31 years ago, I made a discovery that had some serious resonance for me — the existence of St. Patrick’s Day. It was March 17, 1986. I’d moved into a flat in London three months earlier, in December 1985, opposite the George Canning pub, where I had ventured on my first night, meeting up with squatters, from the roads behind the junction of Tulse Hill and Brixton Water Lane, who soon became my friends.
After three years in Oxford, I wanted as big a change as possible — somewhere in the real world, as far removed as possible from Oxford’s dreaming spires and the endless reminders (to someone from a northern, working class, Methodist background) that it was basically a finishing school for the public schoolboys who would soon go on to run everything.
Seduced by my love for roots reggae music and the Clash, I decided there was no better place than Brixton to sign on and to learn to play the guitar and write songs, inspired by two of my other musical heroes, Bob Dylan and, recently discovered, Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, whose rattling bender of an album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, had recently been released. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, I was very excited to put the final touches to my band The Four Fathers‘ second album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ The album will be available soon on CD and to download on our Bandcamp account, where our existing recordings are still available — our first album ‘Love and War’, the ‘Fighting Injustice’ EP, featuring remixes of three songs from ‘Love and War’ (US and UK versions), and a single, ‘Close Guantánamo.’ Please feel free to like us on Facebook and to follow us on Twitter.
The album features ten original songs — eight by me, as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, and two by Richard Clare (lead guitar, backing vocals), and we recorded it with Pat Collier at Perry Vale Studios in Forest Hill in three sessions from July to November with Brendan Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and Louis Sills-Clare on bass.
My songs include the title track — our most recent song — comparing how white westerners value their own lives compared to the victims of the west’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the refugees fleeing the death and destruction in Syria and elsewhere, and the black men — and children — killed with impunity by the police in the US, where the Black Lives Matter movement has been such a powerful force. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I took part in a fascinating event, the Brockley Festival of Ideas for Change, just a few minutes’ walk from my home in south east London, which was organised by two local organisations, the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. This was the talk I gave, which I wrote in a 90-minute burst of concentrated creative energy just beforehand. It distils my feelings about the current rise of racism and xenophobia in the UK, the narrow victory for leaving the EU in the referendum in June, and the terrible indifference to the current refugee crisis, which is taking place on a scale that is unprecedented in most of our lives, and I examine the dangers posed by an “us” and “them” mentality, laying the blame on cynical politicians and our largely corrupt corporate media, whilst also asking how and why, on an individual basis, people are becoming more and more insular, and what, if anything, can be done to counter these dangerous trends.
I was asked to join this event today because I’ve spent the last ten years — nearly eleven now — researching and writing about the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, telling the stories of the men held there and working to get the prison shut down, because it is, to be frank, a legal, moral and ethical abomination that should ever have existed.
Discussing Guantánamo here today wasn’t of particular relevance to most of the problems facing people in Britain right now, as the last British resident in Guantánamo — a rather lovely man named Shaker Aamer — was released over a year ago. I could have talked about Britain’s complicity in the existence of Guantánamo, and how we replicated part of its lawlessness here in the UK, holding foreign nationals without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, and subjecting British nationals to a form of house arrest and/or internal exile, but I thought it would be useful to look at a key aspect of Guantánamo that has relevance to so many of the things happening in Britain today that are so deeply troubling to so many of us; namely, the rise of racism.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at Guantánamo and to realise that everyone held there since the prison opened in January 2002 is a Muslim. And because of all the disgraceful rhetoric about terrorists and the “worst of the worst,” Americans have been encouraged to accept that. But imagine if there was a prison run by the United States where people were held without charge or trial, and subjected to torture, and everyone held there was a Christian, or Jewish. There would be an unprecedented uproar. Read the rest of this entry »
The song was featured in a video (on YouTube and Facebook) for the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched last week, just after Donald Trump’s unfortunate election victory, which, sadly, makes it seems less, rather than more likely that Guantánamo will be closed unless, before he leaves office in January, President Obama can fulfill the promise to close the prison that he first made on his second day in office.
As the last verse of the song states:
Obama promised to close the prison for good
On his second day in office
But Republicans resisted his plans
And he lacked the political will to do it
But as the years drag on and on
And the men still held get older and iller
Endless imprisonment without charge or trial
Is what it always was — a form of torture
This coming Sunday, November 20, I’ll be talking about “Demonising the ‘Other’: Tackling the rise of racism and xenophobia” at a fascinating one-day festival, the Festival of Ideas for Change, organised by the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. The festival is taking place in the Mural Hall at Prendergast Hilly Fields College in Brockley, London SE4 (the address is Adelaide Avenue, SE4 1LE, but the Mural Hall is actually in the main building at the top of Hilly Fields). Entrance is free, but you do need to book here, via TicketSource.
I’m one of 17 speakers during the day, and we’ll each be speaking for ten minutes in four different sessions — ‘Participation and democracy’ at 10.30am, ‘A fairer world’ at 12 noon, ‘An inclusive society’ at 2pm (at which I’ll be speaking), and ‘Building a new economy’ at 3.30pm, and there will be questions and discussion after each session.
This is something of a first for me, and I’m looking forward to it. Regular readers will know, of course, that for over ten years I have focused most of my work on Guantánamo and related issues, although I have always made room for involvement in and commentary about other issues, particularly involving the takeover of politics by largely interchangeable parties devoted only to the enrichment of the rich, and to putting the greed of banks and corporations above the needs of the people. Over the last six years, a major focus of my non-Guantánamo work has related to the cynical age of austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories, targeting the unemployed, the disabled and immigrants. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s one for your diaries, Londoners. On Wednesday November 2, I’m part of a panel discussion — ‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture, and the Military Commissions’ — taking place at the University of Westminster in central London. The event is free, but please register here on the Eventbrite page.
It’s hosted by Sam Raphael, co-director of The Rendition Project (with Ruth Blakeley at the University of Kent), and the special guest, visiting from the US, is Alka Pradhan, one of the lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi, a “high-value detainee” at Guantánamo, and one of five men facing a trial for involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Other speakers are Carla Ferstman, the director of REDRESS, and myself, as an independent journalist who has spent over ten years researching and writing about Guantánamo and the post-9/11 torture program, and working to get the prison closed down.
I’ve recently been renewing my focus on the military commissions, via a number of articles on my site (see Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan), on the Close Guantánamo website, and in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera, Guantánamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit, which partly drew on a letter from Ammar al-Baluchi to Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, asking for him to be allowed to visit the “high-value detainees” at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday September 3, I visited Parliament Square at the end of the latest March for Europe. The first March for Europe took place on July 2, and was attended by around 50,000 people. See my photos here, and my article about it here.
Saturday’s march and rally was a smaller affair, but many thousands of protestors marched in London, and in other cities across the UK, and I believe more people would have taken part had it taken place a few weeks later, after the end of summer had more thoroughly worn off.
The March for Europe organisation describes itself as “a diverse, inclusive movement seeking strong ties between Britain and Europe,” and it provides an opportunity for those of us who were — and are — dismayed by the result of June’s EU referendum — to leave the EU — to highlight our concerns; essentially, as I see it, that leaving the EU will be so disastrous for our economy that MPs, generally supportive of remaining in Europe, must demand that Article 50, triggering our departure, is not triggered. If MPs refuse, those of us who perceive how disastrous leaving the EU would be need to do all we can to publicise the truth about what our isolation would mean. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday July 2, I attended a March for Europe, and took the photos in my latest album on Flickr. The march took place in central London, attracting around 50,000 people, calling for Britain to remain in the EU, supporting the pan-European community that it has allowed to come into existence, opposing racism and xenophobia, and calling for MPs to refuse to pass the legislation that is needed for our departure to actually take place, rather than, as at present, being the preferred course of action of a slim majority of the 72.2% of the electorate who actually bothered to vote.
The march took place just eight days after a shocked Britain woke up to discover that, after the most ill-advised referendum in UK history, those voting to leave the EU had secured more votes than those who wanted to stay in. Those attending were just a fraction of the 16,141,241 people who voted to remain in the EU, but the march was an important sign of hugely important dissent that, I fervently hope, will not go away.
We need to maintain pressure on our MPs not to accept the result — not out of any anti-democratic sentiment, but because: 1) leaving the EU would be disastrous for our economy and our standing in the world; 2) isolationism has already led to a rise in racism and xenophobia, apparently normalised by the result; 3) the referendum should never have been called, and was only called because of the narrow party political concerns of David Cameron, and not because of any need for it; 4) the Leave campaign’s efforts to secure victory, with the collusion of large parts of the media, involved telling voters disgraceful lies, and Boris Johnson, who did so much to ensure its success, didn’t even believe in it, and only supported it in the hope of furthering his own political aims; 5) most importantly, Parliament has to endorse it before it can happen, and MPs’ obligation is to vote in the best interests of the country, not to rubber-stamp the result of a unjustifiable referendum; and 6) as some lawyers are arguing, the process of triggering our departure from the EU, if enacted, would be unlawful. Read the rest of this entry »
Three days into this disaster, and the fallout is so immense that it colours everything. Bereaved-looking people are everywhere, talking about their disbelief, unable to process it. I had a migraine on Friday, and I don’t normally even get headaches. Many people are reporting similar symptoms — of colossal stress, of an unprocessable shock. Every time we distract ourselves for a moment from the awful reality — that we’ve left the EU and that everything is now in freefall; not just our economy, but basically every certainty we had before Friday morning — we wake up again to the horror of it all, like having endless deja vu at a funeral without end, like being in a real-life version of a film in which aliens have taken over, even though they look just like us.
My funereal encounters are taking place in London, where a majority of those who could be bothered to vote — 60% — called for us to remain in the EU. I live in Lewisham, where the portion of Remain votes was even higher — 70% — so I can presume that I am not surrounded by the deluded, or by those with hideously misplaced anger, however justifiable that anger may be, although I accept that even that is difficult. I have been ambushed in recent weeks by the odd middle class, educated person my age (circa 50) supporting the Leave campaign, and I can’t help but be instinctively suspicious of older white people.
However, I also know it’s not just a white issue. About two years I was in a queue in a service station in Brixton, and I struck up a conversation with a black man about my age, who seemed to me to be a Windrush descendant. I started some small talk, leaning it leftwards as soon as I could, as is my wont, and thinking he would agree with me, until he started talking about how it was all the fault of the immigrants. Since that encounter and others, I have grown to be wary of casually chatting with my fellow citizens on the street. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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