Sting’s Uzbekistan sellout

Our recent coverage of Nicki Minaj‘s nauseating performance for Angola’s thug-in-chief reminded us that there are other celebrities who belong to the same club but to whom we hadn’t yet accorded the attention we gave to Minaj.

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Sting

Take Sting, aka Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE. The British musician and songwriter, formerly of The Police, has won 16 Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, three Oscar nominations for Best Song, and is said to be worth several hundred million dollars. For many years, moreover, he’s presented himself as a world-class champion of humanitarian causes, associated himself with groups like Amnesty International, and made himself the face of such high-profile environmental causes as saving the Brazilian rain forests.

Nonetheless, in October 2009 he decided he couldn’t do without an additional million or two dollars. That’s the sum he accepted to perform in a show arranged by Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of Islam Karimov, the monster who runs Uzbekistan. If you don’t know about Karimov, here’s a fun fact, courtesy of Fox News: Karimov “burst upon the international scene in 2005 when his troops opened fire on protesters in the city of Andijan,” killing up to 5000 people, largely women and children.  

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Sting with Gulnara Karimova

Sting managed to keep his Uzbek deal from blowing up in the British media – but only for a few months. When Marina Hyde reported on it in the Guardian the following February – noting that Karimov had been accused of “boiling his enemies, slaughtering his poverty-stricken people when they protest, and conscripting armies of children for slave labour” – Sting felt obliged to issue a statement. Acknowledging that he’d given the concert, he added that “I believe [it was] sponsored by Unicef.” The Guardian checked out this claim; Unicef, it turned out, had had no connection whatsoever with the event.

Sting went on to say that, while “well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment,” he’d chosen to accept Karimova’s invitation because “I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.” Ka-ching! 

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Islam Karimov

The Guardian had a good answer to Sting’s apologia: “Even if you accept Sting’s live performances as ‘ideas and art,’ you can’t really help but question this notion of ‘open commerce,’ considering the tickets for his concert cost more than 45 times the average monthly salary in Uzbekistan.” Craig Murray, former U.K. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, called Sting’s response “transparent bollocks,” adding:

He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?…I agree with him that cultural isolation does not help. I am often asked about the morality of going to Uzbekistan, and I always answer – go, mix with ordinary people, tell them about other ways of life, avoid state owned establishments and official tours. What Sting did was the opposite. To invoke Unicef as a cover, s[i]t next to a woman who has made hundreds of millions from state forced child labour in the cotton fields, is pretty sick.

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Karimov with Putin

Writing in the New Yorker, Amy Davidson asked: “Does Sting really think that the President of Uzbekistan doesn’t care what or who his daughter spends two million dollars on?” Karimova, Davidson pointed out, is “not just some apolitical fashionista but is also a member of the government” and her father’s presumed successor, and thus “deeply, deeply implicated” in his evildoing. 

Musician Sting performs on the opening night of his Symphonicity Tour, which features the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Steven Mercurio, in Vancouver, British Columbia June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Andy Clark (CANADA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

In Mother Jones, Adam Weinstein weighed in: “I’m not going to pretend pop-music fame is easy, but here’s a handy maxim for future crooners to keep in mind: Don’t do private concerts for tyrannical rulers who reportedly boil people alive. Just sayin’.” Weinstein also pointed out that, Karimov’s brutality aside, Gulnara Karimova is “a piece of work in her own right,” who “reportedly runs several state-owned business concerns cobbled together from Western assets seized in Uzbekistan, which are occasionally backed by shadowy military contractors who might be involved in assassinations. She’s also listed as one of the 10 richest women in Switzerland. Let that sink in for a minute.”

Does it even take a minute? Clearly, Sting knew exactly what he was getting into – and didn’t care, not for a second.  

“Lessons” from Roger Waters

On April 28, Salon ran a remarkable piece by Roger Waters, the musician and former member of Pink Floyd. In it, Waters addressed an upcoming Tel Aviv gig by British singer Robbie Williams. Noting that Williams was “UNICEF’s UK ambassador and a declared supporter of its Children in Danger campaign,” Waters charged him with “showing a chilling indifference” to the well-being of Palestinian children and called on him to cancel his appearance.

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Robbie Williams

“Dear Robbie,” wrote Waters, addressing the singer directly, “playing this concert on May 2 would be giving your tacit support to the deaths of over 500 Palestinian children last summer in Gaza…and condoning the arrest and abuse of hundreds of Palestinian children each year living under Israeli occupation.” Informing Williams that Israeli officials are racists who view Palestinian children merely “as grass to be mowed,” he told Williams that

If you cannot see yourself in the eyes of a Palestinian father, you should do the decent thing and resign from UNICEF, or failing that, UNICEF should let you go.

Waters actually had the nerve to close this arrogant edict as follows: “Love, Roger Waters.”

Williams went ahead with his concert. But that didn’t discourage Waters. Only a couple of weeks later – again in Salon – he was haranguing singer Dionne Warwick, who, like Williams, was planning to perform in Israel. “I believe you mean well, Ms. Warwick,” he wrote, “but you are showing yourself to be profoundly ignorant of what has happened in Palestine since 1947.”

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Mark Blacknell

Meanwhile, yet another voice of reason had tried to get through to Waters. Writing in the Times of Israel, film director Mark Blacknell reminded the Israel-obsessed Waters that the target of his wrath enjoys such charming neighbors as Hezbollah, “Assad the Butcher,” ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the “Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen,” the “jihad-plagued, complete insanity of Sudan,” the “ultra-religious, feudalistic Mecca of Islam, Saudi Arabia,” and the “’end of days’ cult of the Ayatollah in Iran.” Blacknell asked Waters why, if he cares so much about Palestinians, he doesn’t “talk about the historically brutal Jordanian oppression of Palestinians, the Egyptians’ crackdown on Gaza or the hellish conditions in the Palestinian camps of Lebanon and Syria.” Why, he asked, “has no Arab nation granted Palestinians a place in their societies? Why won’t you criticize Jordan, Egypt, Syria or Lebanon for their treatment of innocent Palestinians?”

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Roger Waters

Blacknell made a couple of points worth repeating. First, he noted that pollsters had recently asked Israeli Arabs the following question: “If Palestine becomes a fully independent state will you renounce your Israeli citizenship and become a Palestinian citizen?” Seventy percent had said no. Blacknell also recalled that during the two years he’d spent making a documentary about Jews and Arabs, he’d had to face some unpleasant truths. “Every Israeli I interviewed said something like this, ‘I don’t hate Arabs, I just don’t think there’s anyway to satisfy them, so we have to protect ourselves?’ Every Palestinian I interviewed, said something like this, ‘The Zionist regime is occupation. It must be destroyed.’” If only “Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and their supporters in the Arab world acknowledged and accepted Israel today, the era of peace would begin tomorrow and Israel would lead the way.” That being a seemingly impossible dream, Blacknell had a proposal for Waters:

Supporters listen as Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas Gaza government, speaks during a Hamas rally marking the anniversary of the death of its leaders killed by Israel, in Gaza City March 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ANNIVERSARY)
A March 2014 Hamas rally in Gaza City

Since Israeli fans no longer deserve your presence in the only democratic nation of the Middle East, I encourage you do a show in the heart of Gaza City. You could float one of your giant, pig balloons in the air with an Islamic Crescent moon and caricature of Muhammad on it. Then, you could utilize the freedom of speech that you currently use to voice your sophomoric (at best) understanding of the Middle East by telling Hamas that it’s the real enemy of the Palestinian people. I think only then, as the crowd publicly stomps you into the ground and drags you half-alive through the streets of Gaza, will you understand the true nature of Israel’s predicament.

But we’ll save Blackwell’s best sentence for last, and italicize it for emphasis:

What is presented to you as innocent victims struggling for freedom, is in reality uncompromising cultural intolerance at a level so antiquated that is difficult for many westerners to comprehend.

Not even this, however, stirred Waters out of his moral slumber. In fact – as we’ll see tomorrow – he took his attacks on fellow performers to a new height.

Messi business

Messi-490728You may never have heard of Lionel Messi, but to millions of soccer fans the 28-year-old Argentinian is a superstar. A forward for FC Barcelona, which has a larger social-media following than any other sports team in the world, as well as for Argentina’s national team, Messi holds all kinds of goal-scoring records and is considered by some observers to be the best player ever in the history of the sport.

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Ali Bongo

He’s also, as it turns out, a useful stooge for none other than Ali Bongo, “president” of Gabon, whom we wrote about here a couple of months back. Bongo’s dad was “president” of the small country on the west coast of Central Africa from 1967 to 2009, and Bongo has been in charge ever since the old man shuffled off this mortal coil. As we noted in July, the Bongo family has made an art out of systematic, institutionalized corruption, treating the country’s cash as its own and using it to purchase dozens of luxury residences around the world, plus whole fleets of cars, boats, and planes, while the average Gabonese citizen squeaks by on $12 a day.

But Bongo’s shameless, large-scale embezzlement is only the most benign of his offenses. In recent years, as it turns out, many Gabonese children have been the victims of a practice that seems almost too terrible to be believe: they’re kidnapped, ritually murdered, and then cannibalized by members of the nation’s elite in the belief that this barbaric act will, by some supernatural means, bring them even greater wealth and power. It’s widely believed that Bongo himself is behind these twisted ritual crimes. In any event, Bongo’s government has refused to investigate them.

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Messi and Bongo

Enter Messi, who, as it happens, is an “ambassador” for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, in addition to having his own charity, which focuses on “access to education and health care for vulnerable children.” In July, construction of a new soccer stadium in Gabon – which is being built for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, to be hosted by Gabon – began with a cornerstone-laying ceremony at which Messi was the guest of honor. Messi reportedly was paid €3.5 million for showing up at the event, although both Argentina and Gabon have denied that he was paid anything.

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Messi and Bongo at cornerstone-laying ceremony

In any event, he went. In addition to laying the cornerstone for the stadium, he paid a visit to a hospital and took part in the opening of a Bongo-owned restaurant. And throughout the visit, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), he “displayed enthusiastic support” for Bongo’s regime – a PR coup for Bongo and, as HRF observed, a blow to the credibility of Messi’s foundation. There’s no indication that this UNICEF “ambassador” said a single word, at any point during his stay in Gabon – every step of which was covered extensively by state-owned television – about his host’s refusal to investigate the ritual murder of children.