THE BLOG
16/12/2013 06:09 GMT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Dear George Michael, Please Can We Have the Song Back?

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'Last December', a Wham! parody song for charity by satirists Loyalists Against Democracy (LAD) axed after duress by loyalists.

Northern Ireland's Loyalist community say they're offended by Loyalists Against Democracy. That their feelings are hurt. That they feel bullied and unfairly targeted. And all because of a song and harmless parody. Well I welcome their offence and hurt feelings. For too long it's been one way. For too long loyalists have been un-offended. For too long the majority moderates have been muzzled, silenced and censored and offended by their violence, economic vandalism and extreme British nationalism.

For far too long loyalists have been unchecked. Accountable to no-one. A proper bucket-shop political-economy.

Enter Loyalists Against Democracy (@LADFLEG). They have ended the vocal minority street rule. LAD have introduced a check and balance that is so necessary in a fair and open society. Entirely peaceful and non-violent.

If loyalists decide to block a road, LAD is there to parody them. If loyalists decide to breach a parades ruling, LAD is there to parody them. If loyalists parade in a manner that is dark and intimidating, LAD is there to parody them. If people within loyalism are sending and sharing grossly nauseating sectarian messages, LAD is there to parody and call them up on their behaviour. When saboteurs and vandals masquerade as civil rights and peaceful protesters, LAD is there to call them out on the madness.

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LAD speaks for the emergent and hereto unrepresented international class. This is a public good.

Two problems. One. Loyalists say don't judge loyalism by the extremists. Yet moderate loyalists and the politicians fail, time after time, to tackle or denounce those extremists. Loyalism cannot whitewash its responsibility by simply saying it's a minority. Until then, LAD will be there to denounce.

Two, and this is the big problem, loyalists want to shut down LAD. Loyalists want to run large with no opposition, no counter-narrative, no resistance. By their false doctrine of loyalist exceptionalism, they hold a special privilege in society - They are beyond reproach and rebuff.

This is a hideous state of affairs. Their iron band of total reign leaves no space for other views and voices. Anything in dissent is automatically branded either as snobbish, or as a malign and malevolent "Fenian"/"IRA"/"taigy" intervention. Failing that, the person or persons will get beat up.

By this formula, their violent and extremist grip endures in a negative feedback loop. Simply by abolishing, silencing and censoring the unwelcome voice. This is abhorrent, nauseating and grotesque and must be opposed. LAD oppose the madness and are beginning to break the negative feedback loop.

And here's the really big issue of the moment:

I recently wrote about the LAD single, 'Last December by Paramilitary Wives'here (listen to snippet here) which was hurtling towards the Christmas number one and raising a lot of money for charity. Since then, the song has been pulled after loyalists contacted the distributor and said that the song was sectarian, bullying and breached copyright. Action which could well amount to duress and intimidation.

And this is my second point articulated most graphically; Loyalists will do whatever they can to shut out unpleasant views and voices. (Full account by LAD of the campaign to remove the single here.) However this is only an example and indicator of what has amounted to a year long campaign to silence and censor LAD (see here, here and importantly here).

The searing ironies of this latest episode are breathtaking. They have got everything wrong. It is they, the loyalists, who are the bullies. It is they, the loyalists, who are the sectarians. It is they, the loyalists, who are the law-breakers. On the point of law, they have made a specious claim which has spooked the distributor. The suggestion that the single is in breach of copyright is not a black and white issue, but because of the heavy pressure the distributor rolled to the loyalists.

Here's the situation and what we do know of it. The song distributor has insisted that LAD get clearance from Warner Brothers or George Michael. Otherwise they fear being sued over intellectual copyright. Here's the solution. If Warner Brothers or George Michael were to give approval and endorsement to the use of the parody song it could be re-released. However LAD have no route to him.

Loyalists have also spooked the distributor by stressing the "political nature" of the song. This is nonsense and must be challenged and repudiated by politicians and other civic leaders.

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To conclude. Freedom of speech under domestic and international law gives a license to offend. There is no right to not be offended. Loyalists are not exceptional. They do not hold special privilege. Should this decision (provoked by people who claim to be very offended) stand, it will mark a further chilling of free speech in a very expression chilled part of the planet (see here and here).

LAD can be rough, raucous and provocative. But that's the nature of a vibrant democracy. I say, let loyalists make up their mind, and I and others will make up our own mind - but do not let them squash the freedom of the long muzzled moderate to express an opinion, their freedom to parody and satirize and their freedom to hold extremists to account.

People of Northern Ireland resist this while you can. Loyalism is sending Northern Ireland to hell in a handcart and you can't do anything about it. By their formula, they have the whip-hand over you and you can say absolutely nothing.