Be or die ethos
|Padang, Sumatra, Indonesia / January 2012
Today is the day when the Irish and its far-flung diaspora come together to celebrate its patron saint. Traditionally a day of feasting and religious pageantry in honour of St. Patrick, there are those wishing to be Irish, claiming nebulous ancestry, who will also join in, glugging green beer and gamely singing along to songs they don’t know the words to like “Whiskey in the Jar.” Or songs of rebellion. Think “The Foggy Dew” or “Éamonn an Chnoic.”
But today I would like to draw your attention to a different form of persecution and when you raise your pint of Guinness, perhaps propose a toast to these folks instead.
While in the west punk rock is seen as something your dad listened to, it is still striking fear in repressive states around the world. Seems some places, disguising human rights violations as moral indignation, have taken matters into their own hands.
Reuters reported that at least 14 young people were stoned to death in Baghdad, due to a campaign by Shi-ite militants against youths “wearing Western-style emo clothes and haircuts.” (Emo is emotional hardcore, by the way, but it’s also associated with screamo as much as indie rock, which further goes to show the Iraqi government is grasping at very pernicious straws.) The interior ministry says emo culture is the same as “Satanism” and asked the population to be vigilant of any youth who “wear tight clothes that bear paintings of skulls” with “rings in their noses and tongues as well as other weird appearances.” Ultimatums have been delivered to entire neighbourhoods or incur the wrath and “punishment of God.” Lists have been published online of the next intended emo victims.
In Moscow, two members of Pussy Riot, an all-female punk protest band, were arrested after performing a “punk prayer” in a church in front of a startled congregation as a form of protest against trying-to-be-president-for-life Vladimir Putin. The two women, both mothers, are reported to be on hunger strike and face seven year prison sentences for “hooliganism.”
German magazine Der Spiegel has a sobering article about punks in Burma, where the government in spite of promises of reform and openness, continues to rule with an iron fist. Crackdowns, arrests and harassment force bands to play in secret at word-of-mouth gigs. This is similar in Vietnam, alongside the government censor who must approve—during a live performance in front of unsmiling Party officials—entire set lists and lyrics and clothing before a band can officially play in front of an actual audience. Police routinely infiltrate gigs to make sure bands don’t stray from their pre-approved script.
The conservative Aceh government on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia detained 65 attendees at a punk gig and forcibly shaved their heads and ripped out body piercings, before locking them up in a “re-education” camp where for ten days the youth were forced to take religious classes, including Qur’an recitation. Protests ensued in Indonesia, as well as London and San Francisco. Seattle-based record label Aborted Society is asking punks around the world to help send mixtapes to the punks in Aceh in a show of unbowed solidarity.
Punk doesn’t frighten politicians and religious leaders in the west as it once did. We’ve become accustomed—and accepting—of mohawks, skulls, screaming guitars and songs raging against oppression. In other words, we take our rights for granted. Yet, despite its (largely ignored) fortieth birthday in the west, punk isn’t just a lifestyle or a fashion statement. For many it is the ultimate act of rebellion and sacrifice.
Tiocfaidh ár lá.