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?

Olympic anthem of the day #2: Team Refugee!

Popole Misenga, one of the Team Refugee's judoka. He's originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, due to the war, his mother was murdered and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

Popole Misenga, one of Team Refugee’s judokas. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his mother was murdered when he was just six and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

There are, brilliantly, ten refugees competing at the Olympics: five South Sudanese, two Syrians, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and an Ethiopian marathon runner.

What anthem will they hear in the miraculous event they win gold? Not their own. And that’s a huge shame as it’d be great if the Syrians, especially, could stand on the podium and sing theirs as if saying, “I represent this country – not the war.”

Instead, any who do win will get the Olympic anthem, which is an even bigger shame as it’s appalling – an overblown hymn that relies on being high-pitched to stir emotion.

I should give it some slack, though. It was written in 1896 and its lyrics, at least, are suitable for the Olympics, calling at one point for God to “shine in the momentum of noble contests…running, wrestling, throwing.”

It’s a shame those words are in Greek, mind. I’m not sure how many Congolese refugees are au fait with the language.

If you’d like to know more about the refugees’ own anthems, here’s a blog about the bizarre fact all sides of the Syrian conflict sing the same tune; here’s an interview with Mido Samuel, the inspiring composer of South Sudan’s, once a refugee himself; and here’s a blog about Ethiopia’s appalling anthem.

I’ve surprisingly not written about the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s beautiful anthem, Debout Congolaise (Arise, Congolese), before, but here it is for you. It’s the only national anthem with a call-and-response section, so listen out for that towards the end.