Exclusive Jody McIntyre interviews Lowkey
Ideas, Interviews, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Friday, May 27, 2011 4:26 - 26 Comments
In an exclusive, candid new interview, Ceasefire contributor Jody McIntyre (writer for the Independent and author of the ‘Life on Wheels’ blog) asks Lowkey, one of the country’s most respected MCs and political activists about his life, politics, music and more.
LOWKEY: AN INTERVIEW
Conducted 17 Feb 2011
JODY MCINTYRE: What do you see as the biggest turning point or significant moment in your life?
LOWKEY: I think there have been a few definitive moments in my life that will stay with me. I got stabbed when I was 15 years old; the wound severed two tendons and narrowly missed my ulnar artery. That event taught me that if you put out negative energy, one way or another, it will always come back to you.
When I was 18, my brother killed himself. He was 5 years older than me and suffered from mental illness, but he was never diagnosed and to this day we still do not know what exactly he suffered from. He jumped off an electricity pylon in Canning Town. This loss under those circumstances taught me that some things can never make sense or be understood, they just are. The hardest thing is accepting our own powerlessness. Both of those incidents made me realise how fragile human life is and how important it is to really cherish your loved ones and your health, regardless of what else may be going on at the time.
JM: Tell me about your experiences travelling around the world – what has hurt or inspired you most?
LK: Well, I have been privileged enough to travel to many different countries, particularly doing what I do for a living, it is a real blessing. Recently I travelled to Australia, a nation founded upon the genocide of over 500+ separate nations, I heard some harrowing stories of what life has been like for the indigenous people of that land the last 223 years since Captain James Cook arrived there with a British flag. I learned that until the 1967 Referendum, the indigenous, native people of that land were considered “Fauna and Flora” ie Plants and Animals within Australian Law.
True justice can only come with acknowledgement of the historical context within which we live. The fact that his date of arrival on the land is still celebrated as “Australia Day” shows that justice for the indigenous people of that land is something we all must fight for, especially those of us who are British citizens. Travelling and touring throughout the United States alongside my friend Norman Finkelstein, showed me that despite the constant manipulation by the mainstream media in that country, there are millions of US citizens who do NOT believe US security is dependent upon on its supremacy and global dominance.
There are millions of US citizens who do not believe it is a good idea to have over 1,000 military bases worldwide from Japan to Colombia to Diego Garcia, these people are just so marginalised in the mainstream discourse that in the rest of the world it is easy to forget they even exist. Being detained twice in Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv was an interesting experience; particularly the second time, when I was held for 12 hours. It made me realise that a state which is built upon the foundations of injustice will never feel secure.
The ever-changing and diverse citizens of Israel will always be united by one thing and one thing only; fear. The IDF are a colonial force of scared teenage supremacists who would shoot at their own shadow. The worst thing about that, is that they are supplied with the most sophisticated weaponry on the face of this planet by the United States and Britain. Israel is a colonial supremacist state which is rapidly expanding, and the Zionist dream which Theodor Herzl had is still yet to be reached.
There are over half a million illegal Israeli settlers on the West Bank, which is STILL Palestinian land under international law. The state is expanding on a daily basis, this expansion is dependent upon the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population. While in the West Bank, I saw this entire process first hand and I think no person who witnesses this injustice in action could ever accept Zionism as anything but a deeply racist colonial ideology of conquest masquerading as self-determination.
I also spent time in Egypt in 2009 while it was under the rule of Hosni Mubarak. Whilst we were attempting to enter Gaza to deliver humanitarian aid, the bureaucracy was exhausting and the poverty was beyond anything I had witnessed before. We were staying in Giza and outside our hotel was an actual river of sewage so far, long and deep that you could not physically cross the road to the other side; there were children sailing down this river of sewage on wooden rafts.
There were children begging on the streets at 4am, sleeping face-down on the pavement in rags. There is a place in Egypt called ‘City Of The Dead’, where over half a million people literally live in, around and on top of tombs and graves. There was another place called ‘Garbage City’, where the people live surrounded by rubbish; the economy of the area is based almost entirely upon refuse.
I remember during one of the bureaucratic meetings we had there, I was sitting in the plush office of someone who was representing the Egyptian government and I looked out of the window to the streets outside of this luxurious, air-conditioned room with its paintings and bathrooms with golden taps, the streets directly outside of this government building were visibly falling apart. They were crumbling away… I knew at that moment, that this level of inequality could not last forever in Egypt, I knew that this dictator who lived like a king but thought like a slave would eventually fall. I was and am still so happy for the people of Egypt. I hope that recent events deliver them the dignified, independent leader they deserve.
Performing in Beirut was special, and spending time in the Bourj el Barajneh refugee camp was also eye-opening; it really brought home to me the wide and far reaching implications of the creation of Israel in 1948. There are millions of people still waiting to go home, whose plight is necessary for the state of Israel to exist, even within the artificial borders it has now. Travelling really is education, and in doing what I do, I get the opportunity to travel to places I would never have got to in another job.
But being a musician is not a real job; when I was younger I worked in Woolworths and then later worked for a debt collectors, and those jobs were work. Being able to travel the world doing what I love has been a very good education for me, and I am definitely looking forward to spending more time on the road when I finish my album.
JM: Do you think the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt will inspire revolutions elsewhere? How do you think they will affect the situation in Palestine?
LK: Well they have already inspired mass movements in Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Palestine itself to name but a few. Ultimately these events have shown us that nobody is all powerful and if people actually take to the streets and want something enough it will happen. If a truly democratic regime in Egypt is elected it will not opt for subservience to Israel and the United States, that is not and has never been the will of the Egyptian people, as has been made abundantly clear by the assassination of Sadat and the ousting of Mubarak.
In fact these revolts across the region are proving that US hegemony in the area and Israeli expansion is dependent and reliant upon subservient dictatorships which suppress their own populations to protect the United States, Britain and their neo-colonial interests.
The Egyptian people do not want a government which sells its natural gas to Israel at a third of its value. The Egyptian people do not want a government which allows the IMF and World Bank to rape its economy. The Egyptian people also do not want a government which assists Israel in its silent murder of the Palestinians in Gaza. If the United States and Britain want to talk seriously about “democracy in the Arab world” they need to be prepared for the natural consequences.
Real democracy would not equal pro-American or pro-Israeli governments. The US and Britain have a bad record with democracy in the Arab world and the 3rd world in general. How do they feel about Palestinian democracy when it delivers Hamas? Or Lebanese democracy when it empowers Hezbollah? Or Venezuelan democracy when it delivers Hugo Chavez? Or Bolivian democracy when it delivers Evo Morales? Or democracy in Ecuador when it delivers Rafael Correa, a leader who doesn’t want his country occupied by US military bases? or even democracy in Japan when it delivered Yukio Hatoyama, a Prime Minister elected largely on his promise to end the hugely unpopular US military presence in Okinawa?
How did the US and Britain feel about democracy in Iran when it delivered Mossadegh, a leader intent on nationalising the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as British Petroleum? How did they feel about democracy in the Congo when it delivered Patrice Lumumba? Or democracy in Chile when it delivered Salvador Allende?
Real democracy in the “Arab world” would be bad news for the powers that be, because it would not deliver the subservient governments which they so heavily rely upon. Of course the liberation of Palestine is something every dignified, independent and representative Arab government would support and actively pursue. We are today a step closer to those type of governments in the region.
JM: Whilst you were working with the band Mongrel, were there plans to go to Venezuela?
LK: Yes, my band Mongrel were invited to Venezuela by the government and were due to perform on Alo Presidente, however the trip was cancelled at the last minute because of label politics it seems. Regardless, Venezuela is somewhere I intend to visit and Hugo Chavez, as a leader who is striving to build an independent alternative to the neo-liberal capitalism which has disenfranchised his people for decades, is someone I respect greatly.
I actually deferred from my course at University in order to take that trip and am now in debt with no degree to show for it. Of course, if I now decided to go back to University I would be in even more debt because of the recent changes to tuition fees. I have an interesting idea for the politicians that voted to increase the tuition fees so drastically; the vast majority, if not all of them, are part of the generations who went to University for free, so why don’t they pay £9,000 a year retrospectively for every year they spent in University? Nothing would better demonstrate their commitment to the “big society”, and I am sure they can now afford it.
JM: What do you see as a more important part of your life; making music or political activism?
LK: My Dad was an SWP activist and a co-founder of Rock Against Racism before I was born, his father was a coal miner who also served in the British Army. In fact, both of my great grandfathers on my Dad’s side served in the British Army during World War 1 and my Mum was an Arab born in Baghdad, so my life is in itself political. Politics was never far from home for me, but it is important to realise that we all have our own lessons to learn and positions to take.
I will never be the stereotype many perceive me to be. I cannot look at any situation as “us versus them” because I am both but neither, I was just born as a human bridge. Neither here nor there. When you are put into that position, you have to assess everything from a human perspective first and foremost because, before race or ethnicity, you are simply human. My existence is in itself political and my music is the soundtrack to it. So really, I would say they both go hand-in-hand.
JM: Where do you see yourself ten years from now? Will the political situation have changed?
LK: Ten years is a long time, so who knows if I will even be alive, but I hope to see a liberated Palestine, a secure unified Iraq and a world free of imperialism and neo-colonial rule. I think we are witnessing the decline of the North American Empire and the definite rise of China, so the next 10 years will be interesting. People are demanding their dignity and independence and the world is a much smaller place today than it was 10 years ago. I think these are progressive times and I am just happy I am alive to witness it.
Jody McIntyre, a writer and activist, is a regular contributor to Ceasefire.
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