Roger Waters: Classic Rock & Free Speech

Roger Waters has been in the news a lot lately. Love him or hate him, he’s outspoken and unapologetic about his political views, which go against the narratives in mainstream media. In general, he’s a supporter of freedom of speech and freeing whistleblowers like Julian Assange, he’s also staunchly anti-war, and he’s very pro-Palestine. As I’ve discussed in my leftist musicians blog post, he’s been political from a young age and taught to always stand up for what he believes in.

As you know, Roger Waters is critical of NATO and some people will interpret that as him being pro-Putin, pro-Z, and being a Russian puppet. I often find in times of war, a lot of people believe in “you’re either with us or you’re against us”, as George W. Bush said in the noughties during his BS “war on terror”. Not a good attitude to have and it doesn’t win anyone over. All it does is polarise people and it’s basically this bad cognitive habit of splitting – everything’s either all good or all bad, people are either angels or devils, no room for nuance or in between. As the article linked in this paragraph says, Roger Waters did actually condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He’s not pro-war at all and I have no reason to believe he supports the war or wants the fighting to continue. I agree with him on being anti-war. The only people who benefit are those who make money from the military-industrial complex and ultimately those hurt the most are going to be the young working class men who can’t escape the draft, and their families. Certainly it’s not going to be the rich people’s kids on the frontlines of a war.

Because of Roger Waters’ stances on Israel/Palestine and Russia/Ukraine, he’s had concerts cancelled, one of the most recent cancellations being in Frankfurt, where the city council accused him of being antisemitic and ordered the venue to cancel his concert. Not only Frankfurt, but other cities in Germany like Munich and Cologne are threatening to pass motions to cancel Roger Waters’ concert. And now Roger Waters is going to take legal action to let the shows still go on, citing these moves as an attack on his freedom of expression. Let’s unpack this.

To say that Germany has a lot of baggage is an understatement. I’ve only been to Berlin and not for long periods of time, but from what I can tell, Germany does atone a lot for WWII and its antisemitic history and I think that is important to acknowledge the evils from the past and make amends. Certainly they’re doing better than other European countries at this. My great great grandfather died in the Holocaust and unfortunately the country he was born in does not grant citizenship to descendants of survivors and victims (as well, this ancestor was born a Russian citizen, as he was born in 1860, so I guess he was stateless during WWII? Also a Russian passport is useless now). However, this move with Roger Waters is overcompensating and I feel like they’re speaking over actual Jewish people. A lot of Jewish people love Roger Waters and support his message, including me, well I am no longer religious but you know what I mean. It’s actually antisemitic to equate Jews and the state of Israel. People unfairly smeared Roger Waters as antisemitic for having the Star of David on the pig at his concert, but ignore the fact that symbols for Christianity and Islam were on there too, a key omission. Sure, not the best optics to have a Star of David on there next to logos of corporations, but intent is important. Roger Waters is an outspoken atheist and I believe his intent was to criticise religion, not religious people per se. Religion is an ideology and no ideology is above criticism. There is a lot of sexism and homophobia in all three Abrahamic faiths and sexism and homophobia are not acceptable. Culture is not an excuse for bigotry and prejudice. Religion is not an excuse for bigotry and prejudice. We need more people calling out the prejudice in religion. We won’t have women’s liberation or gay liberation if we just let religious people have a free pass to discriminate.

The idea of freedom of speech varies from country to country. Freedom of speech in America is very different from freedom of speech in Europe. In the former, it’s much more liberal and free, while in the latter there are many more conditions. People will often debate which part of the world is more progressive, but it’s not so simple to say if Europe or America is more progressive. The truth is that in some ways one is more progressive than the other. America is much more progressive in citizenship laws – not one European country guarantees citizenship at birth as a right, that’s pretty backwards. America is much more progressive as far as marijuana laws – once again, no European country has it truly fully legal like various US states do. Finally, America is much more progressive on freedom of speech – the First Amendment is a great thing and I think more countries should aspire to have their free speech laws be just like America’s. However, America loses when it comes to workers rights, healthcare, and infrastructure.

I know I’ll get a lot of flack from Europeans on this, but I am a left wing libertarian who is against censorship and I am pretty much a free speech absolutist. As long as you aren’t threatening anyone, say what you want. Yes, I even think hate speech is free speech. Why? Because where do you draw the line? If you say hate speech isn’t free speech, then you might not be able to say “eat the rich” or “all cops are bastards” anymore because those in power might declare the rich or cops to be protected classes. Don’t put anything past the corrupt people in government – there’s one set of rules for the rich and another set of rules for the working class, don’t forget that.

It is also important to note that America is not perfect when it comes to freedom of speech and it has a history of censoring voices deemed to be radical. Look at how Muhammad Ali was cancelled because he refused to be drafted in the Vietnam War and spoke out against the war. He wasn’t allowed to box, losing out on a big part of his peak years as an athlete, and his titles were stripped from him. Feminist activist Angela Davis lost her professor job at UCLA because in “progressive” California the University of California system put a policy in place banning the hiring of communists and because she was a member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and affiliated with the Black Panther Party, she was fired. In the 50s, both Republicans and Democrats supported the Communist Control Act of 1954, which criminalised being a member of any communist organisations and outlawed the CPUSA. As Phil Ochs sang in “The Ballad of William Worthy”, an African-American journalist named William Worthy was the first American journalist to visit China since the communist revolution there and upon his return to the US in the 50s he had his passport taken away. He then went to Cuba in 1961 to interview Fidel Castro, this time sans passport and upon his return to the US he returned with his birth certificate and vaccine record, but after that the FBI were spying on him and he was convicted of returning to his own country with no passport. For a decade he didn’t have a passport and he had to go through so many legal battles. During McCarthyism, folk singer Pete Seeger was blacklisted because he refused to answer questions that the House Un-American Activities Committee asked him. And then there’s the whole Hollywood blacklist – conservatives will claim they hate cancel culture, except when they’re cancelling people they don’t like – hypocrisy. Another lesson that just because the law is one way on paper, doesn’t mean it will be the same way in practice. The government often do unconstitutional things – you see that a lot in history class.

Unfortunately for Roger Waters, Germany isn’t the United States and doesn’t have the same freedom of speech protections that the US has. Still, I am a firm believer that the law is not always right, and that is something we all should believe. There are many cases throughout history and even in this day and age that the law is wrong and it is imperative to question authority and the law. Banning speech you don’t like is a dangerous slippery slope because okay great you cancel a talk by some Trump supporter, but who’s to say that whoever is in control (likely someone who is very establishment) isn’t going to cancel a talk by a communist, a socialist, an anarchist, an anti-war activist, a pro-Palestine activist? You don’t see communism, socialism, or anarchy getting much representation in mainstream news media and anti-war views and pro-Palestine views aren’t celebrated either in the mainstream media. Liberals aren’t very fond of communists, socialists, and Marxists and I saw this during the 2016 and 2020 primaries when they shit on Bernie Sanders, who is quite milquetoast compared to communists and socialists when you looked at his policy positions. Many socialists called Bernie the compromise. Yet I saw so-called liberals saying they’d prefer a Republican over Bernie and they’d excommunicate Bernie supporters because “Bernie’s not a democrat”. From my experience, liberals (as in the white moderate MLK was talking about) are capitalists and heavily identify with it and they often hate socialists more than they hate conservatives.

I believe that the answer to hate speech or political opinions you disagree with is more speech. Call it out, respond to it, talk about why it’s wrong and why you disagree. Boycott them if they’re a business or selling something. Stage a protest. Freedom of speech works both ways. I remember a few years back there were calls to ban conservatives from speaking on college campuses. I am far from conservative, but I don’t agree with cancelling their speeches. If you don’t like what they have to say, peacefully protest or if they have a Q&A and it’s a free event – question the speaker and challenge them.

If the venue itself wants to cancel the concert, even if I don’t agree with their decision, fair enough I guess (freedom of speech laws in the US say that the government can’t punish you for exercising your right to free speech, but doesn’t say that companies can’t), but it’s even worse when the government are telling the venue to cancel a concert because they don’t like the politics of the musician. It’s one thing to not go to Roger Waters’ concert or to have a protest, but to censor him and say the show can’t go on by law? That’s way too far. That is censorship.

I have warned people on the left not to cheer on censorship of people they disagree with, because I knew from studying the past they would come for leftists too and bite us in the ass – censor-happy establishment types in the government will eagerly censor those to the left of them whom they deem to hold “dangerous” views that threaten the status quo.

While we’re on this topic of freedom of speech, I’ve seen in the news lately a lot of conservatives being outraged at drag shows or drag queen storytimes and my opinion on this is as long as the shows are truly family friendly (no sexually explicit content, no costumes that are too risquรฉ) if they’re all ages, who cares? If you don’t want your kids to go to a drag show or drag storytime, then don’t take them to one, simple as. The government is not your babysitter. I thought conservatives didn’t like the nanny state, but I guess they do when it conveniences them. However, some conservatives don’t stop there. There’s many out there who want to ban drag shows period – like in Tennessee – even if they’re adult only. What happened to small government? What happened to the constitution? Banning drag goes against the first amendment. Well, slowly but surely conservatives are letting the mask slip – look at Florida’s governor Ron Desantis: censoring books that he doesn’t like and telling schools they can’t teach things he doesn’t want them to teach. He’ll criticise the regimes in Cuba and China, but act just as censorious as the politicians he claims to hate. It’s all authoritarian and authoritarianism is bad, whether it’s communist or capitalist.

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