It is no secret that I dislike Bono intensely. I consider him to be a political enemy and, via this role, an enemy of music. I am also not wrong in thinking so. The latest exhibit comes in his words after Friday's horrific terror attacks in Paris.
According to Bono, the Paris attacks were a "direct hit" against music in the fourteen year war on terror. Appearing on Irish radio's Dave Fanning Show, the U2 frontman attempted to wax philosophic about Daesh's choice of target at the Bataclan's Eagles of Death Metal show:
Our first thoughts at this point are with the Eagles of Death Metal fans... When you think about it, the majority of victims from last night’s attacks were music fans.
So this really is the first direct hit on music we’ve had on this so called war on terror.
We know that they don’t like music… and this and the cold blooded aspect of last night attacks are what are really upsetting because it means it could have been any of us.
On the surface it seems a sentiment difficult to disagree with. Except that he's very, very wrong. It is something of a misconception that Daesh are opposed to music tout court, ignoring the fact that at least one musical anthem plays the role of a rallying cry among the group's adherents and soldiers. A far more accurate description would be to say that Daesh don't like "popular western music." There are likely exceptions to this rule too, but it does fit with Daesh's own statement, denouncing the Bataclan show as “a party of perversion.”
The problem is in the singularity of Bono’s comments. As if the massacre of 24 at Tunis’ National Bardo Museum this past March wasn’t itself a blow to global arts and culture. The same should be said of the countless statues and sculptures destroyed by Daesh in their sweep across Iraq and Syria – many of which dated back to antiquity.
What of when Daesh released footage of fighters burning drumsets and horns in Libya while they beat musicians – possibly to death – in the background? To Bono’s mind, this did not constitute a “direct hit” to music.
Nor apparently did any of the other devastating effects on musicians in the Middle East and Arab world during over the past fourteen years of the “war on terror.” To this writer’s knowledge, Bono said nothing about when the Gaza School of Music was hollowed out by Israeli bombs during 2009’s Operation Cast lead. He remained silent when sectarian violence in Iraq – fueled by America’s invasion – forced, by some estimates, eighty percent of the country’s singers, musicians and music teachers to flee for their lives.
For a man who hangs so much on his claim to being music’s global man of peace, Bono is sounding quite narrow and cut off from the world. Of course, Bono is free to talk about what he chooses. But if there is anything to be gleaned from his comments, it is how much of a role he plays in shaping cultural narratives that serve global empire.
For Bono, music problems are first world problems. The people and artists of the global south are inert and backward, only provided with any human agency when shown through the lens of corporate benevolence and European charity singles.
They don’t like music, we know that. But I think music is very important and has a role to play in showing these people we wouldn’t allow them to stop us living our lives how we want.
We can’t wait to get back to Paris because we’re hearing from our fans there that these people will not set their lives, their agendas.
A noble notion, but one that assumes far more power in music than there actually is. Music, despite so much vague rhetoric spouted regarding it, does not have the power to “heal,” at least not in the literal sense. It does not have the power to set agendas or save lives.
What it does have the power to do is to shape consciousness, and this can go in various directions. Bono knows this, and it’s why he is more than happy to have his celebrity aura lent to the international finance institutions that have spent the past half century stripping large parts of Africa and the Middle East of wealth and resources.
He knows that music can either shine a light or obscure the truth. He may or may not know how his closest political and economic confidants have contributed to destabilizing the planet to the degree that an entity like Daesh is now a reality. Though he surely believes his own rhetoric, he can only do so because he has chosen sides. That's the side that likes to wrap its bombs in the flag of "humanitarianism." It's the side currently carrying out airstrikes in Syria. Who knows how many talented artists and music fans will die as a result?