Joe Strummer, Terrorist? | The Nation


Joe Strummer, Terrorist?

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Pushing Boundaries

About the Author

Antonino D'Ambrosio
Antonino D’Ambrosio is an author, filmmaker and visual artist whose critically acclaimed books include A...

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The arrest of Harraj Mann goes against everything Joe Strummer and his music was about. Strummer's music always reflected the world around him. Chuck D talked about this in Let Fury Have the Hour: "I had great respect for Joe Strummer. How he used his music--incorporating a lot of black music like hip-hop and reggae--was very different than the guys who invented rock 'n' roll: He was constantly pushing the boundaries...speaking about things he saw in his life, the things right in front of his face--and taking this message to the world."

It was important for Strummer to stand up and be counted as a citizen of the world. His music is alive with that sensibility. "Even though there are extremists in the world," he explained, "we've got to hold on to our sanity and not get crazed with vengeance." His words echo those of Freda Kirchwey, who in October 1939 wrote in The Nation:

"Democracy was not invented as a luxury to be indulged in only in times of calm and stability. It is a pliable, tough-fibered technique especially useful when times are hard. Only a weak and distrustful American could today advocate measures of repression and coercion, or encourage a mood of panic."

Strummer did his part to keep us sane. His later work moved further toward humanism while remaining fiery, honest and original. With the formation in 1999 of his new band, the Mescaleros, Strummer continued to entertain and educate with musical themes as diverse as globalization ("Johnny Appleseed"), ethnic tolerance ("Bhindi Baghee") and the plight of refugees in the global economy ("Shaktar Donetsk"). He declared that his music was a resistance against "the demographic fascists...and the political ones as well."

On December 22, 2002, the day Joe Strummer died, the United States began dropping leaflets and making radio broadcasts over Iraq in hopes of getting people to rise up against Saddam Hussein. As they did in the first Gulf War, some US fighter pilots used "Rock the Casbah" as a soundtrack as they bombed Baghdad. This was all done without any sense of irony, of course. And the day that Harraj Mann became a terror suspect while singing Joe Strummer's song--the same day Oscar Wilde more than 100 years earlier was arrested and charged with gross indecency--I realized more than ever what the true meaning of "London Calling" is: Unity. It is up to all of us who see the light in the darkness shrouding our time to join together no matter where we come from--our lifestyles, perspectives or experiences--because we are all in this together. That's what Joe Strummer fought for throughout his life.

Is "London Calling" a dangerous song? I leave it to you to decide. And if you are so inclined, I encourage you to listen to the entire album. I guarantee that you too will be humming and singing these songs just as Harraj Mann was. Just be careful who hears you.

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