“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
Elvis Costello asked the conscience question and, it may be said, reclaimed his Catholic social justice heritage when he “refused to look the other way” and joined the cultural boycott of Israel. He is the second artist to do so, preceded by the original rapper Gil Scott Heron.
The prolific British rocker who wrote the best song of the 80s,”Shipbuilding” an ironic swipe at Margaret Thatcher’s war against Argentina, cancelled his Israel concerts. In the 70s Costello wrote a hit song Oliver’s Army, an anti-occupation anthem about young, working-class soldiers dragooned into Oliver Cromwell’s occupation of Ireland. He has always been a keen observer of history and international politics. Following a campaign by Boycott Divestment organizers, he announced that his upcoming shows are now history. Costello has posted a thoughtful statement about the decision on his website:
Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.
I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have contained many people who question the policies of their government on settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.
I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.
Some will regard all of this an unknowable without personal experience but if these subjects are actually too grave and complex to be addressed in a concert, then it is also quite impossible to simply look the other way.
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