In Norway, music drowns out hate – Fridays with Billy.

Our man Billy knows a thing or two about the power of song.

Last week, 40, 000 Norwegians came together to sing a particular song in the square outside the courthouse where Anders Behring Breivik is on trial for killing 77 people in a paroxysm of anti-immigrant rage. It’s a song that Breivik hates: “Children of the Rainbow,” which he has singled out in his various screeds for particular contempt:

A sky full of stars.
Blue sea as far as you can see.
A land where flowers grow.
Could you want more?
Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.

…Say it to all the children!
And tell every father and mother.
We still have a chance
to share our hope for this world.

Now, to be sure, our Billy doesn’t usually sing such soothing stuff — his calls for unity tend to be on the more battered side, often speaking for those who haven’t had a chance yet to hope, much less to share that hope.

But as I say, the man knows a thing or two about the power of song. Here’s what he had to say about that moment in Oslo on the pages of today’s Guardian:

It’s not much of a protest song, to be truthful. The lyrics of Children of the Rainbow sound ideal material for a Sunday school choir. Yet, when sung by 40,000 Norwegians in response to a week of testimony by the rightwing terrorist Anders Breivik, the meaning of those words has been transformed.

The lyrics were written by Lillebjørn Nilsen, a much-loved Norwegian singer-songwriter from the 1970s, who Breivik singled out in his testimony as a “Marxist” who “writes music that is used to brainwash children”. Far from being a call for revolution, the lyrics paint a picture of a society where “Together we will live/Each sister and brother/Small children of the rainbow”.

…Seeking to express their solidarity with the victims of this act of terror as they assembled to give their evidence this week, the people of Oslo chose a song that extols the kind of multicultural society that Breivik despises. By the simple act of singing it together, they have drowned out the voice of hatred emanating from the Oslo courthouse.

Coming together, in the rain and holding roses, all those lovely Norwegians also brought to mind their Prime Minister, speaking in the wake of the attacks last year: “We must – and will – meet terror with more democracy,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said, “not less.”

Some time ago, Billy had opportunity to write a new English version of a song that actually does call for revolution, “The Internationale” (he was asked to do so by Pete Seeger, and as Mr. Bragg says below – you don’t say no to Pete Seeger) — I suspect Breivik hates that song, too. So in honor of Breivik’s victims, and of those gathered in an Oslo city square, here’s Billy version of “The Internationale.”

If we don’t want the Breiviks of the world to win, it’s on us.

Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone 

complete lyricsWhat is Fridays with Billy?

Big, big h/t to my girl AsiangrrlMN


  1. The real tragedy of folks like Anders Breivik, is that they are so gullible.

    Somehow, racial separatists believe, there would be peace in their lives, if only everyone else with whom they interacted, was of the same ethnicity. So they view everyone foreign or different as a threat. And want to view everyone similar, as a brother or sister.

    Reality check time. Most serial killers hunt within their own ethnic group. Most spouse abuse and child abuse cases happen within the same ethnic group–this because so many families are monoethnic. And those very same brothers and sisters can get into some outrageously ugly disputes, when a deceased parent leaves behind a small estate, and they each start arguing over whom the departed loved the more, i.e., who deserves what.

    There is no peace in this world, except that we choose to make it, by doing what is just, instead of what satisfies our immediate urges.

    I recently made a day trip into Ontario to return a friend home, after she spent two weeks in a Santa Fe monastery to grieve her late mother and another week in Los Angeles on pleasure-and-business. I used to frequent southwestern Ontario as a young man, and the border-crossing experience was educational.

    Returning my friend home was a breeze. The Canadian customs agent examined both our passports, sized up her luggage through the car window, asked me how long I intended to remain in Canada, gave us back our passports and sent us on our way. An hour later, after reuniting her with her parked auto at her cousin’s house in London, exchanging hugs, and promising to visit again for the Shaw Festival in nearby Stratford, I headed back.

    It amazed me how unwelcome I now am, in my own country.

    There was a one-hour wait at the border. Apparently that was shorter than usual. The Ontario Ministry of Transport has thoughtfully erected lighted warning signs on the 402 Freeway leading to the border crossing, beginning in farm country some 10 minutes’ drive short of the border, alerting motorists to watch for stopped traffic. About a mile shy of the crossing, traffic ground to a halt. And inched along toward the Land of War and Funny Money.

    As I drew closer, I began noticing signage for a program called “NEXUS”. Participants in NEXUS are allowed to bypass the rest of the drivers and head straight to the border. An hour later, as I drew within sight of US Customs and Border Security’s checkpoint, I began to see the cause of the delay. There was only one NEXUS booth. And the privileged with NEXUS passes were forced to wait, about twelve cars’ length, for all of two minutes, before they could wave their NEXUS passes and breeze through the border. Excuse me if my lack of empathy for them, was palpable, after waiting an hour for the privilege of proving that I have the legal right to enter the US, because I live here.

    But immediately the major cause of the delay became apparent. Three inspection booths had been closed for construction. The construction: Converting them into NEXUS booths!

    As I slowly drew alongside the construction, the improvements built into the NEXUS booths became apparent. At an automated kiosk, ahead of the inspection booths, NEXUS pass-holders were to stop their cars, smile into a camera, hold up their passports, and wait, while the computer pinged an RF Identification Chip embedded in each passport, compared it with the image on the screen, and decided the people were, indeed, who they claimed to be. This obviously paid a lot of money to some Silicon Valley corporation or other, that made all the RFID Chips and associated hardware and software. It also guaranteed that once those extra booths were available, a lot more of the frequent border-crossers would apply for NEXUS passes.

    But how, exactly, did this exercise make our country any safer?

    We can (maybe) keep out the foreign terrorists who killed thousands by collapsing the World Trade Center in 2001. (We don’t actually know if this is so. There’ve been no major terrorist attacks in the USA, since then, and no one in politics will cite actual statistics about real and proven terrorism attempts, getting thwarted by increased border security). Meanwhile, we kill each other by the thousands annually, in highway traffic crashes, medical malpractice incidents, prohibition of necessary medicines so that unnecessary ones may be prescribed, and the occasional act of violence by American upon fellow American.

    The whole experience has me curious, whether the likes of Anders Breivik are in charge of our immigration policy. If it’s that difficult for me to return home from abroad, it’s obviously a lot worse for those foolish enough to attempt to emigrate here. Yet, for all that taxpayer-financed effort expended on keeping non-Americans out, is our country a safer place to live, for the effort?

    So far, it appears to be safer for the livelihoods of Washington lobbyists who have RFID chip manufacturers as clients…and no measurable benefit for anyone else.

    A few more mental health professionals could work wonders with all of that RFID money, by transforming all those self-protective urges that are mis-expressed as hatred of the different, into self-protective acts of assertion of one’s right to exist.

    Just as there is no peace, except that we make it, there is no relief from injustice, unless we demand it. Learning to speak up about the harm done us by our immediate neighbors, takes courage. But it’s the beginning of the peace of mind we each need, in order to get on with our daily lives.

    That’s why the Anders Breiviks of this world are hopelessly gullible. They won’t question if it is wrong for anyone to inflict death or great bodily harm upon them. And absent that moral wall to protect them from harm by others, they seek safety in limiting their contacts with others, so that the only people who might kill them, are those people who in their minds, have the right to do so.

    Which, given the true nature of violence, is no protection at all.

  2. Tord Steiro

     /  April 30, 2012

    Funny you mention ‘children of the rainbow’ (Barn av regnbuen) and Pete Seeger in the same post, without actually mentioning that it was Pete Seeger who actualy wrote ‘children of the rainbow’. Except the original version is called Rainbow Race.

    And, as a colleague of mine mentioned: It’s interesting to see Norwegians practice massive civil disobedience against one terrorist. We usually do that against state agencies and governments… But it is beautiful – and it might even work. Perhaps he will understand that Norwegians are both resilient on behalf of their culture, and genuinely opposed to his narrative.

    • Funny you should mention that because I wasn’t sure if I should mention it or not! According to Billy Bragg, the translated version of Seeger’s song is really quite different from the original, so I decided to not muddy the waters with digressions — but you’re right. The original was most certainly by Pete Seeger.

      I like the idea of massive civil disobedience against one terrorist. I can’t imagine that it will do anything to change that one person’s mind (who I believe to be both genuinely sick and entirely responsible for his actions), but I do believe it tells people a lot about who they, themselves, are, and that’s very important. I would like to see a few more moments like this one in either of my homes, America or Israel.

  1. Children Of The Rainbow | Not the Family Business!