Intelligent boycotts

boycott usa

Photo by Karen Eliot, click for more details.

A recent article I stumbled on today in the Financial Times describes the controversy surrounding Paul Simon’s collaboration with South African musicians on his wildly popular 1986 album Graceland. It contains this priceless quote from musical legend Hugh Masekela, who played on Simon’s tour:

“Some of the most vocal journalists [who criticised Simon] were white South Africans who were living the most privileged lives,” he said. “I had a lot of run-ins with them. I told them to shut the f*** up. You know, one of the first people Nelson Mandela invited to South Africa was Paul Simon. I purposely joined [Simon] because I knew he wasn’t a crook and he wasn’t out to rip off anybody.”

I find the quote and the article instructive as they relate to current debates about certain international boycotts that have drawn comparisons to the successful one against S.A., which helped end Apartheid. Cultural boycotts of countries should be selective to be effective. The wrong kinds of isolation can facilitate a reactionary environment. And it’s generally the privileged that can afford to take the most uncompromising positions, which isn’t always useful.

Agree? Or am I just biased because I spent my childhood summers on blacktop desert highways with the windows down bumping “people say she’s crazy she got diamonds on the soles of her shoes” … ?

Much more good stuff on this subject over at Africa Is a Country.

[Edit: fixed ridiculous typo.]

K’naan stole the show

Here I am rambling on about war, politics and depressing things — and one of the most awesome televised concerts I’ve ever seen just aired. Makes American Super Bowl halftimes look like a joke, and I think it rivaled Obama’s inauguration. K’naan stole the show (look, I know I can’t be considered unbiased about the guy by now, but this was great):

Also loved Desmond Tutu, Vusi Mahlasela, Tinariwen and Vieux Farka Touré. (Sorry, you’re going to have to Google those.)

7 great quotes from Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom


Bust of Mandela. Photo by RMLondon. http://www.flickr.com/photos/richardmckeever/ / CC BY 2.0

Everyone should read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography! In fact, you probably already have. But I’m a little late to the game and just did it, finally. Long Walk to Freedom is deeply inspiring. It’s the story of an unbelievably strong man who remained a freedom fighter in every aspect of his life, whether he was free or jailed, whether he was trying to dismantle apartheid or simply trying to get Robben Island’s prisoners access to reading materials. More than that, though, the book is a wonderful model for anyone fighting for a just cause against overwhelming odds. Mandela is a master at balancing long- and short-term goals, making smart compromises, and not letting emotion supersede tactics. Perhaps the most moving part of the whole book is Mandela’s willingness, in the end, to partner — in the service of the greater good — with the same people who stole almost everything of personal meaning from his life.

For these reasons, Mandela’s book has lessons far beyond the anti-apartheid movement. I can think of applications from the United States to the Middle East to China and Tibet. Luckily for us, he offers up many quotable passages that provide food for thought. Here are my seven favorite, with a note or two on how I think they have broader applications. Continue reading