Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism

AN excellent analysis of Bob Dylan and his faith by Jeff Taylor – first published in CounterPunch on 25 November 2015.

 BOB Dylan has made a reappearance in the public eye this past year with the release of his album Shadows in the Night and the issuing of a set of outtakes from his classic mid-1960s LPs.

The state of Israel—situated in the Middle East, allied with the U.S. government, idolized by millions of American Christians, and at odds with most of its neighbors—has been in the news virtually non-stop since 1967.

Given Dylan’s identity as a famous Jewish American with a reputation for lyrical sociopolitical commentary, is there confluence? Do Dylan and Israel intersect?

Christian Zionism is a mixture of theology and ideology in which evangelical Protestants support the modern nation-state of Israel. More specifically, Christian Zionists support the Israeli government in its hawkish foreign policy and domineering domestic policy. Christian Zionists in the United States have difficulty discerning a difference between the national interests of the U.S. and those of Israel. In practice, the two are merged and support for Israeli interests becomes a test not only of sound U.S. policy but also of loyalty to God. Identification of born-again Christians with Israeli politicians and the Israeli military is of relatively recent origin. It was intertwined with Cold War ideology in the 1960s and 1970s but has its roots further back in dispensational premillennial theology.

Part of the late 1970s evangelical revival in the U.S. was a growth of Zionism among American Christians. It dovetailed with the migration of millions of ex-passive and ex-Democratic voters into the hawkish Republican Party. It was also connected with the popularity of Hal Lindsey’s book The Late Great Planet Earth, which depicted Israel and the communist Soviet and Chinese governments as military opponents in the soon-to-occur Battle of Armageddon. Hence politics and religion, nationalism and exegesis, were combined into a potent movement. The Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell and the 700 Club of Pat Robertson were two institutional manifestations of this movement.

This was the national religious context at the time Bob Dylan was converted to Christ in 1978-79. It would have made some sense if he had become a new leader of the Christian Zionist movement. He is Jewish. Even before his conversion, he believed in God and was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. In Hibbing, Minnesota, his parents were leaders in the local Hadassah (a women’s Zionist organization) and B’nai B’rith. He spent some of his boyhood summers near Webster, Wisconsin, attending Herzl Camp, a Jewish summer camp with a Zionist focus. He visited Israel in the early 1970s. He was interested in End Times prophecy and embraced the premillennial dispensational interpretation of Lindsey. And yet Dylan did not become a leading Christian Zionist. Why not? There are three reasons.

Dylan’s newfound Christianity was in many ways less-culture-bound than the average American evangelical at the time (partly because it was new and he approached the Bible with the fresh eyes of a convert). The type of Christianity to which Dylan belonged during his early months as a believer was the latter-day Jesus Movement. The Jesus People had a Christ Against Culture theological ethic which meant that they strived to be less culturally-co-opted (worldly) than mainstream Christians in America. Of course, the Jesus People had their own cultural traits but support for the Israeli government and support for Cold War militarism and U.S. imperialism were not among these traits.

A second reason that Dylan did not go the route of Christian Zionism is that he had a more-spiritual, less-politicized understanding of Bible eschatology (study of the Last Things or End Times). The late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century theological movement known as dispensational premillennialism is often credited or blamed for post-1967 Christian Zionism among American evangelicals. But this is not accurate. The Scofield Reference Bible has little to do with the devotion to the Israeli government—mostly to the Likud Party—that is so prevalent among evangelical Christians belonging to the Republican Party.

From the perspective of Bob Dylan and similar premillennialists, C.I. Scofield and the dispensationalists (including Lindsey) were correct in saying that God has not forgotten his promises to the Jewish people. The Old Testament promises cannot simply be spiritualized or applied to the Church. That is too self-serving and not faithful to the scriptural record. Israel as an ethnic and historical entity did not disappear with the first advent and promises given to Israel did not simply vanish. Traditionally, Christians believe that in the Last Days there will be a consummation of those promises in a way that includes not only the Church but also Israel. Dylan and other believers think that Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem but it will not be a specifically Jewish kingdom. It will be a universal Kingdom that includes the believing remnant of Israel. According to Revelation—one of Dylan’s favorite books—the New Jerusalem will bear the names of the twelve apostles of Christ and the twelve tribes of Israel.

A.C. Gaebelein was a consulting editor for the original Scofield Reference Bible (1909), a contributor to The Fundamentals (1910-15), and a prominent Bible teacher at premillennial conferences. He was an evangelist to Jews in New York City and was very pro-Jewish in the sense of having a love for Jewish people. He was knowledgeable in Hebrew, was an Old Testament scholar, and edited Our Hope, a Bible prophecy magazine that looked forward to God’s eventual restoration of the Jews to Palestine. However, unlike fellow dispensationalist William Blackstone, Gaebelein “consistently warned against alliance with the Zionists.” In 1905, he wrote, “Zionism is not the divinely promised restoration of Israel . . . [It] is not the fulfillment of the large number of predictions found in the Old Testament Scriptures, which relates to Israel’s return to the land. Indeed, Zionism has very little use of argument from the Word of God. It is rather a political and philanthropic undertaking. . . . The great movement is one of unbelief and confidence in themselves instead of God’s eternal purposes.”

Gaebelein exemplified a type of premillennial eschatology that had apolitical or anarchistic implications. As George Marsden notes, “Premillennialism taught that no trust should be put in kings or governments and that no government would be specially blessed by God until the coming of the King who would personally lead in defeating the forces of Satan.” This perspective not only dampened Gaebelein’s enthusiasm for Zionism but it also led him to oppose U.S. involvement in World War I, in 1917, before he eventually succumbed to worldly pro-war jingoism.

Today, few Christian Zionists are taking their marching orders from the Scofield Bible. It is not a common item of study or interest. Dispensationalism is a small subsection of evangelicalism. Since the 1970s, far more evangelicals have been influenced by the teachings of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Paul Crouch, John Hagee, et al., than by C.I. Scofield, J.N. Darby, Lewis Sperry Chafer, John Walvoord, et al. It is true that the televangelists have embraced a watered-down version of dispensational eschatology, but even that was not handed down directly from Scofield. It is mostly just an emphasis on “Jesus is coming back soon. Israel’s re-founding in 1948 was a sign of the End. America must be Israel’s friend.” There is not much theology there.

For most evangelicals, glorification of the modern state of Israel comes much more out of a few verses in Genesis 12 than from the Day of the Lord chapters in Daniel, the rapture passage in I Thessalonians, or the tribulation/millennial chapters in Revelation. Even the Genesis passage is often a scriptural pretext for worldly geopolitics that centers on devotion to specific governments—namely, the United States and Israel. Whether in the context of the Cold War, the War on Terror, anti-Arab/Muslim sentiment, or Jewish ethnic (not religious) loyalty, this is more political than theological. God is being used in service to Country.

Modern Israel is not ancient Israel. Many Orthodox Jews opposed the pre-1948 Zionist movement because they believed that the re-creation of Israel must be effected by the Messiah himself. Israel is officially a Jewish state but this refers to ethnicity, not religion. Theodor Herzl (father of modern Zionism), Chaim Weizmann (founding president of Israel), and David Ben-Gurion (founding prime minister of Israel) were secularists if not atheists. They did not embrace the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet, blank-check support for the Israeli government is the norm among Bible-believing white Protestants.

The national anthem of modern Israel—and before that, the anthem of the Zionist movement, adopted by the First Zionist Congress in 1897—is “Hatikvah” (The Hope). Its lyrics are secular, with no mention of God, Abraham, Moses, or the Torah. The song uses the biblical word Zion twice but, removed from its context and divorced from God, its meaning has lost its spiritual dimension. The Zionist/Jewish folk song “Hava Nagila” is also secular.

Even when the ancient Hebrew governments were officially linked to Judaism, unthinking support for political leaders was folly, with the prophets being a continual reminder of this fact. After the united kingdom of Saul, David, and Solomon split into southern and northern kingdoms, the majority of the subsequent rulers were bad, according to Scripture. In Judah, 10 of the 18 kings “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” The track record in Israel was even worse: 19 of the 19 kings were evil. It is unclear why Jews or Christians should assume that Begin or Netanyahu are any better than these ancient rulers.

When talking about his Jewish roots with Martin Keller in July 1983, Dylan said, “I ain’t looking for them in synagogues with six pointed Egyptian stars shining down from every window, I can tell you that much.” Dylan apparently views the Star of David as a pagan or occult symbol rather than a biblical symbol of the historical King David. The Star of David was the symbol of the Zionist Movement, beginning in the 1890s, and was placed on the flag of Israel when the modern state began in 1948.

Dylan’s views on peace and international relations are partly motivated by his understanding of eschatology. When it was released in 1983, “Neighborhood Bully” was widely seen as a pro-Israeli-government song and it fueled speculation that Dylan had returned to Judaism. This appears to be an incorrect interpretation. In a 1984 interview, Dylan said, “You can’t come around and stick some political-party slogan on it [the song]. If you listen closely, it really could be about other things.” He claimed ignorance regarding Israeli politics. Asked if he had resolved for himself the Palestinian question, Dylan said, “Not really, because I live here.”

Dylan suggested that the song was referring to Israel during the days of the future Battle of Armageddon rather than to the current Israeli government. Quoting the lyrics of “Neighborhood Bully,” Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone asked Dylan if he felt that the U.S. should send troops to help Israel in the Lebanon War (1982-85). Dylan responded, “No. The song doesn’t say that.” Loder asked if the American Jewish community should be more supportive of Israel. Dylan refused to identify with contemporary political Zionism, saying, “You’re making it specific to what’s going on today. But what’s going on today isn’t gonna last, you know? The battle of Armageddon is specifically spelled out: where it will be fought and, if you wanna get technical, when it will be fought. And the battle of Armageddon definitely will be fought in the Middle East.”

Despite his much-publicized visit to Israel in 1971, this 1984 distancing of himself from political Zionism was nothing new for Dylan. In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War (1973) between Israel and Arab states, rumors circulated that Dylan’s 1974 tour with the Band was a pro-Israeli effort. The rumor was unfounded. After a concert in Atlanta, Governor Jimmy Carter hosted a party for Dylan and his entourage. Carter brought up his own visit to the Holy Land a couple years before. He later recalled, “When I mentioned Israel, Dylan changed the subject and said he and his wife had recently been to Mexico and had enjoyed that country, too.”

“Neighborhood Bully” appears on Infidels. The inner sleeve of that album features a photograph of Dylan kneeling on the Mount of Olives above Jerusalem. The Old Testament book of Zechariah prophesies that the LORD, in the person of the Messiah, will stand on the Mount of Olives during the Battle of Armageddon. Not only will God come to rescue his people but he will be accompanied by “all the holy ones [saints].” This leads to God becoming “king over all the earth.” This passage is paralleled by the New Testament book of Revelation. The Mount of Olives imagery and the Rolling Stone interview indicate that “Neighborhood Bully” had less to do with the current Lebanon War and more to do with the future Battle of Armageddon.

Dylan’s son-in-law, singer Peter Himmelman, is a Zionist. Supporting Israel’s widely-perceived disproportionate military response against Hamas and civilians in Gaza, Himmelman directly rejected Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. He told a reporter, “For Jews, turning the other cheek is a sin.” His pro-Israeli-government song “Maximum Restraint” was reminiscent of “Neighborhood Bully” in its biting tone but was clearly about contemporary events, not about the coming Day of the LORD prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures.

A third reason that Dylan did not go the route of Christian Zionism is that he remained an anarchist in his ideology after his conversion. As a Christian anarchist, he remained uninterested in human governments, elections, laws, and policies—even those of the Israeli government. He recognized his Hebrew heritage and paid homage to the heroes of Israelite history but he was not interested in a movement characterized by narrow ethnic identity and the power of government. Entering into Christianity through the latter-day Jesus Movement, Dylan shares not only the movement’s American counterculturalism and premillennial eschatology but also its anarchism, which serves as a counterweight to politically-minded Zionism.

Dave Kelly, Dylan’s personal assistant in 1979-80, recalls the singer’s dealings with the Lubavitch (Chabad) group from Brooklyn. Kelly recalls, “I saw when the rabbis first were sent to him—[they] were the cutting edge people in America, among the Orthodox Jews, and pretty much pulling the strings in Israel at the time. And he [Dylan] was very much against them at the time. He used to go to Israel himself, no security and just turn up, just wander around. . . . [But] he wasn’t pro-Israel [in a political sense] at all, that I can see. Not at all.” Kelly continues, “I know they had a lot of power in Israel, to move the election in favor of one politician over another. And I don’t think he [Dylan] liked that. And that sort of made him very resistant. Because these were just The Man again. Just the Jewish rabbi version of The Man. He was very, very resistant because he’s a rebel.”

It should go without saying that Dylan’s disinterest in political Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism but it must be added because some—although not most—anti-Zionists are motivated by dislike or fear of Jews as a race of people. This motivation has often been exaggerated and exploited by supporters of militaristic Israeli governments, but it is a real motivation for some critics of the Israeli state. Anti-Jewish sentiment plays no role in Dylan’s rejection of the glorification of modern Israel. Not only is Dylan ethnically Jewish, but he has remained interested in this heritage following his embrace of evangelical Christianity. Becoming a Christian does not mean a rejection of one’s Jewish heritage since Christ himself and all of his original disciples were Jews.

Bob Dylan did not reject his Jewishness when he knelt before Yeshua, whom he saw as the Jewish Messiah. From a spiritual point of view, Dylan did not see Christianity as a rejection or replacement of his Jewishness. He saw it as a completion or fulfillment. From the perspective of traditional Judaism, this is a patronizing or insulting thing to say but it is, nonetheless, the perspective of Jesus and the first-century Jews who followed him. This is the teaching of the New Testament, which was composed almost entirely by Jewish writers. Dylan’s 1980 gospel album Saved featured Jeremiah 31:31 on the inner sleeve: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” It is significant that he chose a Bible passage that bridges the gap between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, between Judaism and Christianity.

Since the early 1980s, Dylan has maintained some ties to the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States, but he has shown little interest in contemporary Israel. For him, the truths of Judaism are spiritual not political. In a 1984 interview, Dylan remarked, “I think politics is an instrument of the Devil. Just that clear. I think politics is what kills; it doesn’t bring anything alive.”

 

 

The UK Paedo Files: a can of worms that only opens from the inside

JIMMY Savile, Gary Glitter, Max Clifford, Leon Brittan, Cyril Smith, Greville Janner, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall, Jonathan King, Oliver Reed and Chris Denning are just a few of the UK’s high profile child sex offenders to have been convicted or outed in the past three years.

But there are many more.

A ‘powerful elite’ of at least 20 prominent Establishment figures formed a VIP paedophile ring that abused children for decades, one whistleblower has now claimed.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police confirms it is investigating paedophile and sexual abuse claims against 76 British politicians, 178 TV and movie celebrities and seven sports stars.

Peter McKelvie – a former child protection officer who first raised the alarm about high profile individuals engaged in child sex abuse – said senior politicians, military figures and even people linked to the Royal Family are among the alleged abusers.

Mr McKelvie said that their campaign of abuse may have been going on for as long as 65 years, but ‘there has always been the block and the cover-up and the collusion to prevent an investigation.’

Mr McKelvie, whose claims led to Scotland Yard’s 2012 Operation Fernbridge investigation into allegations of a paedophile network linked to Downing Street, said the alleged VIP child abuse ring may at last face justice, although several members are now dead.

“For the last 30 years and longer than that, there have been a number of allegations made by survivors that people at the top of very powerful institutions in this country – which include politicians, judges, senior military figures and even people that have links with the Royal Family – have been involved in the abuse of children,” said Mr McKelvie.

“At the most serious level, we’re talking about the brutal rape of young boys,” he added.

Describing the child abusers as making up a ‘small percentage’ of the British Establishment at the time, Mr McKelvie admitted there was ‘a slightly larger percentage’ of people who knew about the abuse but did not report it to the police.

He said these people ‘felt that in terms of their own self-interest and self-preservation and for political party reasons, it has been safer for them to cover it up than deal with it.’

Meanwhile, a former Metropolitan Police officer says he was told a member of the Queen’s family and an MP had both been identified as part of a major child abuse inquiry.

But the operation was shut down by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for ‘national security reasons’.

The ex-officer explained how a named detective sergeant based at London’s Marylebone Police Station in the late 1980s, spoke to him about the investigation and the fact it had been axed.

The former officer said: “I was in a car with two other vice squad officers. They were discussing a madam who had provided a girl of about 15 to the film actor Oliver Reed.

“The detective sergeant said he had just had a major child abuse investigation shut down by the CPS regarding a royal and an MP.

“He said the CPS had said it was not in the public’s interest because it ‘could destabilise national security’.”

The former officer added: “What I was told has stayed with me to this day.”

Reed was never prosecuted over underage sex.

The Metropolitan Police now insists it is pursuing claims of abuse, no matter who was said to be involved.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse said: “We have seen lots of allegations of cover-ups, and I think it’s helpful that people are coming forward. We will go where the evidence takes us, without fear or favour, I think that is what the public expect.”

Earlier this year it was announced the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating 14 separate referrals spanning four decades, amid cover-up claims.

The claims – referred to the IPCC by the Met – allege the force suppressed evidence, hindered or halted investigations and covered up offences because of the involvement of MPs and police officers.

Former Met Deputy Commissioner Albert Laugharne said that, while head of Lancashire police, he had been asked by a DPP officer to lie about allegations involving the late Lib Dem MP Cyril Smith, later unmasked as a paedophile.

A surveillance operation that unmasked Leon Brittan’s links to child sex abuse is also said to have been shut down by Met detectives.

The Sunday Mirror revealed last year how the former Home Secretary was snapped by officers during a 1986 investigation into rent boy orgies run in North London buildings.

But the day before swoops on alleged suspects were due to be carried out, officers on Operation Orchid were told it had been disbanded.

Smith and top judges were also believed to have been photographed entering the underage sex dens. Sources claim up to 16 high profile figures were due to be arrested.

Leon Brittan was under investigation by the Met over sex abuse allegations at the time of his death in January this year. However, in October, the CPS said they had not found enough evidence to prosecute.

In 2013, police investigating allegations of a child paedophile network seized a list naming top politicians, members of the Royal household and a world-renowned pop star.

They were allegedly visitors to a bed and breakfast guest house which operated as a brothel where youngsters were abused at gay sex parties.

The names were recorded on a handwritten note found by police at the North London home of child protection worker Mary Moss during a raid.

She had initially declined to co-operate with the investigation.

Documents and a laptop were seized and Ms Moss later handed over other 19 files she had put in a neighbour’s shed.

The papers include a list of men who went to sex parties in the 1980s at the Elm Guest House, in Barnes, south west London.

Among them were two former Conservative Cabinet ministers, four other senior Tories, a Labour MP, a prominent Irish republican and a leading National Front member.

The note also allegedly names two members of the royal household – one a former Buckingham Palace employee – plus the owner of a multinational company and two pop stars.

In Government documents released in July this year, Leon Brittan was one of four senior Westminster figures named in connection to child sexual abuse.

Along with Brittan, the former British diplomat Sir Peter Hayman, and former ministers William van Straubenzee and Peter Morrison were named in the secret government files.

It was reported that Brittan and Hayman were among the suspects who were involved in an alleged Westminster paedophile ring operating in the 1980s, according to an investigation by the Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes entitled Spies, Lords and Predators.

One victim accused Brittan of regularly abusing children at the Dolphin Square apartment block in Pimlico.

The victim told 60 Minutes that Brittan liked boys to dress in women’s underwear before abusing them.

The fact that a paedophile ring had been operating within the British Establishment first emerged in an investigation by campaigning Tory politician Geoffrey Dickens.

In November 1983, the MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth sent a 40-page document to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan detailing alleged VIP child abusers, including Cyril Smith and other senior politicians.

In a newspaper interview at the time, Mr Dickens claimed his dossier contained the names of eight ‘really important public figures’ that he planned to expose, and whose crimes are believed to have stretched back to the 1960s.

But in March 1984 Home Secretary Brittan told Mr Dickens that his dossier has been assessed by prosecutors and passed on to the police, but no further action is taken.

In 1989, Brittan was suddenly made European Commissioner for Competition at the European Commission, resigning as an MP to take the position. He accepted the post as European Commissioner reluctantly, as it meant giving up his British parliamentary ambitions.

(In late 1990, while I was working as the editor of a weekly newspaper in Argyll, I was told by a leading Scottish Conservative politician that Brittan had been moved to Europe, because “he has an unnatural fascination for young boys”.)

In May 1995, Geoffrey Dickens died. A short time later his wife destroyed his copy of the paedophile dossier.

The only other copies – one received by Mr Brittan and another allegedly sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions – are believed to have been lost or destroyed.

In September 2010 Cyril Smith died aged 82 without ever being charged with sex offences.

In October 2012 during Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP (and now Deputy Leader) Tom Watson claimed there is ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No10’.

A month later the CPS admitted that Smith should have been charged with crimes of abuse more than 40 years earlier.

The CPS also admitted Smith had been investigated in 1970, 1974, 1998, and 1999, but rejected every opportunity to prosecute him.

A former special branch officer, Tony Robinson, said a historic dossier ‘packed’ with information about Smith’s sex crimes was actually in the hands of MI5 – despite officially having been ‘lost’ decades earlier.

Then in June 2014, Labour MP Simon Danczuk called on Leon Brittan to say what he knew about the Dickens dossier.

A month later Home Office permanent secretary Mark Sedwill revealed that 114 files relating to historic allegations of child sex abuse, from between 1979 and 1999, have disappeared from the Home Office.

It is clear that this nasty can of worms only opens from the inside.

To be continued…

 NOTE: I was also a victim of Establishment child sexual abuse. You can read my story at: https://seagullnic.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/when-you-gonna-wake-up-and-strengthen-the-things-that-remain

 

Broken Years

It’s been so many long and broken years

Since we were happy and our hearts were true

Once upon a time you told me, I was the man for you

 

Two souls sleeping side by side

Love was eternal and our lives sublime

But now the chasm has grown wide

I pray each night that there is still time

 

I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes

There are secrets in them I can’t disguise

I say to you now, if I ever hurt your feelings, I apologise

 

I haven’t seen my children in thirteen years

That’s not easy to understand

The pain runs deep and never leaves

Some things in life the heart cannot withstand

 

I think that when my back was turned

The whole world behind me burned

It’s been a while since I crossed that broken stile

 

My body is scarred and my thoughts bruised

Life is now in overdrive on an eastern cruise

The evil that men do will always break them apart

They die strangled by guilt with an iron heart

 

I cried on that cold and frosty morn

I cried because our souls were torn

So much for tears, so much for these long and broken years

 

Tortured Blues # 2

And now that it is over

He could sit and count the cost

Wondering if she’d changed at all

And realised what they had lost

He was standing in the driving rain

Water filling up his shoe

She was lying on a snow white bed

Hair and face were all askew

Tortured by the blues

 

He found shelter in a small café

Writing hymns and poems on the wall

She slipped close by and cursed at him

They were both heading for a fall

Outside the booths were filling up

Minstrels and waiters in the queue

He stopped nearby and filled his cup

The last romantic of the few

Tortured by the blues

 

Their breaking up was a tempest storm

Promises and words were said in vain

She withdrew from the human race

Neither one could take the strain

He drowned himself in red wine

Street lanterns burned green and blue

Once their love was something fine

Now it was split like cracked bamboo

Tortured by the blues

 

Another year had passed by slow

His young face was lined with pain

She lay wrecked in a juniper bed

They both had to start out again

But all the while he was alone

Clinging to an old church pew

Women came and lovers went

The howling wind it ripped right through

Tortured by the blues

 

John Lennon – my Working Class Hero

ON a cold December night 35 years ago, Mark Chapman waited for John Lennon outside the New York City apartment building where the former Beatle lived with his wife Yoko Ono and his son.

Chapman, who was 25 at the time, had asked Lennon earlier that day for an autograph, which the former Beatle signed.

Yet five hours later, the killer, who said he wanted to be famous, opened fire with a .38 pistol hitting Lennon four times.

The 40-year-old musician collapsed, and bleeding profusely, was dead on arrival at hospital.

TV networks in the USA interrupted their Monday Night Football broadcast to announce news of Lennon’s death.

Within hours, the murder became front page news across the globe.

With his death on December 8, 1980, the world began to grieve.

Some 3,300 miles away in the coal steeped pit village of Darton in South Yorkshire, I woke to the news on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Like millions of others I felt numb with shock and grief.

Lennon, along with Bob Dylan, had been the soundtrack to my entire life. And for the past 10 years I had hung on every word and every chord these two singer-songwriters had ever played or sung.

As a trainee teacher I walked slowly to my school singing quietly the words to Imagine, and trying to focus on the day ahead.

Then the irony hit me…. just seven days earlier I had been teaching my fourth year class (10th Grade) about 1960s’ culture, and in particular the music and impact of The Beatles. Somehow I had to continue that day as the curriculum demanded, and follow with the social changes brought about by that decade.

I need not have worried.

My charges’ cruel teenage excitement and questions about the murder of John Lennon made the lesson faultless. They even allowed me to play a couple of his songs as a kind of “education”.

Here was the life, death and music of a true Working Class Hero of my generation.

The day passed and I hurried home to spend the evening listening on my Dansette casette/radio player to hours upon hours of music and eulogies to this amazing man and musician.

One song hit me that day and has stayed with me ever since.

How? is a song from Lennon’s second solo album Imagine, released in 1971. It is a contemplative song inspired by the primal therapy he was undergoing with his wife Yoko, where he faced many personal questions such as “How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing?”

It summed up my feelings on that cold winter’s day, and now 35 years later it still epitomises my life.

But before I reprint and reload the song, I must share another sad irony.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme that brought me the news of Lennon’s death in 1980 was produced by my journalist uncle Rod Pounsett.

Rod sadly died yesterday, aged 76.

How?

How can I go forward when I don’t know which way I’m facing? How can I go forward when I don’t know which way to turn? How can I go forward into something I’m not sure of? Oh no, oh no

How can I have feeling when I don’t know if it’s a feeling? How can I feel something if I just don’t know how to feel? How can I have feelings when my feelings have always been denied? Oh no, oh no

You know life can be long And you got to be so strong And the world is so tough Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough How can I give love when I don’t know what it is I’m giving? How can I give love when I just don’t know how to give? How can I give love when love is something I ain’t never had? Oh no, oh no

You know life can be long You’ve got to be so strong And the world she is tough Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough How can we go forward when we don’t know which way we’re facing? How can we go forward when we don’t know which way to turn? How can we go forward into something we’re not sure of? Oh no, oh no

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQU84QlukP4&sns=fb

 

The Death of Rod Langham Pounsett

IT is with great sadness I announce the death of my uncle Rod Pounsett (my mum’s young brother).

Rod started his career as a reporter and photographer on the Worthing and Shoreham Heralds in the early 1960s.

He went on to host a daily show on BBC Radio Brighton in the 1970s – one of the very first phone-in radio shows – and later became senior producer for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. He was at the helm when they reported the death of John Lennon in 1980 and the great storm of 1987.

He also worked for the Daily Express and started the first western news bureau in Moscow after the end of the Cold War.

He had a troubled personal life, but he was an amazing journalist and a good uncle.

I had not seen Rod for many years, but he was the person who got me into journalism when I was just 17 years-old, by securing me an interview with the editor of my local newspaper. I have many happy memories of listening to off-the-record tapes of interviews he had with the likes of Denis Healey, Jim Callaghan, Jimmy Young, Norman Tebbit, Clive James and many others.

It took a further 10 years before I became a fully-fledged hack, but it was Rod who started me off.

He passed away yesterday aged 76. More about him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rod-pounsett-6551891b

I will write a more lengthy eulogy in my blog at the weekend.

This appeared on Hold The Front Page on 17 December: http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2015/news/former-regional-reporter-and-post-cold-war-pioneer-dies-at-76/

 

The Loaded Language of the British Press

FOR the majority of the British media, the importance of presenting impartial news coverage is a key objective, but balance is now being questioned with the escalating violence in the Middle East.

As many times before, it is the reporting of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and murders of innocent Palestinians which has come under the closest scrutiny.

The death and destruction – especially the deaths of so many children – has appeared in brutal contrast with the relatively minor impact of the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Moreover, Western media has been criticised for failing to cover the conflict in a fair manner and some media outlets, the BBC in particular, appear infused with a pro-Israeli bias.

Often it is down to the language used in such reports, which creates bias and distorts the view of the watcher or reader of the news.

The late Tony Benn said in his inaugural annual lecture in Bristol in 2006 that the BBC refer to the Palestinians as “Militants” but to the Israeli aggressors as the “Israeli Government”. Thus giving legitimacy to the Israeli side against the Palestinians.

Mr Benn said that in reality he believed the reverse was true.

In recent days we have seen the use of language challenged both between politicians and within the press.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron was repeatedly asked to apologise for labelling MPs who might vote against bombing in Syria as “Terrorist Sympathisers”.

It was a failed but oblique attempt to score points against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for his historical support for Hamas and the IRA.

Quite an ironic choice of language from Mr Cameron, who once called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged as a terrorist!

During the House of Commons debate on bombing Syria we also witnessed an agreement between the SNP and many Conservative and Labour MPs to refer to ISIS as Daesh. In doing so it would lock away the word Islamist, used by so many of the national press and the BBC to describe terrorist attacks.

Biased use of language, with a nakedly political motive, is clearly poisonous.

Note how the single photograph of a dead Syrian child on a Mediterranean beach in September this year reshaped the way our press reported the Syrian refugee crisis.

The public outcry at that image was so immense that our newspapers started to refer to the hapless refugees by the correct terms rather than the “swarms of migrants” favoured by David Cameron and Nigel Farage.

But sadly that didn’t last and following the Paris attacks of 13 November these self-same Syrian refugees were being labelled migrants and potential terrorists by our press.

UK tabloids like the Murdoch-owned Sun that has compared immigrants to ‘cockroaches’ recall the dark days of the Nazi media attacking those they sought to eliminate, says the UN’s human rights chief.

“The Nazi media described people their masters wanted to eliminate as rats and cockroaches,” said UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

He singled out an article by former gameshow contestant turned-commentator Katie Hopkins, published by the Sun, in which she wrote: “Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

The comment piece was published just hours before a boat containing hundreds of displaced people capsized in the Mediterranean, killing 800.

“This type of language is clearly inflammatory and unacceptable, especially in a national newspaper. The Sun’s editors took an editorial decision to publish this article, and – if it is found in breach of the law – should be held responsible along with the author,” said Zeid.

Zeid said the Hopkins piece was by no means a one off, but rather the result of “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion.”

“This vicious verbal assault on migrants and asylum seekers in the UK tabloid press has continued unchallenged under the law for far too long,” he said.

Like the Sun, The Daily Express was also a prime culprit, he said.

“To give just one glimpse of the scale of the problem, back in 2003 the Daily Express ran 22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period,” he said.

“Asylum seekers and migrants have, day after day, for years on end, been linked to rape, murder, diseases such as HIV and TB, theft, and almost every conceivable crime and misdemeanour imaginable in front-page articles and two-page spreads, in cartoons, editorials, even on the sports pages of almost all the UK’s national tabloid newspapers.”

And the use of language to load news reporting is used often in domestic situations.

The British press regularly use the adjectives “Far Left”, “Hard Left” and “Loony Left” to describe Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters in the Labour Party, while referring to more right wing MPs as being “Moderates”.

Never do they seek to define what the word “Moderate” means or ever refer to David Cameron or George Osborne as being “Far Right” or “Hard Right”.

What we are observing is an adjectival degradation.

Every report, coming from inside governments or institutions outside is, if it contains some form of criticism, therefore “damning”, “devastating” or “scathing”.

Warnings, which most of the time were not heeded anyhow, are “stark”, differences of opinion between politicians of the same party are “dramatic splits”, developments are “alarming” – the consumer of the media is confronted with a permanent linguistic overkill.

Ironically, official language is evolving in the opposite direction, it is becoming more sanitised, cautious, bureaucratic and politically correct.

Remember how Tony Blair and his spin doctors rebranded the Labour Party as New Labour and Blair’s Labour as he courted Rupert Murdoch and the so-called Middle England vote in the 1990s.

For marketing and propaganda purposes he even banned the use of the word “socialist” or “socialism” among his MPs.

The final irony is that almost 20 years later the word “Blairite” is now a term of abuse among most Labour Party members and commentators.

Words matter!