beenie Man. Other noted artistes like Vybz Kartel have gone into precipitous retreat as their international sponsors learn - or are forcefully reminded - that inciting people to kill other people is an indictable offence almost everywhere in the civilised world. "Murder music", as the London gay rights group, Outrage rightly terms it, is on the way out and not a moment too soon.
The cancellation of shows by Beenie Man and other offenders is costing them and their promoters millions. Since the Jamaican police won't intervene at home, loss of foreign exchange may be a salutary reminder that we live in a world in which each of us is his brother's keeper.

The rise of violent and depraved dancehall lyrics has been celebrated by some who speak of it as authentic Jamaican culture. It didn't seem to become authentic until the 1980s when it seemed to be promoted as an antidote to the reggae of the '70s, strong music to reflect, no doubt, strong government and strong IMF medicine. It certainly flourished as the structural adjustment programmes gutted the Jamaican working class society with its resizing, retrenchment, redundancy and redeployment processes in which gainfully employed and skilled men suddenly became entrepreneurs selling shoe polish and guineps on the street, their children grew up increasingly fatherless and their women became whores.

And the lines of the dancehall music reflected these realities, as 'brownings' became the rage and women generally were seemingly valued per pound. While some people celebrate dancehall, I am afraid that to me it repsesents a depraving of the public taste and of the nation's general level of musical ability. To imagine these 'artistes' as successors to Marley, Tosh and the others is a bad joke.

Rope a Dope

It's been 30 years since Muhammad Ali regained his world heavyweight boxing title from George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali hadn't lost his title in the ring. It had been taken away from him because he stood up against the Vietnam war, refusing to put on the American uniform to kill people who, he said, "Never called me nigger".

Ali is now perhaps the most popular human being - a status he was well on the way to achieving 30 years ago - except in the United States where the establishment reviled him for his choice of Islam and his rejection of the war. When he fought Foreman, he was on the comeback trail and few people thought he could do it.

Everybody now knows how Ali beat Foreman at his best game. Foreman is probably the strongest man ever to be a boxing champion, with biceps the size of most athletes' thighs.

Ali started the title fight with what seemed like dubious, or more likely, suicidal tactics. He dared Foreman to hit him as hard as he could, and Foreman, never a man to shirk a challenge, obliged, pounding every legally accessible part of the body, except Ali's head, which was never an easy target. The blows sounded as painful as they looked. But Ali, to almost universal surprise, absorbed Foreman's sledgehammering until Foreman's arms became tired. Then Ali, who, by all normal standards should either have been in hospital, or on the way to it, proceeded to beat the daylights out of George Foreman, leaving him senseless under the Congo stars.

I am reminded of this fight by the US Republican party's tactics in the current election. Like Foreman, they are going to batter John Kerry in all the obvious places. I am convinced that the media and the Republican party propaganda were the most potent forces influencing the democrats to choose John Kerry, believing that in a presidential campaign Kerry would be positioned by the Democrats as a Vietnam veteran against a man who went absent without leave from his safe sinecure in the National Guard. I am almost convinced that the Swift Boat veterans were prepared long before John Kerry became the Democratic candidate. Karl Rove figured he could deal with a Kerry, while I feel sure he would not want to have dealt with a Howard Dean.

How to deal with Kerry? Attack him where he seems strongest, attack his character. Even if the attacks are lies, remember that mud, once thrown, tends to stick; there is no smoke without fire and a hundred other cliches including the Jamaican: If it don't go so, it nearly go so. Keep him off balance, defending himself while the voters forget their real troubles and the dead bodies coming home from Iraq.

The problem for Bush is that the American people will, sooner rather than later, become as disillusioned over the anti-Kerry slanders as they have become over the failing economy, the failing war in Iraq, the fact that whatever Bush and his apologists say, there is still a huge job deficit, four million more people now live below the poverty line than in 2000. That is the rope against which John Kerry can lean while Bush and his Rovers beat their knuckles bloody against Kerry's character.

When Bush enrols a bitter loser like Zell Miller to rave against the party in which he still claims membership, to denounce and scandalise John Kerry, it is, in my view, the politics of desperation, a policy with a very limited shelf-life. Bush can deny that he endorses Miller, or the Swift Boat Liars for Truth, but nobody believes him, even if it mattered.

As the real Bush deficits continue to nag at the pocketbooks and minds of the electorate, perhaps the only thing that may yet save Bush is the head of Osama bin Laden on a platter.

Who knows? Perhaps it is already in a deepfreeze somewhere. But does that make the world safer?

Like the Dancehall DJs, the US rightwing believes in the politics of revenge and division. It too is anti-gay, and in order to polarise support, the GOP wants to put initiatives against gay marriage on as many state ballots as possible, believing that in their deepest souls, Americans will vote against gays.

And while that plan is going forward in certain areas, in places like Florida, work is proceeding apace in depriving blacks of the possibility of voting. Since blacks are 90% likely to vote against Bush, it doesn't matter whether the blacks you disfranchise are Republicans or Democrat. The GOP must gain. But hurricane Frances may make all those plans moot.

Dancehall rules for Haiti

The US Administration speaks about progress in Afghanistan and Iraq, but never about Haiti. It appears to be ashamed of what has happened there. The Organisation of American States is being pressed to do what the UN does in Europe, Asia and Africa - clean up the mess after the Americans. That is why our eminent Caribbean boobies are doing their damnedest, undercover, to sell out the Haitians and the cause of Haitian liberty.

While Mr Bush boasts about taking Liberty to the world and his right to Liberate anywhere he thinks needs it, eight million Haitians languish in a situation in which even the most anti-Aristide of the Haitian civil rights groups feels uncomfortable. The National Council for Haitian Rights has now issued warnings about the return of the attachés, the old Tontons Macoute. If they can see the signs, perhaps Mr Patterson and Mr Knight might be able to see them too, if there is anyone who can wake up these worthies and the premiers of Barbados and Trinidad.


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