United Kingdom: Detained for humming ‘London Calling’



United Kingdom:
Detained for humming ‘London Calling’

Is The Clash’s classic punk song ‘London Calling’ a dangerous song? In England in April 2006, a taxi passenger was detained for simply singing along to it

Mobile phone salesman Harraj Mann, 24, was detained for questioning by British anti-terrorism detectives after they received a phone call from a taxi driver who had taken Harraj Mann to the Durham Tees Valley Airport. The driver had become alarmed after hearing Harraj Mann sing along to ‘London Calling’ – the famous 1979 anthem by the British punk band The Clash. The lyrics in the song that triggered the taxi driver’s concern were lines such as: “Now war is declared – and battle come down” while other lines warn of a “meltdown expected”.

The detectives halted Harraj Mann’s London-bound flight at Durham Tees Valley Airport and he was taken off. After questioning by British authorities he was released, but he missed his flight.

‘London Calling’ is a song about terrorism, but not the kind of terrorism the world has become familiar with after the September 11 attack in New York. Written in 1979 by the late Joe Strummer, it describes the looming threat of nuclear catastrophe, environmental disaster, starvation and war.
The song borrows its name from the World War II BBC News report that began, “This is London calling”. Rolling Stone selected ‘London Calling’ as the best album of the 1980s, and the album is considered one of the most influential records of the past twenty-five years.
Joe Strummer died on December 22, 2002, of a rare, congenital heart condition.

When Antonino D’Ambrosio from The Nation met Joe Strummer for an interview in 2002, shortly before his death, one of the first things they discussed was the suppression of countervoices as the United States banged the drum for war, made the Patriot Act law and established the Department of Homeland Security. Joe Strummer said that there was a very real – and frightening – possibility that music like his would not only be censored but held up as subversive or dangerous.

In the interview in 2002, Joe Strummer said to D’Ambrosio: “We had trouble with these songs then…you have to wonder what is wrong with singing about working people [‘Clampdown’], racial unity [‘Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais’] and censorship [‘Rock the Casbah’].”
D’Ambrosio continues: “It didn’t stop the Clash, which disbanded in 1986, from becoming the biggest (and certainly most important) punk band. And it didn’t stop Clear Channel Communications, which owns more than 1,900 radio stations, to place The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’ on the list of songs not to be played on the air after 9/11. The BBC did the same in the first Gulf War.”

Antonino D’Ambrosio adds that some US fighter pilots used ‘Rock the Casbah’ as a soundtrack as they bombed Baghdad.


Reuters UK – 5 April 2006:
‘Man held as terrorism suspect over punk song’

Yahoo News – 20 April 2006:
‘Joe Strummer, Terrorist?’

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