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Raffique Shah


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The songs, not the singer

By Raffique Shah
April 15, 2007

Mercifully for us all in this not-so-blessed country, religious zealots do not rule the roost. They do exist, though, in just about every faith, religion, sect or commune. Many "leaders" among these fringe elements possess no intellect, are of dubious character, and in some cases downright dangerous. Only recently a self-proclaimed pastor was singled out and executed by a gunman in his excuse for a church. I don't know that the killer was concerned about how or what the man worshipped as much as what misdeeds he may have committed.

In Islam we have witnessed a surge of imams, all of whom seem to have the sole rights to interpreting the Qur'an. And lest you believe that Hinduism is monolithic, you'd be surprised at how many versions of this ancient faith are in existence today.

These extremists and ignoramuses are not to be confused with those who genuinely believe in the existence of God, who live according to the tenets of whatever religions they practice, and who are good people, good citizens. As one who has stood aloof from religion, I also argue that it is very necessary in today's world. Given that maybe three-quarters the world adhere to some faith, believe in good and evil, in heaven and hell, one wonders what would happen if the reverse were true. If man can murder and rob and rape and exploit his fellow man, even as he believes, what carnage might have existed if such people did not believe?

Still, it defies reason, this opposition to the presence here of iconic singer Elton John at the upcoming Plymouth Jazz Festival. John is by far one of the finest pop singers ever to have emerged from Britain. He set a one-man trail in the shadow of The Beatles, for me the greatest group act of the last century.

He has surpassed other top British acts like Tom Jones, Matt Munro, Shirley Bassey, Procul Harum and The Rolling Stones. It's a pleasure to the senses to listen to him croon songs like "Can You Feel The Love Tonight", "Sacrifice", "Daniel", "Don't Let The Sun Go Down" and "Candle In The Wind". I envy those who are attending the concert (I agree with Clive Zanda: it's not jazz!).

So what if Elton happens to be homosexual? I have long held that people's sexual preferences are their personal choices, a private affair. If John decides he wants to open his life's book to the world, that's his business. I have read and listened to this artiste for years, and not once have I heard him try to woo young boys (or girls) into homosexuality. He's outspoken on gay rights. I am outspoken on human rights, on preserving the environment, on one's right to believe or not believe. But I'd hate to think I am being offensive to those who disagree with me.

People who plan to attend the show do not expect John to try to have them change their sexuality. They expect to hear him sing. Besides, while the pastors-against-homos are ganging up in a bid to stop John's visit here, they close their unholy eyes to the many, more evil deeds that haunt their own churches. Almost to a man, they relieve the rich, and more so the poor, of their meagre earnings on a nightly basis. Did Jesus collect dues from His followers? Oh, I'm sure He welcomed some food, a sip of wine, and the occasional contributions his followers would make. But nowhere in the Bible is it recorded that he imposed tithes on his flock. In the case of the self-righteous pastors, they collect both tithes and "slacks"!

Have these men scoured their ranks to see how many men of the cloth sexually abuse both boys and girls? Have they looked into their mirrors? It's not only the Catholic Church that is riddled with closet abusers and homosexuals. It just happens Catholics get the most negative publicity. But among Pentecostals, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, despicable acts that go against the grain of God's teachings are practiced. Jim Jones and Jimmy Swaggart came from the same mould as the protesting pastors.

If the Government were to ban Elton from coming to Tobago to perform, I fear what might happen to this country. Because like it or not, we have people of varying sexual tendencies at all levels of this society. Indeed, among the elite-cultural icons, politicians, educators, journalists, business people, so-called deviant behaviour is common. If we put the protesting pastors under the microscope, the findings might floor us-and expose them for the hypocrites they are.

I may not be religious, but I know religion. I recall the story in the Bible where a group of enraged hypocrites was about to stone to death a woman who had committed adultery. Jesus intervened and said to them: Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone! They immediately dispersed. Here, the earth might open up and swallow these hypocrites.