Roger Waters, the primary composer and lyricist of Pink Floyd during their most prominent years has for decades, used his music to convey a message of peace and humanity. He has typically got it right and occasion gets it wrong.
One issue he has got totally right is the issue of Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli war, occupation and economic blockade. For over ten years, Waters has made the issue of Palestinian freedom a central point in his music and accompanying dramatic stage shows.
Waters is part of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement which encourages individuals to boycott Israeli products and tourism. Waters uses his status as a ‘music legend’ to highlight the plight of Palestinians. In 2012 he spoke at the United Nations on the issue. He frequently pens open letters to fellow musicians asking them to refrain from performing in Israel until a meaningful peace settlement is reached.
Waters is a perfect example of how the media-industrial complex punishes individuals who do not fit the tired stereotype of a veteran rock star.
Late last year, a grossly under-reported story explained how American Express ditched a planned sponsorship deal with Waters for his 2017 tour in a move which was said to be worth $4 million.
American Express like any other company has the right to refuse sponsoring any individual or organisation however they see fit. But in doing so, American Express has shown that they are willing to sponsor events of every variety including politically charged music performances by Beyonce.
Why then is American Express put-off by Roger Waters’ embrace of the Palestinian movement?
Are they opposed to Waters’ calls to end the starvation and medical deprivation of Palestinian children?
Are they opposed to Waters’ please for justice and democracy for Christians, Muslims and Jews in the region?
Are they appalled by his anti-war message?
Where many celebrities use anodyne political causes to enhance their status, I can see no evidence that Waters has profited from his endorsement of Palestine. Quite the contrary is true. It seems that his message of peace for everyone and hatred for no one has cost him millions.
Waters described the situation in his music industry in the following way,
“My industry has been particularly recalcitrant in even raising a voice (against Israel). There’s me and Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Manic Street Preachers, one or two others, but there’s nobody in the United States where I live. I’ve talked to a lot of them, and they are scared shitless.The fact is that most musicians neither win nor lose the majority of their fan-base because of politics. The fact is that most people buy albums and concert tickets based on the fact that they like the sound of a song or enjoy singing along with the lyrics, even if they’re hardly paying attention to what the lyrics mean.
If they say something in public they will no longer have a career. They will be destroyed. I’m hoping to encourage some of them to stop being frightened and to stand up and be counted, because we need them. We need them desperately in this conversation in the same way we needed musicians to join protesters over Vietnam”.
But for those who do care, the reaction to Waters’ Palestine politics is shocking. If Waters was advocating for genocide, cruelty, hatred or imperialism, I would agree that his concerts should be boycotted. But the fact that he is advocating for precisely the opposite of the aforementioned things makes the position of American Express seem not only extreme, but illogical.
Roger Waters is being punished for free speech on a subject that ought not to be controversial. The fact that some find it controversial demonstrates how low and beastly the nature of modern debates about human rights have become. No innocent people deserve to be suppressed, repressed and occupied, but that is exactly what is happening to the Palestinians and it has been happening for decades.
I personally disagreed with Roger Waters’ statements about Donald Trump and I also disagreed with his characterisation of Leonid Brezhnev on the otherwise stellar 1983 Pink Floyd album The Final Cut. But at no time would I seek to shut down Waters’ free speech or his ability to peacefully perform what millions consider to be important pieces of music in a peaceful and safe environment.
American Express has shamed its own reputation by treating Roger Waters in the way they have done. Roger Waters remains undeterred and will continue to tour his new show across the world.
As someone who has seen Waters perform many times, I highly recommend it, even for those who disagree with his views but enjoy a challenge.