Roger Waters and Vera Lynn
23. August 2018 By: Liv Tørres
“I’m just a simple rock ‘n roller,” he says, after talking about Palestine, the U.S., Syria and the state of the world. We’re at the Nobel Peace Center, in what is fair to call an intimate gathering, with the music-, singer- and composer-legend Roger Waters. He doesn´t do these things often, but here we are, discussing politics with a rock ‘n roller.
Waters has spent his whole life fighting authoritarian systems and wars – with legendary music, I might add. Music engraved in people’s repertoire, with lyrics that many of us know by heart. How often have you caught yourself singing “we don’t need no education” out of the blue? From his days in Pink Floyd up until today, he has managed to keep his political views alive through music and text. He’s an important voice of our time. Not only because of his music, but because he has the courage and strength to not go quietly. He doesn’t “go high” when others “go low”. When others go low, he shouts louder and clearer. During his concerts, he uses powerful and symbolic special effects, such as balloons, flying pigs and digital art – all planned and executed with perfection. And he spares no one, targeting political groups and religion all the same. Where some of us might have preferred to use different methods, Waters use his artistic freedom exactly the way he wants.
Some people are protesting Waters´ views on U.S. politics. Some don’t like him because of his views on Syria and White Helmets, others because of Palestine and Israel. Some argue he’s an anti-Semite, and others claim that he’s the Palestinians’ only hope. And then there are those who voice their disappointment about welcoming Waters to the Nobel Peace Center. Our Center is the public face of the Nobel Peace Prize. Our mandate is to put relevant issues for peace on the agenda, through debates, speeches and events. Do we have to agree with everyone visiting the Nobel Peace Center? No. And there are, without a doubt, people who have visited our Center that I’ve disagreed with on more points than what I do with Roger Waters. But if we should only accept speakers we agree with, we would be a boring center. More importantly, we wouldn’t advance peace-building or engage people on issues that might help us move forward and create positive change. Platforms like ours cannot be used only for those we agree with. That would leave us with a world of uninformed people, meaningless debates or debates where we only shoot at each other from our respective echo chambers on the internet and through social media. We need more than that, and particularly in the current, political climate. Plus, Waters already has a platform developed over decades with millions of listeners. This is our chance to talk to him and ask proper questions.
So, here we are at the Nobel Peace Center. Waters outlines his upbringing, background and his life-long political missions. He’s angry about the billions of U.S. dollars spent annually on the military machine, whilst people are starving. He’s angry about fences and walls being built to separate people, and the tendency of leaders to blame “the others” in order to enrich themselves. The election of Donald Trump made him angrier. “A call for action and resistance,” he says. Waters has been angry about the Israeli occupation and the blockade for years. It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, he says, but he reacts to the actions of the Israelis and Israeli state. His arguments are about basic human rights and why we don´t see the plight of the Palestinians in the same light as other civilians. So, what should other artists do? He thinks it’s the responsibility of all artists to take a conscious stand on human rights and occupation, and that the principles we hold should be valid in all settings.
Not all artists aim to be political. But to pretend that art and music is apolitical is to say that their work is not making an imprint. Music and art reflects society and communicates back to society, thereby making a political statement, one way or another. We may not like it, but that’s the effect of art and music. It doesn’t mean that including political statements in songs or art automatically equals high quality, but Waters has it both: strong, political statements and good music, and he doesn’t shy away from neither. He shares his political opinions loud and clear, and you may not agree with him, but it’s after all easier to relate to and more refreshing than those who pretend that their politics is something else than political.
We don’t see eye to eye on the situation in Syria. He disagrees with my narrative that there was a popular uprising in 2011, he believes that there was no chemical attack in Douma, and that the White Helmets is an international operation created by the West. All of this goes against my image of the White Helmets’ rescue work having followed the conflict relatively close and been actively involved in providing humanitarian aid to Syria for years. Yet, surely his criticism of Israel must be similarly tough for Israelis to hear. And his criticism of U.S. politics may be heavy for some Americans. Disagreeing is not dangerous. It is the basis of democracy. It also creates a common responsibility to engage in debate, listen and sometimes adjust views. And the ability to do all that deserves respect. Roger Waters has my respect: for his life-long commitment to creating fantastic music, for his political engagement, for not giving up, for discussing properly and listening when encountering disagreement, for asking me to provide him with more documentation, and for being able to say; “If I am wrong, I will be the first to say so.”
At the concert, the evening after our talk, he refers to the inspirational evening at the Nobel Peace Center and asks the audience; “Does anybody here remember Vera Lynn…?” Maybe it takes a “simple rock ‘n roller” to remind us.
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