This is a great in depth interview with Roger Waters – I recommend reading it all, but I’ll share just a few snippets that I found most powerful and moving – a story of his experience in Beirut, anti-semitism, the importance of BDS, and his appeal to rise above it all with love.
His words and convictions are like a breath of fresh air in a prison full of pretentious sycophants, hypocrites and war criminals. If only the world had a leader like him.
You were in Lebanon in the 60s, and even wrote a song called ‘Leaving Beirut’. Tell us more about that time.
I’ll tell you one story. I was a kid, 18 years old, a friend and I were living and sleeping on the beach. We used to pretend to be clients at the Phoenicia Hotel so that we could use the bathrooms. Anyway, one day I was swimming in the sea and my little pile of belongings – you know jeans and passport and stuff – was lying on the beach and some kid came along the beach and stole my shoes and I saw him steal them.
So, I’m shouting and waving and getting out of the surf as fast as I can and he’s disappeared into the crowd… So now I’ve lost my only shoes and I’m pissed off! I was really angry.
Anyway, I managed to find a cop – in those days there were cops all over Beirut whose only job was to help tourists in trouble, so I said ‘Hey! I’m a tourist in trouble, some kid’s stolen my shoes,’ and so we go together and start looking in the crowd – hopeless – it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
But by some miracle, suddenly, about 50 yards away there’s this kid. ‘There he is,’ I said. To cut a long story short, the cop sees the kid, the kid sees the cop – they obviously recognize each other. The kid thinks about running away, [but] thinks better of it and reluctantly comes over; he’s wearing my shoes.
The cop jabbers at him, [and] the kid eventually takes the shoes off and places them on the neutral ground between us … I’m thinking that’s a really great result! And then the cop jabbers to the kid again and gestures with his fingers [for the kid to leave], and the kid disappears into the crowd again, and I go, ‘What!? What are you doing, why are you letting him go?’ And this cop looks at me, pityingly, straight in the eye and he speaks to me in English for the very first time and he says, ‘He is poor’ (in an Arabic accent).
I still feel overwhelmed by the emotion that caused in me; that cop became very special in my life, because there I was this callous, stupid, little schmuck from England demanding retribution, ‘Lock him up, he’s a criminal!’ Now of course I realise what a blessing it is, if when we’re young and dumb as shit, like I was, we’re lucky enough to meet that cop, and if he’s that humane, in that moment, if we’re prepared to accept the opportunity, we get to start to learn about love.
He goes on to discuss the false charges against him of anti-semitism …
They make the mistake of conflating Zionism with Judaism and, in consequence, they have a blind attachment to the state of Israel … so you cannot have a conversation with them; they’re not interested. They’re interested in maintaining the status quo and they’re interested in “Greater Israel;” they’re interested in keeping the Golan Heights and the whole of historical Palestine as one state for them where they rule and where you have to be of the Jewish faith to have equal rights – and that’s what they want.
And so BDS is a non-violent movement trying to make clear that this is an absolutely antiquated form of imperial colonialism … that there is a more modern way of looking at things, which is that all human beings are equal: a Jewish child and an Arab child are equally precious and important. All children for that matter, Chinese children, Australian children, it doesn’t matter! We should all have the same basic rights under the law.
and the price of opposing israeli policies …
I’m not scared of anything physical – but they have tried to destroy my career, they’ve tried to silence me in any way that they can. That only hardens my resolve.
As Michael Bennett, the NFL footballer says in his letter to the world, quoting John Carlos, famous for his 1968 Olympic games protest, “There is no partial commitment to justice, either you’re in or you’re out. Well I’m in,” Bennet said – and I’m in, too.
The fact is, both my mother and my father were deeply committed humanists. My father was a religious man, he was a Christian, my mother was an atheist, but they were both humanists – and I’m lucky enough to have inherited some of their conviction. So, I have no choice really but to try and look at the facts of social and political situations, make up my own mind about what I think about them and act accordingly.
When anybody stands up for rights anywhere in the world they run the risk that the knives will come out and they will be attacked by the authorities, by the government, by the powers that be whoever they are, and by the police – who are often an armed extension of those powers.
Here in the United States, it’s unnerving that almost every municipal police force is now heavily equipped with military-style anti-riot gear. Many police departments send their people to study the way the Israelis police the occupied Palestinian territories, preparing I suppose to control U.S. citizens if they become too uppity or rebellious …
Is the United States starting to look more like a police state?
Yes, it is, it’s not [just] the militarization of local police, it is the attempts to create new draconian laws. For instance, there is a bill that has been introduced to Congress (S720) called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. It aims to criminalize BDS. In draft form, it contains penalties for people like me of up to $1,000,000 fine and twenty years in prison.
and finally, his message of hope to the world …
You said in one of your recent interviews that you wanted to talk more about love.
Yeah, I do, and the transcendental nature of love. That’s why my story about the cop in Beirut is so important because if we’re lucky we get that cop in our lives when we are young and we start to learn about life and love.
Any message you’d like to voice to people around the world?
We have to keep trying to resist the temptation to reject our humanity with every ounce of love that we have in us. What a waste of a life just to grab whatever we can and run back to the cave. Restiamo umani.
God bless Roger Waters – a living legend.