Originally broadcast on reboot.fm on 23 January 2022, in this episode we pay tribute to bell hooks, the black feminist writer who died on 15 December 2021 and was a huge influence on justice movements in Berlin and around the world.
We also discuss the boycott of the Sydney Festival in solidarity with Palestine, as part of the global campaign for a cultural and economic boycott of Israel.
This episode’s guest is Doris Ghannam, member of BDS Berlin ().
The studio engineer for reboot.fm is Noemie Cayron.
- Lil’ Kim – Queen Bitch
- Ice Cube – We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up
- Barkaa – OUR Lives Matter
Axmed’s recommended reading/viewing
- Book: ‘Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations’ – bell hooks
- Book: ‘Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh: Power, Knowledge, and Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism’ – Greg Thomas
- Article: ‘Hardcore Honey: bell hooks Goes on the Down Low with Lil’ Kim’ – bell hooks
- Video: ‘Teaching to Transgress Today: Theory and Practice In and Outside the Classroom’
Please tell us what you think of the show by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to include your name and where you’re listening from, and we’ll read out as many messages as possible on the air.
Don’t miss our next show live on reboot.fm 88.4 MHz in Berlin, 90.7 MHz in Potsdam and online at http://reboot.fm at 7pm on Sunday 6 February.
You can hear previous episodes of Radio Berlin International here.
Axmed: Hello, hello, and welcome to Radio Berlin International. It’s Sunday, the 23rd of January 2022. The time is 7:00 p.m. and we are live on Reboot FM 88.4 in Berlin, 90.7 in Potsdam and worldwide on reboot.fm. The show is being presented today by myself, Axmed Maxamed and Tom Wills.
Tom: Radio Berlin International is on every two weeks to introduce you to the people of Berlin fighting for a better world. And it’s brought to you by theleftberlin.com. Today’s show is a special episode paying tribute to bell hooks. The black feminist writer who died mid-December and was a huge influence on justice movements in Berlin and around the world.
Axmed: In the next 60 Minutes, we’ll be listening to music and archive recordings from some of the people who were part of bell hooks’ work, as well as an archive interview with the writer herself.
Tom: And after that, we’ll be hearing why dozens of artists have pulled out of the Sydney Festival this month in solidarity with Palestine, with a live guest in the studio here in Berlin.
Axmed: Yes, and we would love to hear from you, of course and what do you think about any of the things we talk about this evening. You can email us at any point during the show, at email@example.com. Don’t forget to include your name and where you are based. And where you’re listening from. It can of course be the same place. We will read out as many messages as we can on the air.
Tom: Or if you want to reach Axmed directly, then you can do that by email as well. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Either way, we’d be delighted to hear from you.
Axmed: Yes, we would. And now let’s get into the first part of the show, which is about bell hooks. bell hooks’ work has been fundamental to so many around the world, myself included. She’s by far the thinker and author that has had the most impact in my life, on many different levels, and is the author that I read the most of. In addition to her extensive bibliography, she has published more than 30 books, including children’s books. She also put time and energy into having conversations on public platforms with academics, fellow authors, public figures and so on. We would like to highlight two conversations bell hooks had with two artists, namely Lil’ Kim, the Queen Bee. The original Queen Bee, of course, and Ice Cube.
To the dismay of a lot of fellow academics and feminists, mostly white feminists, who weren’t really happy that she had these conversations. But bell hooks refused to denounce ‘gangsta rap’, and I’m using air quotes here. She didn’t want to be part of the perpetuation of what she called “sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture”, which was the norm in both academia and still is in some perspective and in white mainstream media. While the same white mainstream media was not interested in “her hardcore critique of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” as hooks said in the chapter called ‘Gangsta Culture, Sexism and Misogyny, who will take the rap’ in her book ‘Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations’.
hooks’ conversation with Ice Cube ended up as a chapter, and the aforementioned book, ‘Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations’, published in 1994 and her conversation with Lil’ Kim was a cover story in PaperMag in 1997, which is still available online on the PaperMag website. But before we play a song by Lil’ Kim, I would like to share a quote from the conversation. So this is a quote from bell hooks’ from the conversation she had with Lil’ Kim.
“More dangerous than any words that come out of Lil’ Kim’s mouth are the forces of repressive puritanical morality that seek to silence her.”
I’d also like to mention professor Greg Thomas’ book ‘Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh: Power, Knowledge, and Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism’
Axmed: Welcome back. So that was ‘Queen Bitch ‘by Lil’ Kim from her debut album Hard Core, and it was, after this album came out that bell hooks and and Lil’ Kim had the conversation for the PaperMag article.
Tom: And so bell hooks was a cultural critic as well as many other things. And this move to actually seek out these very well-known artists like Lil’ Kim and meet them was a deliberate and very powerful tactic. Wasn’t Axmed?
Axmed: Yes, absolutely.
Tom: Because as well as being a way to call out the censorship and the scapegoating of black artists that you just mentioned. It also meant that bell hooks feminist ideas were brought to a wider audience than most other academics who are happy to stay in their ivory towers.
Axmed: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because she refused to not have conversations with, especially young black people and black artists and so on. And I wanted to quote from the conversation that she had with Ice Cube before we listened to the track. And I thought that the very beginning of the conversation would be very fitting. So this is a quote from the conversation. “People have been really, really excited about me talking to you because they think that we exist in worlds apart, because I do feminist theory and all this other stuff. But one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you is that I feel very strongly that black people have to talk to each other across our differences. I’ve been listening to Predator a lot, and I wanted to know whether you’re trying a wider range of musical styles, making this kind of a softer album even though the lyrics are still tough.”
Axmed: That was Ice Cube with ‘We Had to Tear this Motherfucka Up’ from his 1992 album ‘Predator’, which bell hooks also mentioned in the quote before we played the track. I would like to share another quote from ‘Outlaw culture’ which isn’t a quote from the interview. “Witness the recent piece by Brent Staples in the New York Times, entitled “The Politics of Gangster Rap: A Music Celebrating Murder and Misogyny.” Defining the turf, Staples writes, “For those who haven’t caught up, gangster rap is that wildly successful music in which all women are ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and young men kill each other for sport.”
No mention of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in this piece. Not a word about the cultural context that would need to exist for young males to be socialized to think differently about gender. No word about feminism. Staples unwittingly assumes that black males are writing their lyrics off in the ”“jungle,” faraway from the impact of mainstream socialization and desire. At no point does he interrogate why its huge audiences, especially young white male consumers, are so turned on by this music, by the misogyny and sexism, by the brutality. Where is the anger and rage at females expressed in this music coming from, the glorification of all acts of violence? These are the difficult questions that Staples feels no need to answer.
One cannot answer them honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination (sexism, racism, class elitism) and the individuals—often white, usually male, but not always—who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical look at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame?”
Tom: And the track that we heard from Ice Cube is, of course, very political as a lot of his work was. It was a protest song and it came after the acquittal of the police officers who were recorded on camera, brutally beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1994. And when we think about Black Lives Matter and the righteous outrage that has been generated when police brutality has been caught on smartphones, some people might think this is a recent phenomenon. But I think that Ice Cube’s track is a reminder of how long people of color have been targeted by police brutality and how long the whole world has been witnessing that, including on TV and on video.
Axmed: Yeah, and the Rodney King incident was in the 90s. There was the Watts Riots, Watts uprising I should say that was in the 60s. So this has been going on for so long, and the music that comes out of the neighborhoods that are terrorized by these, by the police forces reflects that environment.
Tom: The recording we’re going to hear next is from 1999 and may also trigger feelings of deja vu. We’re going to hear the voice of bell hooks herself, and this time she is the one being interviewed, by Professor Barbara Ransby, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The interview covers issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, feminism and anticapitalism, spirituality, writing and activism–themes that are just as pertinent today as they were then. I think it gives a bit of a flavour of the incredibly wide range of issues that bell hooks tackled, and at the time of this interview she was only on her 17th book. The interview was originally transmitted on WBEZ in Chicago, and we’re very grateful to WBEZ Archives for their kind permission to rebroadcast this recording.
Professor Ransby begins by asking bell hooks about how she has blended her identities as a writer, as a woman, and as a Black American.
bell hooks: Women writers of all races and black women writers in particular and women of color are accused of being too focused on identity. When we get up in our day and we go to the business of writing, we’re not actually thinking I’m a woman or I’m a black person or I’m gay or I’m straight or whatever. We’re just thinking about words and writing. But it’s when we encounter a world outside the space in which we create that those labels take on meaning and significance, and that we have to respect the meaning and significance that are imposed upon us by the very systems of racism or sexism. And so many people will say to me, Well, why do you even talk about this? And I say, Well, we don’t talk about this because we want to talk about it.
The fact is as Tillie Olsen so beautifully tried to tell people years ago in her book ‘Silences’ that there was a time when there were very few black writers who wrote more than one book. The vast majority of women of all races did not write more than one book. And so that in fact, it took political focus on these very questions of identity to create the kind of climate where we can now enter bookstores and find so many books written by women written, by people of color, women and men. And that’s a fairly recent phenomenon, and people forget that.
And one of the things that I keep emphasizing in ‘remembered rapture’ is the fact that black women particularly have not come to as greater prominence writing nonfiction works as people think. You know, people think this is a heyday for black women writers, and some people will even say there’s so much focus on black women writers that black male writers have had to step into the background. But I always begin my classes by having my students write down on a piece of paper how many black women writers do they read and know about? And they usually can’t get past 10 so that we, you know, people know about Terry McMillan and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. But in fact, there’s still so much work that hasn’t been done. So much kind of writing that black women have yet to enter into the space of writing certain kinds of books.
Prof Barbara Ransby: Yes, I think you strike an important balance between writers who succumb to a narrowly defined identity versus those who would argue that art and literature are somehow insulated from issues of race, class and gender. And I think it is a balance because you talk also about liberating yourself from being narrowly defined as a black feminist writer. At the same time, you understand and make very eloquent points about the need to understand this larger world in which we write, live, et cetera.
bell hooks: But I’m also passionately interested in writing about aspects of black life that have not been written about before, so that it’s not a contradiction that I don’t think that we need to be confined to certain subjects at the same time that there are particular issues having to do with blackness that I want to write about and I want to write about them from the standpoint of both a student of certain aspects of African-American culture and black culture in the diaspora, and from my perspective, as a feminist thinker, all of those things. And so what I keep saying to people, the point for me is never to get stuck. It’s to be able to feel that I can speak with the same authority about race or gender as I can about issues that are perceived to be more transcendental issues, love, death, all of those issues.
Prof Barbara Ransby: I’d like to also talk about the content of your writing years ago when ‘From Margin to Center’ was published. It was very provocative politically and I think expanded the discourse around black politics in terms of personal issues, in terms of issues of internal democracy within movements, for social change. So for activists, I think your writing offers a lot of challenges and insights. Can you talk a little bit about where you see the feminist movement today? Or do we still have a feminist movement and where you see black politics and how your work, although in a very personal form in some of the more recent works, is helping to get at some of the larger political issues that women and people of color and oppressed people are grappling with.
bell hooks: Well, I think that for white women in our culture as a whole and black people, there’s a real conservative political movement afoot. And so that a lot of the kinds of issues that were so galvanizing to us, the kind of radical critiques of capitalism, of white supremacy, of patriarchy have diminished some, as people assimilated into mainstream culture. And there’s more opportunities opened up so that, you know, many feminist professors confront our students now saying, Well, feminism is not needed or we confront a world that says racism has ended. What are black people and people of color whining about?
And so my work has, I felt constantly stressed about the need for decolonization. That is to say that we understand that we are shaped by systemic forms of oppression like racism and homophobia and all of those things. And what do we have to do to break away from that? Or right now, for example, we have a rising social class of privileged black people. Their interests are not always the same as the interests of working class people. We saw that with the Million Man March and with the fact that when black thinker, women thinkers like myself, Angela Davis, other women critiqued the march for its patriarchal biases, critique the notion of men who don’t parent saying “let’s end welfare” without talking about what’s going to happen to the well-being of masses of women and children.
And we know that the majority of people on welfare are not black. But what’s going to happen to those people when welfare ends? You know, all of those kinds of issues that it seems to me still have to do with both feminist liberation and black liberation. And right now, I think that we need a revitalized liberation struggle on both fronts, certainly the recent presidential mess around Monica Lewinsky shows us how much people in our society did not understand feminist focus on sexual harassment, on consensual relations versus relations where someone is imposing something onto someone.
And I feel that there’s tremendous anti feminism in our society right now. It’s so evident that no matter how much the press may choose to paint Lewinsky as a victim, a lot of people feel like this is a trivial mess that feminism has put on the table. And so it has its kind of anti-feminist backlash, even though we don’t necessarily see that so immediately in the popular press, which may choose, because it’s so conservative, to out and out condemn Mr. Clinton without, you know, actually dealing with the the larger questions of what are we really talking about?
You know, when we’re talking about sexual harassment and to what extent can there be consent? You know, I, I am a dissenter from more popular feminist voices in the sense that I believe that we cannot say that we want equality with men and not feel like there can be consent even when there is a difference of power. Because there are, almost all women are involved who are heterosexual in relationships with men who usually have more power than they do. So the point is not that we will always have some kind of balanced situation where people can have consensual agreement. But what does it mean to have integrity and respect and, you know, consent within the context of power differences? And so all of those issues seem to me to be still issues that need to be talked about and in a manner that breaks through the kind of mounting anti feminism in our culture.
Prof Barbara Ransby: Just to pursue that a little bit, it seems to me also a fine line, though, between a number of feminists who who have come out to critique the attack on Clinton. But much of the feminist movement, we’ve talked about, the personal is political, and we’ve talked about the need to protect women in the workplace and there’s an argument to be made. I think that even if the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky was consensual, that we also need to hold men in power who have often used that power to have sexual access to women accountable. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that argument.
bell hooks: I don’t think those two things are different, but we cannot. I mean, I think one of the, one of the flaws of a lot of contemporary feminist thinking is we simply cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot say that we are equal to men and that we want equality with men and then want a kind of special treatment because, you know, there are power differences between men in the workforce. And while they may not take the form of sexual harassment. We also, I think, cannot continue to privilege sexuality above all other forms of harassment, domination, exploitation that it cannot…
We can’t be in the special category at the same time that we argue that we’re equal and we enter the workspace on equal terms. For example, one of the pieces I wrote about this in ‘Remembered Rapture’, the essay that I wrote that got the most hostile feedback from other women was an essay about Anita Hill, where I said, Must we call every woman sister? And I didn’t try to argue that Anita Hill was not victimized. But I did try to suggest that merely being victimized does not make you either a feminist or an advocate of feminist politics. And I think that those distinctions are very important.
If feminist politics are to have the kind of integrity of a set of values then we can’t simply say that being victimized makes someone a feminist, or if a female is victimized, that it is necessarily a feminist issue. And I think those are the difficulties in a culture like ours where people don’t want to think things through in a deeper way.
Prof Barbara Ransby: OK, we’ll probably talk about that a little bit more, but I want to go back to your book, which provides us some interesting stimuli along these lines. I think you have really, as you’ve just been articulating, been a person giving us a sense of feminism as constantly redefining itself. And you’ve insisted that feminism is not anti men, which is, of course, one of the stereotypes often thrown thrown at us, but also that feminist ideas can be embraced by a range of people independent of identity. Talk about that a little bit. I think it’s an expansion of some of the points you’re making about the Clinton, Lewinsky scenario.
bell hooks: Well, I definitely believe that feminism is for everybody, and the moment we, I differ from more reformist feminist thinkers who want to feel that feminism is actually a kind of special movement for women. I actually feel that feminism is the movement for social justice that has really affected all our lives, particularly in the areas of work. But boys and girls, I mean, the idea that boys have an opportunity now to not be just shoved into some kind of patriarchal sense of who they are that doesn’t allow them to be whole people and fully self-actualized.
I mean, this is to me has been one of the tremendous gifts of the feminist movement and to me, any great movement for social justice, and I think certainly one of the greatest movements for social justice in the world has been the civil rights movement in the United States, has to be a movement that is constantly changing and that is constantly in process. I mean, within feminist movement, for example, early on, women really supported no-fault divorce. Then we found that no-fault divorce actually really victimized women who had been in long term marriages and who had been out of the workforce and who could not enter on an equal footing with the men in their lives. And so we had to rethink that theory, and the truly revolutionary movements are constantly having to rethink and rechallenge. And that’s what makes them have the greatest impact.
Prof Barbara Ransby: You have a chapter on spirituality as a part of your writing and a lot of academics shy away from talking about spirituality, but you don’t. You embrace it.
bell hooks: Yeah, I wanted to say that partially. I think that I think that my writing has its own intense particular flavor that has to do with bringing that combined perspective and also bringing, as I write about in the book, a perspective that is really rooted in faith and a belief in divine spirit and to be on the left in the society, but to also believe very much in a spiritual life and is makes already a kind of different perspective.
Prof Barbara Ransby: The idea of living a writer’s life of living and becoming comfortable with being alone is that in distinction from an activist life? How would you define your sense of a community? Is it your readers? Is it other writers? Talk about that a little bit, because I think that’s a tension that many writers negotiate in terms of being a public person, but needing to be private to a certain extent in order to do the work.
bell hooks: First of all, I think that writing can be a form of activism. I mean that if you’re, you’re, it depends on what you write. I mean, I write the kind of books that I feel want to have at the heart, their heart, a desire to be a healing force in people’s life, whether it’s a healing force of illuminating white supremacy to someone who does not understand it and thereby enabling them to, if they’re white, for example, to divest of forms of racist thinking and behavior. That, to me, is, is, is very activist.
And then there’s, there’s a difference between what we do alone and the work we do in the world, which people tend to have that kind of dichotomy, where they want to say the work you do concretely in the world with other people is more valuable. And I always say that we need both and that the best forms of activism are rooted in theory that comes out of the space of contemplation. So there’s, it’s really about balance and and and those two things coming together.
Axmed: You are listening to Radio Berlin International live on Reboot FM 88.4 in Berlin, 98.7 in Potsdam and worldwide at Reboot.fm. Up next, we’ll play part of an introductory lecture, or, as I would say, also a love letter to bell hooks by professor Imani Perry in 2014. It was during a gathering at the New School for the 20th anniversary of ‘Teaching to Transgress: Education as The Practice of Freedom’, which is also one of hooks’ books that I revisited the most. II also wanted to note that bell hooks was present at this gathering and took part in the conversation that followed professor Imani Perry’s lecture, and we would highly recommend watching the recording in its entirety. And also, we would like to thank professor Imani Perry for giving us permission.
Prof Imani Perry: The work of gendering is powerful. Women, think about the times when you run around all day and don’t eat when you stay up all night to do tasks for friends or families or coworkers or mentees knowing you won’t have a moment to catch up on that sleep. The exhaustion? Think about the times when you play small so as not to unnerve. She’s been telling us for five decades to let that shit go, to care enough about ourselves to not simply fight for the world to be less cruel, but to not repeat its cruelty upon our own very precious bodies, minds and hearts. She has laid the path bare, hard headed. We still need to be told we still have a great deal of work to do. But she writes “Teachers must be actively involved, committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” And this reminds me, at least, that my calling is in vain if it is not applied to me as much as to the young people who I stand in front of, I’m teaching myself too.
And finally, spiritual work. Her concern with interiority moves between the psychological and the emotional to the spiritual interiority refuses binaries of mind and body reason and emotion, intellect and affect. It’s all there in the constitution of a self and us being the wounds of passion, the stigmata we carry our testaments to bear witness to the ugliness of this world, particularly particularly to the embodied person that is black and female. That which is named monstrous, deemed other cast aside, us. The gospel that was read in countless churches yesterday came from the Book of Matthew, and it included Jesus’s citation of the following scripture: the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. Feminist practice, praxis and ethics can borrow from them.
This irrespective of one’s faith or absence thereof, and that it requires placing a cornerstone in every edifice of our imagination and our politics. Gloria, thank you for making girls like me, like us, your cornerstone. But more than that, from modeling how to do so. A pedagogy of the oppressed. A moral code with rejected stones at the center. Gloria singing to those cornerstones becomes a dark psychology for those of us who believe in liberatory feminisms whose calling is to teach emancipation. We ought to heed her guidance, listen to the peels and chimes of her bell. Her expansive intellect has always been in the service of us. We come of age as thinkers through her brilliance. She makes complicated ideas, beautiful, and so the young ones thirsty drink from the font with eagerness growing bigger and fuller with each passing gulp. The older ones have moved through many pages and many thinkers, and we keep returning to her because we know that there isn’t an idea in contemporary, progressive feminist or black cultural politics that she hasn’t covered more than once and brilliantly.
I remember when Touré’s book ‘Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness’ came out and I thought, well, Gloria wrote that in an essay in Yearning on Postmodern Blackness about 20 years ago, and it was on the very same topic. And the principal difference, I believe, was that I believe hers was far more politically progressive, more concise and more nuanced and smarter. In that piece, she at once held that yes, we must deconstruct monolithic conceptions of blackness, but also understand the political usefulness of collective self conceptions and in Teaching to Transgress, she questioned why folks are so invested in pointing out how marginalized people are essentialist. What are the stakes of such elite investments?
She wrote a decade and a half ago about the abuses attending the corporal punishment of children. But as she always has done, she refused to simplistically render boogeyman and boogeyman and stereotypes in the process, saying “In a culture of domination where children have no civil rights, those who are powerful adult males and females can exert autocratic rule of children. All the medical facts show that children are violently abused daily in this society. Much of that abuse is life threatening and many children die. Women perpetuate this violence as much as men, if not more.
A serious gap in feminist thinking and practice has been the refusal of the movement to confront head on adult female violence against children.” In Black Looks published over 20 years ago, she recognized the liberatory and transgressive possibilities of gender queer expressions of identity and questioned nevertheless, the then only nascent trend of making black queerness into a spectacle, a curiosity for mainstream consumption. Emotions have never been subsumed to the economy in her work, but the economy has always been integral to her analyses, media corporations and the like.
At the same time, she reminds us that intimacy is also part of the structure of domination and yet love always matters. All that to say, not only is she giving us legions of important ideas, but she reveals the pathways of her ideas by citing other thinkers consistently and in detailed fashion. Which is quite rare and increasingly in the academy. There’s space for disagreement in person and on the page with her because she never requires absolute agreement to recognize the value of another’s work. She reads works as much for what they give as what they get wrong, a generosity that is sadly often abandoned by scholars.
At the same time, she won’t hesitate to passionately assert her disagreement with anyone beloved or stranger. What is even more extraordinary is that she explores the range of social and political questions from different lenses. What is the task of the writer? What do different forms lend themselves to exposing, poetry, prose, memoir, essay, experimental fiction and creative scholarship? She reveals herself. She’s a philosopher. She writes as a teacher, a critical pedagogue, as a person in spiritual practice, as a woman, and I cannot overstate the importance of her as a person who made space for black women’s sexuality as a healthy part of the whole person and not to be hidden under nationalist or bourgeois victorianism.
We are embodied. We are flesh, love these hands, love these lips, love these legs like baby slugs in the clearing and hip swinging womenish girls, at once. Undoing, returning to when we loved being inside our skin more than we worried about what it meant from the outside. At the end of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel The Autumn of the Patriarch, the lifelong dictator who is representative of that 20th century political form that so dramatically captured the problem of domination, dies and the people rejoice. And Marquez describes how “Frantic crowds took to the streets, singing hymns of joy at the jubilant news of his death. An alien forever more to the music of liberation in the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory that announce to the world the good news that the unaccountable time of eternity had come to an end.” Bells of glory in Spanish or Gloria for the end of an eternal patriarch.
In 1976, the soul group Enchantment released a song called Gloria and I can’t sing, so I’m not going to sing part of it. But in it, the lead singer sings quite beautifully. “I don’t want to see Gloria, Gloria. I don’t want to see another day without your love.” I, we don’t want to see another day without her love. The love she preaches. We must make real for all of us. We must teach it, model it and nurture it. I, we want to live feminist ethics, critical consciousness and self care. We want to cleanse ourselves of the muck of self-aggrandizement and competitiveness, the seductions of neoliberalism and star systems. The fiction that we can only be according to the terms of another we want love. That is not a cliché, but rather radical commitment to the wholeness of us, all of us. We want to be Third World Diva Girls today and always and for the ones to come.
Tom: Thank you. That was Professor Imani Perry. Now to Australia, where the country’s most prestigious arts event, the Sydney Festival, is entering its final week. The festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to see music, theatre and dance from all over the world. But this year, about a third of the acts who were due to perform have pulled out – and it’s nothing to do with COVID.
Axmed: No, it’s all because of the decision by the festival last year to accept sponsorship from the State of Israel, who are listed on the festival’s website as ’star partner’. The festival faced objections from Palestinian solidarity groups, who said that this is not appropriate given Israel’s ongoing occupation and human rights violations. But the festival dug its heels in, and many artists have now withdrawn in protest.
Tom: With us to discuss this is Doris Ghannam, an activist with BDS Berlin. Thank you very much for joining us, Doris.
Doris: Yeah, thank you very much for inviting me.
Tom: So first of all, when Israel decides to sponsor an artistic event like the Sydney Festival, what message are they trying to send?
Doris: I first have to say that it was not Israel who wanted to sponsor, but it was the Sydney Festival who asked Israel, according to the Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Australia. He said somebody from the management came to us last May and asked. He said it was for one performance the Decadence performance of the Sydney Dance Company under the choreography of a person called Ohad Naharin, and he is a Tel Aviv choreographer. So it was the other way around.
Axmed: So they actually sought after… the festival went to the… OK.
Tom: So I guess the festival received a little bit of funding for this sponsorship, but Israel presumably is trying to achieve something by sponsoring art festivals.
Doris: Yeah, of course. It’s what we call art washing. I mean, Israel uses art and there are some people who really said it very clearly: we send out novelists, writers, our cultural workers around the globe so the face of Israel will be much prettier than it is. We are all always perceived as a war country and we want to change that. And the awful thing is, he said that when it was sometime in 2008/9, when when the Gaza attack was over and, they had the phosphorous bombs and all these weapons that are not allowed to use. And they did not allow the UN Commission to go after this. So there’s this term hasbara, this initiative that started in 2005/6, when they realized they have to do something with art. We in the BDS campaign, call it art washing.
Tom: And so the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, that’s also existed for some years. Can you tell us where that started and when the idea came from?
Doris: This campaign started in 2005, exactly on July 9th, 2005 for a certain reason, because one year before there was the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice to find out whether the building of the wall inside Palestine is illegal and the conclusion of the advisory opinion was it’s illegal and there is a U.N. resolution where everybody was told what he has to do. Not only what Israel has to do – to stop this violation of international law and give compensation to those who lost a lot of things. But also and this is important, I think we have to say, to third states. I mean, it’s not only…Israel is the way it is because every state around this country, especially Germany, allows it to be like that. So this is the point.
And exactly one year after this advisory opinion came out, the Palestinians, a large part of the Palestinian society, launched what they call the BDS call, to boycott Israel, for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and human rights. And the important thing in this call is it’s not only about occupation, as it was all the 50 years before. It includes all parts of the Palestinian people. Those in the occupied territory – West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza – Palestinian citizens in Israel and everybody abroad, refugees and so on, so forth. So it’s the first time that it was all the Palestinian people who were behind this call. And it started in 2005. Very slowly, maybe. And of course, in Germany a little bit later. And when you read the conclusion of 2021, we all say it was a good year. I mean, there were a lot of things that happened, which we never thought would happen before. And I mean, this Sydney thing is one thing. I mean, if you imagine that 40 percent of the performance didn’t take place, this is great.
Axmed: So around 40 percent of the…
Doris: It was 100 individuals and organizations. That was the latest update on January 20th of BDS Australia. And they said it’s one hundred people, individuals and organisations, and it’s about 40 percent of the performances that couldn’t take place. And I will take the chance to to just focus on it a little bit more. I mean, it’s a cultural event. It’s artists who had two years of pandemic behind them who, thought, oh great, we go to a festival. But they had their ethical considerations. And this is more than doing an event in a performance. And I think we have to thank them very, very much. They deserve our high respect. And we also I think we should thank our colleagues from BDS Australia that they started to go in that.
Tom: So let’s hear a little bit from one of those artists who led the boycott in Sydney. Barkaa is a rapper who’s been vocal against the violence experienced by First Nations people in Australia at the hands of the police. And last month, she posted on Instagram, saying “I stand with Palestine always, and I’m pulling out of all events associated with the Sydney Festival. We, as a nation, live in a time where we should know better, so we should do better.” And here’s her track from 2020, Our Lives Matter.
Axmed: That was Barkaa. So we’ve been talking about the boycott of the Sydney Festival, which has seen almost 40 percent of the artists withdraw in protest, in solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the sponsorship of the State of Israel of the festival. With us is Doris Ghannam from the BDS Berlin campaign.
Tom: So Doris, as well as rejecting sponsorship from the State of Israel, the cultural boycott campaign also asks artists not to play in Israel. Why is that important?
Doris: It’s exactly the other way around. I mean, if you go to a concert in Israel, you accept the circumstances there. We can assume that concepts in Israel are in one or the other way financed by the state. And that means you are in a way complicit with the state and the politics of the state, and that’s why we ask people not to go there. Sometimes people have the idea to say, well, I go to Israel and to Palestine. This is not the point. I mean, if you are against a racist colonial regime, so be against it.
Tom: And are there any actions coming up in Berlin that people can get involved in with BDS Berlin?
Doris: Yeah, there is. Next week there are two concerts with the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. He’s going around the globe and he’s also coming to Berlin. But also he’s going five times now – first, it was only four times – he will give five concerts in Tel Aviv. And there’s a larger campaign. There is a letter from Palestinian and Israeli artists who ask him not to go to Israel, not to perform in Israel. He can play everywhere, but not there. This is the content of the cultural boycott, not to play in Israel, not to be connected with Israeli institutions.
Tom: And people will find details of everything BDS Berlin is doing on your website and Twitter.
Doris: The website is BDS Berlin, and there you will find the Twitter account and the Facebook account.
Tom: Brilliant. Thank you so much for joining us this evening. Now, before we go, we want to thank the listeners who wrote to us since the last episode, which is kind of like a part one to what we’ve been talking about today because two weeks ago we heard from Palestinian artists in Berlin about the situation they face living under Israeli occupation. And we also heard about how Germany has been backing the authoritarian regime in Sudan and talked about the resurgence of the protest movement for civilian rule there. So here are some of the things that we heard from our listeners.
Axmed: A listener called Harry from Toronto, Canada, said. I’m just completely knocked out by your second show from January. It is amazing. I can still hear the very moving Palestinian musician playing the Arab lute in the second song. It is so achingly sad
Tom: and Anita listening in Maryland, USA, said thank you for the broadcast hosted by Annie and interviewing Ahmed Isamaldin, who told us about the protests in Sudan. The interview was interesting. I also loved the music that was played
Axmed: and Ted listening from Prenzlauer Berg here in Berlin echoed that sentiment, saying “Really like the most recent radio show. Really interesting interview and great music.
Tom: So if you missed that show, you can hear it again online at Reboot.FM. I’m Tom Wills. I’ve been co-presenting with Axmed Maxamed and we’ve also co-produced the show. The engineer for Reboot FM was Noemie Cayron. Thank you very much for listening, and we hope you’ll join us again in two weeks’ time.
Axmed: Thank you very much.