Don’t know your anthem? Then you best not be an asylum seeker

Mohammed Al-Mustafa – refused asylum in the UK partly for not knowing his country’s anthem. Copyright: Martin Godwin/The Guardian. Sorry for stealing photos… again

The Guardian’s long followed the case of Mohammed Al-Mustafa, a 36-year-old Palestinian who’s lived in the UK for eight years.

He’s stuck in legal limbo. He applied for asylum, but the government said he was Palestinian so could go home. He tried to – twice – but there’s a problem: he can’t actually leave as he has no Palestinian papers (he left that country age 5, and both his parents died ages ago).

He’s since applied to be declared “stateless”, which would allow him to stay in the UK permanently. But to get that designation, he has to prove he’s Palestinian and apparently the government’s Home Office doesn’t believe him!

For what reasons? Bizarrely, one is the fact he couldn’t sing Palestine’s national anthem when asked. “I know the name of the anthem is al Fida’i, but I didn’t memorise the words and I told them, it’s not about words. We can’t get the country back because of the words,” Al-Mohammed told The Guardian.

What’s going to happen to Mohammed now? God knows.

But a quick note for any Home Office staff reading: although Fida’i is Palestine’s official anthem, many Palestinians consider it a political tune chosen by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For them, the anthem would actually be this song, Mawtini:

Oh, and to whoever made the decision: what proportion of Brits actually know all the words to God Save the Queen?

Well, that lasted long… India reverses ridiculous anthem law

These speech bubbles may not represent the views of the people saying them!

Back in November 2016, India’s Supreme Court ruled that everyone had to stand for the country’s national anthem before cinema screenings. The cinema should keep doors shut so no one could interrupt, it added.

The ruling quickly led to fights and surly kids being arrested. It also quickly led to a flurry of other rulings to try and make the law less silly. Courts issued exemptions for disabled people – at least one wheelchair-bound man was beaten up for not standing – and a clarification pointing out that cinemas shouldn’t actually lock people inside during the anthem as that would be a fire risk.

Well, now, 14 months later, the Supreme Court’s reversed the decision entirely. Phew, you may think. Well, not quite. The court made the u-turn in response to a government request, which suggests politics is behind the move.

India’s Hindu nationalist government also knows the ruling’s achieved everything it could in terms of stirring patriotism and quashing dissent. Schools and cities have been blasting the anthem out more than ever since the initial ruling and they’re not going to stop. The government doesn’t need the law anymore.

Any reader of this blog will know I’m against mandated anthem singing – patriotism shouldn’t be forced. In India, it basically still is.

Meet the world’s newest national anthem aka ‘What the hell’s Mauritania just done?!?’

If you’d asked me yesterday, what the world’s scariest national anthem was, I’d have shot back in a second: Mauritania’s.

It sounds like the Death Star’s just landed and earth’s about to be destroyed:

Why did I write “If you’d asked me yesterday….”? Because this morning, thanks to nationalanthems.info, I learnt they’ve changed it. And worse, they’ve changed it to this:

Yes, it’s an ok anthem – functional – but where’s the threat gone? Where’s the distinctiveness disappeared to? Mauritania’s the world’s last country where slavery effectively exists – surely you want terrifying music to represent a country that does that?

The anthem was written by an Egyptian, Rajih Sami Daoud – a music professor in Cairo who, according to this story, has a degree in “super arts”, whatever that is.

Rajih Sami Daoud, composer of Mauritania’s new anthem

Egyptians have composed many other countries’ anthems, from the UAE’s to Tunisia’s – read my book to learn all about why! – but the choice has gone down very badly in Mauritania, with the country’s most famous blogger calling it “a scandal”. Nice to see nationalism’s growing everywhere.

Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh, the country’s minister for culture and handicrafts (they must be a huge part of the local economy), has displayed a surprisingly good knowledge of anthem history to dismiss the complaints: “Musical composition is a technical issue,” he said.

“Most of the national anthems of Arab countries were written by foreigners. Even the American anthem was composed by an Englishman.”

All true, Minister Cheikh, but the real question you should be answering is why you’ve dumped one of the world’s best anthems for this monstrosity!

The words were always meant to be changed, but why they did the music to is beyond me.

😦

Write an anthem, get a GIF!

This week, Ibrahim al-Khafaji, the poet behind Saudi Arabia’s national anthem, sadly passed away aged 90.

Most anthem poets’ deaths go unnoticed until about 30 years later when someone decides to name a road after them. But the Saudi authorities gave Ibrahim a properly modern tribute: by drawing a cartoon of him and turning it into a GIF!

It’s, er, very touching.

Ibrahim wrote numerous patriotic odes, but deserves special tribute for giving the country’s anthem words in 1984 since it’d been strictly instrumental beforehand. His lyrics are super religious. “Glorify, the creator of the heavens,” it goes at one point. “Repeat: Allahu Akbar.” But then, what’d you expect? It’s Saudi Arabia.

Shame the song’s not the best.

Rest in power, Ibrahim.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe goes, but not his song

Mugabe at the graduation ceremony post-coup

One of the final things Robert Mugabe did last week as Zimbabwe’s president was attend a graduation ceremony where he bizarrely sang the country’s national anthem as if no coup had happened.

What no reports pointed out was that the song was his anthem.

Zimbabwe used to have God Bless Africa as its anthem – the great liberation tune that became world famous during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and is better known as Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

But, in 1994, Mugabe decided it was time for a change, to instead have a song that could help create the Zimbabwe he wanted. He held a contest and Blessed be the Land of Zimbabwe was the winnner.

What’s it like? A boring hymn, unfortunately!

But one thing stands out about it today: the final verse. “Oh God, we beseech Thee to bless Zimbabwe,” it goes. “May leaders be exemplary / Let the nation…be lifted high.”

Mugabe clearly didn’t follow that call. Here’s hoping whoever leads the country next does.

Although some clearly want a change:

The most important story you’ll ever read about national anthems

Arghhhh!!!! Please save Ron (above) from God Save the Queen! (This is copyright the Hull Daily News/MEN Media. Sorry for stealing)

I’ve been away a while as I’ve been writing articles like this (front page of The New York Times, baby!) and this and this, but it turns out in that time I missed telling you some vital anthem news.

“What could that be?”, I hear you ask. “China extending the jail term for anyone who disrespects its anthem to an insane three years?” Nope! “The Philippines starting to arrest people who don’t stand for its anthem?” Of course not! “More brouhaha in the US?”

Er, it’s actually the story of an 87-year-old from Hull, Ron Goldspink, who’s started aurally hallucinating a male-voice choir singing God Save the Queen 24/7. He hears it 1,700 times a week.

Yes, I did get this from The Daily Mail.

Apparently it’s a real medical condition called musical ear syndrome, although Ron initially mistook it for his patriotic neighbours turning their stereo up too loud.

“I complained about my next door neighbour who I thought was playing music and keeping me awake,” Ron said. “My son complained to the council and when they came down I told them I could hear this music coming through the wall every night.

“They went next door and…said they were not playing anything, and I realised it was just me that could hear it.”

He’d like to meet the Queen so he can tell her about it, he added.

No, I can’t believe I’m posting this either. Good luck, Ron!

What to do when locked out of a polling booth? Sing about murdering Castilians

Catalonia’s independence referendum hasn’t gone to plan, with people prevented from voting, riot police storming polling booths and injuries reported all over Catalunya.

I’ve written about the region’s “national anthem”, El Segadors – The Reapers, before. It’s a dark, sludge of a tune, all about murdering Castilians (it was written in the 1640s when Catalunya was fighting an uprising against the rest of Spain).

“Drive away these people who are so conceited and so contemptful,” it goes at one point. “Strike with your sickle!”

But it’s worth mentioning it again today, especially since it’s getting a lot of airings outside closed polling booths:

There are even bands playing it in full on the streets:

Given what’s happened – the contempt towards the vote – it’s unsurprising the anthems’s everywhere, although it really isn’t the most rousing song for a moment like this, is it?

Here’s the anthem in full with some English sub-titles for anyone who feels suitably stirred: