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Bono Gets 9/11. Or Does He?

I didn’t consider liking U2 until Bono ditched the mullet and the earnestness, and started dressing like he was in Duran Duran. What others felt was a creative compromise I saw as a welcome aesthetic revolt. It doesn’t seem to … Read More

By / November 12, 2007

I didn’t consider liking U2 until Bono ditched the mullet and the earnestness, and started dressing like he was in Duran Duran. What others felt was a creative compromise I saw as a welcome aesthetic revolt. It doesn’t seem to be an accident that after embracing the showbiz of showbiz Bono was freed up to better serve his convictions outside of pop music. His successful efforts on behalf of Third World debt relief and AIDS/HIV treatment are unparalleled in the sphere of celebrity activism. (For a cautionary tale from the other end of the spectrum, take a look at what Neil Young has wrought of late.) Fittingly, questions of compromise and revolt are not done with Bono. Because he rages within the machine he’s become adept at playing the biggest games in the world. You don’t get George W. Bush’s ear by yammering on about America’s eroding civil liberties and you don’t maintain credibility with your fan-base by gushing about your admiration for Paul Wolfowitz. He’s the first rock star in history who can be called a serious person on matters of global import. So, it’s not surprising that he recognizes the biggest threat to civilization for exactly what it is. Recently, Rolling Stone’s 40th anniversary issue ran a long interview with Bono in which he had some thoughtful, as well as some artful, things to say on the state of the post-September 11 universe. Bono on jihad, from Rolling Stone:

I want to be very, very clear, however: I understand and agree with the analysis of the problem. There is an imminent threat. It manifested itself on 9/11. It's real and grave. It is as serious a threat as Stalinism and National Socialism were. Let's not pretend it isn't.

I think people as reasoned as Tony Blair looked at the world and didn't want to be Neville Chamberlain, who came back from meeting with Hitler with a piece of paper saying "peace in our time," while Hitler was planning to cross the channel from France.

I remember watching the half-time show of the first Superbowl after 9/11. U2 played something meditative while the names of the recently killed scrolled down a giant monitor behind them. Something about their performance struck me, and I realized that no other group could have pulled it off. It’s funny that with all the recent half-time show mini-scandals that one haunting and necessary performance is all but forgotten. I’m glad to find that the voice of that moment is as credible today as it was then. But then came this:

So what needs to be done?

There's a word all of us have learned to undervalue: compromise. Bill Clinton once rang us, because he was collecting opinions on whether he should give Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams [of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army] a visa into the United States. I thought, "These people have put bombs in supermarkets, and many innocent people have lost their lives." So I said, "No. Don't dignify them." And he said, "But shouldn't you always talk to people?" And I said, "Yeah, but you dignify them."

I was wrong. Clinton did exactly the right thing in talking to the Provisional IRA and other extremist elements. Now they have to do the same, in my opinion, with Hamas, and they have to do the same with Al Qaeda. You have to involve them in dialogue.

To get so much wrong in such a small space! If there’s a word that we’ve all come to overvalue it’s “compromise”. And you can’t offer peaceful coexistence to someone who demands your unconditional destruction. People never tire of making the ludicrous comparison between the IRA and jihadists. The former sought legitimate goals through abhorrent means. For the latter, the carnage of the means is the goal in microcosm. On a related point, Mark Steyn recently said of Hamas: “Most nationalist movements of the post-colonial era. . . use terrorism as a means of achieving nationalism; the Palestinians are the opposite. It’s a terrorist movement using the cover of nationalism as a means to pursue their terrorist goals.” I could be cute and say such enthusiasm for—ughh, must I?—“dialogue” with fascists may explain Bono’s recent praise for Nancy Pelosi. He’ll be presenting Bashar Assad’s favorite member of Congress with an Outstanding Achievement Award. But the award is for her AIDS-related work, and I think his being there speaks to the larger issue anyway. Bono is an extremely skilled politician. He pushes his agenda through in ways that Nancy Pelosi can’t even approach. We’ve come to a strange state of affairs when rock stars change legislation and the Senate stages bed-ins for peace. Bono’s seriousness, effectiveness and savvy serve as an interesting palette against which we can contrast the activism of a recently deceased rebel: Norman Mailer. The forces of compromise and revolt are seemingly inversed in the men’s lives. Mailer actually did compromise his creative genius and then turn his outrage into buffoonery. His mid-career work was ruined by the deadly mix of political fervor and mounting creditors. And his public rabble-rousing was gummed up with poetic haughtiness. Laudably, Bono knows when to shut up and when to sing. But not quite when to fight.

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