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Bono: a crony of bankers and neocons

June 29th, 2013 · No Comments

RG mailhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/26/frontman-bono-harry-browne-review
The Guardian 26 June 2013
The Frontman: Bono (In The Name of Power) by Harry Browne – review
Bono the philanthropist is nothing but a crony of bankers and neocons,
argues Terry Eagleton*

Terry Eagleton*

Bono arriving for a visit to 10 Downing Street in March 2013. Photograph:
Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

It is no surprise that Bono and Bob
Geldof,
the two leading
celebrity
philanthropists
of our time, are both Irish. The Ireland into which they
were born in the 1960s was caught between third and first worlds, and so
was more likely to sympathise with the wretched of the earth than were the
natives of Hampstead. As a devoutly Christian nation, it also had a long
missionary tradition. Black babies were a familiar object of charity in
Ireland long before Hollywood movie stars began snapping them up.
Bono
himself was a member of a
prayer group in the 1970s, before he stumbled on
leather trousers and wrap-around shades. Scattered across the globe by
hunger and turmoil at home, the Irish have long been a cosmopolitan people,
far less parochial than their former proprietors. Small nations cannot
afford the insularity of the great. *
*

*The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power) (Counterblasts)*

by Harry Browne

Besides, if you were born into this remote margin of Europe and yearned for
the limelight, it helped to have an eye-catching cause and a mania for
self-promotion. Rather as the Irish in general were forced by internal
circumstance to become an international people, so men like Bono and Geldof
could use their nationality to leap on to the world stage.

Bono belongs to the new, cool, post-political Ireland; but by turning back
to the old, hungry, strife-torn nation, now rebaptised as Africa, he could
bridge the gap between the two. Even so, he has not been greatly honoured
in his own notoriously begrudging country, or elsewhere. Harry Browne
recounts the (perhaps apocryphal) tale of the singer standing on stage
clapping while declaring: “Every time I clap my hands, a child dies.” “Then
stop fucking doing it!” yelled a voice from the crowd.

Paul David Hewson’s rise to fame also coincides with the postmodern decline
of politics into spectacle. What
more suitable politician than a rock star in an age of manufactured
sentiments and manipulated images? Having strayed in from showbusiness,
Bono can present himself as outside the political arena, speaking simply
from the heart; but his fame as a musician also means that he has a
constituency of millions, which means in turn that the political
establishment are eager to have him on the inside. For all his carefully
crafted self-irony (how ridiculous for me, an overpaid rock star from
working-class Dublin, to be saving the world!), the inside is a place he
has never betrayed any great reluctance to occupy. Since an outsider is
unlikely to know much about global economics, he is likely to take his cue
from the conventional wisdom of the insiders, which is why Bono is both
maverick and conservative.

One result of his campaigning has been a kind of starvation chic. In this
impressively well-researched polemic, Browne recounts how Ali Hewson,
Bono’s wife, praised the work of her company’s Paris-based clothes designer
for being influenced by dusty African landscapes. She admired “the way some
of the clothes look like they’ve been worn before and sort of restitched …
to incorporate the continent, in a sense”. Hewson’s Messianic husband, or
“the little twat with the big heart”, as Viz magazine once dubbed him, has
been trying to incorporate Africa into his image for a good few decades
now. Like Geldof, he inherited the social conscience of the 1960s without
its political radicalism, which is why he has proved so convenient a front
man for the neo-liberals.

In fact, as Browne points out, he has cosied up to racists such as Jesse
Helms , whitewashed
architects of the Iraqi adventure such as Tony Blair and Paul
Wolfowitz
,
and discovered a soulmate in the shock-doctrine economist Jeffrey
Sachs
.
He has also brownnosed the Queen, sucked up to the Israelis, grovelled at
the feet of corporate bullies and allied himself with rightwing anti-condom
US evangelicals in Africa. The man who seems to flash a peace sign every
four seconds apparently has no problem with the sponsorship of the arms
corporation BAE. His consistent mistake has been to regard these powers as
essentially benign, and to see no fundamental conflict of interests between
their own priorities and the needs of the poor. They just need to
be sweet-talked by a charmingly bestubbled Celt. Though he has undoubtedly
done some good in the world, as this book readily acknowledges, a fair bit
of it has been as much pro-Bono as pro bono republico.

If Bono really knew the history of his own people, he would be aware that
the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s was not the result of a food shortage.
Famines rarely are. There were plenty of crops in the country, but they had
to be exported to pay the landlords’ rents. There was also enough food in
Britain at the time to feed Ireland several times over. What turned a
crisis into a catastrophe was the free market doctrine for which the U2
front man is so ardent an apologist. Widespread hunger is the result of
predatory social systems, a fact that Bono’s depoliticising language of
humanitarianism serves to conceal.

Browne’s case is simple but devastating. As a multimillionaire investor,
world-class tax avoider, pal of Bush and Blair and crony of the bankers and
neo-cons, Bono has lent credence to the global forces that wreak much of
the havoc he is eager to mop up. His technocratic, west-centred,
corporation-friendly campaigns have driven him into one false solution,
unsavoury alliance and embarrassing debacle after another. The poor for
him, Browne claims, exist largely as objects of the west’s charity. They
are not seen as capable of the kind of militant mobilisation that might
threaten western interests.

Bertolt Brecht tells the
tale of a king in the East who was pained by all the suffering in the
world. So he called his wise men together and asked them to inquire into
its cause. The wise men duly looked into the matter, and returned with the
news that the cause of the world’s suffering was the king.

• Terry Eagleton’s *Across the Pond: An Englishman’s View of America* is
published by Norton.

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