Wie umgehen mit den sexuellen Übergriffen in Köln und Hamburg?

Für jede Frau muss ein solcher Moment im höchsten Maße furchterregend sein. In Köln haben in der Silvesternacht betrunkene, agressive Männer im Stadtzentrum Frauen eingekreist und diese angegriffen und begrapscht. Die Zahl der Männer wird hierbei auf 500 bis zu 1000 geschätzt, und ersten Einschätzungen zufolge waren die Angriffe koodiniert. Ein Minister beschrieb die Ereignisse als einevollkommen neue Dimension von Verbrechen”. Wolfgang Albers zufolge, dem Polizeipräsidenten, fand hier ein sexuelles Verbrechen besonderen Ausmaßes statt. Er gab an: “Die Taten wurden von einer Gruppe von Personen verübt, die dem Anschein nach zu großen Teilen aus Nordafrika und der arabischen Welt stammen.”

Das Ausmaß sexueller Gewalt gegen Frauen weltweit ist überwältigend: Es ist grauenerregend, herzzerreißend und letztendlich macht es wütend. Ob in der Öffentlichkeit oder innerhalb der vermeintlich sicheren eigenen vier Wände, die Angriffe gegen Frauen kennen keine Grenzen. Um die Vereinten Nationen zu zitieren: “Es wird angenommen, dass 35% aller Frauen weltweit im Laufe ihres Lebens entweder körperliche und/oder sexuelle Gewalt eines Intimpartners oder sexuelle Gewalt eines nicht-Partners erfahren. Manche nationalen Studien zeigen, dass bis zu 70% der Frauen im Laufe ihres Lebens körperliche und/oder sexuelle Gewalt eines Intimpartners erfahren.”

Die Übergriffe in Köln sind also nicht im luftleeren Raum entstanden, sondern vielmehr Ausdruck einer ernstzunehmenden, globalen Situation. Das mag sich dramatisch anhören, aber die Zahlen und Augenzeugenberichte sprechen für sich. Die Zeitung The Guardian berichtet: Eines der Opfer, Katja L., sagte gegenüber dem Kölner Express: “Als wir aus der U-Bahn Station kamen, waren wir von der Gruppe ausschließlich ausländischer Männer, auf die wir trafen, total überraschtWir sind durch die Gruppe gelaufen, es gab einen Tunnel durch sie hindurch. Ich wurde überall angefasst. Es war ein Alptraum. Obwohl wir schrien und um uns schlugen, haben die Männer nicht aufgehört. Es war entsetzlich, und ich glaube ich bin auf den 200 Metern Fußweg bestimmt 100 Mal angefasst worden.” Einer der Ermittler sagte gegenüber dem Kölner Express: “Die weiblichen Opfer wurden so schlimm herumgeschubst, dass sie heftige blaue Flecken an Brüsten und Hinterteilen hatten.”

The Guardian berichtete weiterhin: “Die Angriffe waren zentraler Diskussionspunkt auf Twitter, wo manche den Medien Vertuschung unterstellten und die Besorgnis, die Vorfälle könnten von Anti-Flüchtlingsgruppierungen für sich genutzt werden, Ausdruck fand.”

Innerhalb der Auseinandersetzung besteht die tatsächliche Gefahr, dass die angegriffenen Frauen aus dem Blick verschwinden, begraben unter einer Debatte zwischen Links und Rechts. Genaugenommen passiert das bereits. Bleiben wir daher bei den Fakten.

Zahlreiche Frauen wurden auf einem öffentlichen Platz von bis zu eintausend Männern in eine Falle gelockt. Neunzig Opfer haben gegenüber der Polizei ausgesagt. Es gab darüber hinaus ähnliche sexuelle Übergriffe in der selben Nacht in Hamburg. Die Selbstverständlichkeit, mit welcher die Männer hierbei über die Körper der Frauen verfügten, ist entsetzlich.

Die Vorfälle sind dabei durchaus kontrovers zu verstehen, hat doch Kanzlerin Angela Merkel im Verlauf der letzten 12 Monate um die 1 Million Geflüchtete aus Afrika und der arabischen Welt ins Land gelassendieselbe demographisch dominante Gruppe unter den jungen Männern, die diese Angriffe ausführten. Merkels Politik wird nun von vielen für den Anstieg von Sex-Attacken verantwortlich gemacht.

Dennoch wird dies keinen Einfluss darauf haben, dass sich die laufende Debatte um das ThemaRassedreht. Also können wir uns auch damit beschäftigen. Deutschland ist nicht gerade divers und die Mehrheit der Schwarzen und arabischen Menschen scheinen der Arbeiterschaft anzugehören. Dafür gibt es alle möglichen wirtschaftlichen Gründe, zum Beispiel die Tatsache, dass Menschen aus Afrika und dem Nahen Osten es durchaus schwer haben, Papiere zu bekommen und Arbeit aufzunehmen, wenn sie erst einmal hier sind.

In Berlin, wo ich lebe, ist die überwältigende Mehrheit Schwarzer, im Alltag sichtbarer Männer arm, obdachlos oder im Drogenverkauf auf der Warschauer Straße oder am Görlitzer Park, zwei der belebteren Bahnhöfe der Stadt, involviert. Und mit überwältigender Mehrheit meine ich so um die 80%, wenn nicht noch mehr. Und auch wenn es provokant klingt, ich denke die sozio-ökonomischen Umstände und die Frage, weshalb diese Schwarzen Männer eigentlich so arm sind, interessieren einfach auch nicht genügend Menschen hier vor Ort. Ich denke es gibt vielmehr eine weit verbreitete Tendenz, die größer ist als so manche hier anerkennen mögen, zu glauben, Schwarze Männer seien grundsätzlich weniger vertrauenswürdig oder eben kriminell.

Ich behaupte dies teilweise auch aufgrund meiner eigenen Erfahrungen in der Stadt und von Berichten mehrerer meiner nicht-weißen Freunde. Ein Freund aus Westafrika fand es bei einem Besuch der Stadt so schwierig eine AirB&B Wohnung zu finden, dass er jemand Dritten für sich buchen lassen musste. Berichte von Schwarzen, die versuchen in der eh schon schwierigen Wohnsituation in Berlin Zimmer oder Appartments zu finden, lassen ein Gesamtbild von Diskriminierung ziemlich deutlich zu Tage treten. Ziemlich alltäglich bin ich immer wieder überrascht, wie oft es passiert, dass weiße Berliner – auch in voll besetzten Zügen – den Platz neben mir verlassen, allem Anschein nach wenig angetan von der Aussicht neben einem Mann mit afrikanisch anmutendem Äußeren zu sitzen. Und sollte sich das paranoid anhören, dann muss gesagt werden, dass mir dies erst auffiel, als ich von einem weißen, kopfschüttelnden Mann amüsiert darauf hingewiesen wurde. Für jene, die denken, ich sei übersensibel, möchte ich ein paar Fakten herausstellen. Ich liebe diese Stadt und hier zu leben ist es wert auch mit solchen Unannehmlichkeiten zurecht zu kommen. Aber diese Dinge haben mir vor Augen geführt, dass die kulturellen Erwartungen an Schwarze Männer in manchen Gegenden Deutschlands bereits erschreckend niedrig sind. Und jetzt haben wir also auch noch solche Angriffe wie in Köln, einer der schlimmsten seiner Sorte, an die ich mich überhaupt erinnern kann.

Also was schließen wir jetzt aus dieser Analyse? Eigentlich simpel. Stehen wir den Frauen bei. Als Schwarze nner mit afrikanischen Wurzeln hassen uns die Rassisten in Deutschland sowieso. Sie dachten schon beim ersten Anblick wir seien Vergewaltiger und Perverse und jede sonstige Form von Sexualverbrechern. Ihnen sind die Frauen, die in Köln und Hamburg angegriffen wurden egal jenseits der Möglichkeit hier die vermeintlichen Beweise dafür zu finden, dass wir genauso animalisch sind, wie sie es immer schon befürchtetoder gehoffthatten. Deswegen sind mir diese Leute eigentlich egal. Es stört mich auch nicht wirklich, wenn irgendjemand eben nicht neben mir im Zug sitzen will. Die Angst vor dem Unbekannten ist schwierig abzugewöhnen. Mich interessieren vielmehr die Frauen, welche sich jetzt in der Öffentlichkeit mehr denn je unsicher und ängstlich fühlen müssen. Ich denke nicht, dass Frauen sich jemals wirklich wohl gefühlt haben, bei Nacht durch Ansammlungen betrunkener, agressiver Männer gehen zu müssen, egal welche Herkunft diese haben. Aber Männer afrikanischer oder arabischer Herkunft werden zukünftig mit noch mehr vorsichtiger Zurückhaltung und Mißtrauen von Frauen zu tun haben.

Hier ist also was ich denke, was getan werden sollte. Wieso fangen wir nicht bei dem prinzipiellen Grundrecht der Frau an, sich, wo immer sie sich auch auf der Welt befindet, frei auf der Straße bewegen zu können, ohne dabei angegrabscht zu werden.

Und wieso sehen wir dies nicht als perfekten Moment für den Mann an, egal welchen Hintergrunds, ernsthaft wütend darüber zu werden, wie Frauen im öffentlichen Raum behandelt werden und sich dem Glauben, es sei irgendwie sozial anerzogen und Teil unseres unkontrollierbaren sexuellen Drangs, Frauen zu objektifizieren und zu belästigen, wenn sie vorbeilaufen, mit Nachdruck zu widersetzen. Lasst uns unser Bestes tun, der global schon viel zu lange vorherrschenden Frauenfeindlichkeit entgegenzutreten und den wie auch immer gearteten sexistischen Lehren der Unterdrückung zu entsagen. Weil Frauen es leid sind uns darüber zu berichten und einen Kampf zu kämpfen, der viel zu lange schon viel zu wenig Aufmerksamkeit erfahren hat.

How to deal with the sexual assaults in Cologne and Hamburg.

For any woman, the sight must have been terrifying. On New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne, groups of drunk and aggressive men surrounded them in the town centre, groping and mugging them. The estimates are that there were between 500 to 1000 attackers, and the early indications are that their efforts were co-ordinated. A minister described these events as a completely new dimension of crime”. According to Wolfgang Albers, the police president, “sexual crimes took place on a huge scale.” He continued: “The crimes were committed by a group of people who from appearance were largely from the north African or Arab world.”

The volume of sexual violence against women worldwide is extraordinary: it is horrifying, heartbreaking, and finally it is enraging. Whether women are in public or in the supposed safety of their own homes, the offences committed against them are off the scale. To quote the United Nations, It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. (My italics.) The Cologne assaults, then, did not occur in isolation, but as a particularly severe eruption of a situation which, in global terms, has always been volcanic.

If that sounds dramatic, then so be it: after all, the statistics and the eye-witness accounts are stark enough. As the Guardian reports:

One of the victims, identified only as Katja L, told the Kölner Express: “When we came out of the station, we were very surprised by the group we met, which was made up only of foreign men…We walked through the group of men, there was a tunnel through them, we walked through…I was groped everywhere. It was a nightmare. Although we shouted and hit them, they men didn’t stop. I was horrified and I think I was touched around 100 times over the 200 metres.” One investigator told the Kölner Express: “The female victims were so badly pushed about, they had heavy bruises on their breasts and behinds.”

The Guardian continues:

“The attacks have been the main talking point on Twitter in Germany, with some people accusing the media of a cover-up and others expressing their concern that the incident would be seized on by anti-refugee groups.”

In the ensuing conversation, there is a very real danger that the women assaulted will disappear from view, quickly buried beneath a tug-of-words between the Right and the Left. In fact, it has already happening. So let us reiterate the facts. Scores of women were set upon by up to a thousand men in a public place. Ninety of them made complaints to police. There were also sexual assaults of a similar fashion in Hamburg on the same night. The level of entitlement that these men felt towards the bodies of their victims is appalling.

These events are proving particularly controversial because the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has within the last twelve months admitted something like a million refugees from Africa and the Arab world – the same demographic dominant among the young men who carried out these assaults. Merkel’s policy is therefore being blamed by many for the influx of sex attackers. On a point of accuracy, it must be noted that many of these attackers were already known to the police, and were not drawn from the recently-arrived refugees. (UPDATE: The Cologne police, in a fresh report issued a few hours ago, have stated that the majority of the attackers comprised freshly-arrived refugees. The link is here.)

This conversation will inevitably be dominated by the issue of race, so we may as well go there. In racial terms, Germany is not particularly diverse, and the majority of the black and Arab people you see tend to be working-class. There are all sorts of economic reasons for that, one being that those arriving from Africa and the Middle East find it very difficult to get papers or work once they are here. In Berlin, where I live, the overwhelming majority of black men you see every day are poor, homeless, or selling drugs by Görlitzer Bahnhof or Warschauer Strasse, two of the city’s busier train stations. And when I say the overwhelming majority, I would say something like eighty per cent, if not more. And, at the risk of sounding uncharitable, I don’t think that as many people as I would like are concerned with the socio-economic nuances of why these black men are so poor. I think that there is instead a tendency, more widespread that many people might like to acknowledge, to regard black men as inherently untrustworthy or criminal.

I say this partly because of my own experiences in the city, and from speaking to several other friends who are non-white. A friend from West Africa, when visiting the city, found it so difficult to secure an AirB&B apartment that he had to ask someone to do it on his behalf. The stories of black people struggling to find rooms and flats in the city are legion – not that it is easy to rent in Berlin anyway, given the popularity of this place, but the tales of discrimination do all start to stack up after a while. More mundanely, I am struck by how often – even on the most crowded of trains – white Berliners will leave a space next to me, somehow fearing the prospect of sitting next to a male of African appearance. And if that sounds paranoid, then it was only something I first noticed when a sympathetic white man, shaking his head with bemused laughter, pointed it out to me.

For those who might think that I am being overly sensitive, I will say that I am merely stating facts. I love this city, and life here is well worth dealing with these inconveniences. But these instances have made me realise that the cultural expectations of black men in some parts of Germany are already dangerously low. And now we have these attacks in Cologne, one of the worst incidents of its nature that I can recall. 

So, what to do with all of this analysis? Well, it is actually simple. Let’s just keep sticking up for the women. As far as being a black man of African descent goes, the racists in Germany and elsewhere hate us anyway. They thought we were rapists and perverts and other assorted forms of sex attacker the second they set eyes on us. They don’t care about the women who were attacked in Cologne and Hamburg, except to prove the point that we are the animals that they always thought – or hoped – we were. In return, I don’t care about them. Nor am I too bothered by the people who don’t want to sit next to me on the train. Fear of the unknown is a hard thing to unlearn. I am most concerned, by far, with the safety of the women who may now be more frightened than ever to enter public spaces.  I don’t think that women have ever felt particularly comfortable walking through crowds of drunk and aggressive men at night, regardless of the race of those men. But groups of young men of North African and Arab origin, whatever their intentions, will most likely endure more trepidation from women than before.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped. And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past. Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny which has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.

 

My new articles for The Economist on innovation and the future.

Late last year, I was commissioned by The Economist to write some articles on innovation and the future. I thought I would put them in one place, in case you’d like to read them in a spare moment or two. I hope you have time to take a look, and that you enjoy them.

  1. A wider cast: the ethics (and economics) of diversity in film
  2. Time over money: Wandering the world with the New Rich
  3. Holograms and the democratisation of modern football
  4. Softly, softly: the future of impact investing
  5. Spontaneity and the modern office
  6. In praise of “techno-optimists”
  7. The rise of the countryside

 

Role models for men are underrated.

Right, since it’s International Men’s Day, I thought I would write something quick. I would simply like to say that I think that role models for men are underrated. I remember watching a popular Charles Barkley advert for Nike, in which he said that he was not a role model, and that parents should be role models. I understood the sentiment – that it should not be the job of a total stranger to raise or inspire your child – but I disagreed with it then, and I disagree with it even more now. If you grow up without parents, or without attentive ones, then you often look for those figures elsewhere – and, at the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I do think that we have a responsibility for how we conduct ourselves, particularly when it comes to the next generation and the examples they take from us. It is remarkable how many men will adopt without question the behaviour of men they admire. This is why men like Sonny Bill Williams, Hakeem Olajuwon and Andres Iniesta are important – because even at the peak of their fame, they show compassion, humility and warmth, qualities not readily enough associated with being a man. This is why men like Adel Termos, Captain Mbaye Diagne, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Janusz Bardach should have statues in their honour. 

And manhood, being a man, are things we frequently take for granted, but I don’t think being a man is particularly easy. I don’t mean that in some sob-story kind of way, but more strategically: as in how, in a world which is weighted so much in favour of men, I can usefully act to make a positive difference. And I don’t claim to have any particularly enlightened status here – at the age of thirty-six, I am still watching, and learning, and listening. Because I definitely won’t always get it right, but that is never an excuse for not trying.

 

On the Paris Attacks.

In a few hours I’ll meet up with my local football team, SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale, to play football. I’m not sure if I’ll get a game, as my first touch seems to have regressed as quickly as my hairline in recent years, but I am so proud just to be part of the squad. I think that there is something very special about my club’s ethos: to quote, “SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale is an international ‘freizeit’ football team based in Berlin which stands against sexism, racism, fascism and homophobia.

What a beautiful, noble aim. Just last night, when news of the Paris attacks first broke, I and some fellow team-mates had been watching a friend – one of our first-choice centre-backs – launching his new single. (He’s a singer-songwriter in that late-Sixties style, really good actually. He is definitely a case of “you should probably give up the day job”.

This weekend I am indulging in two of my favourite things: watching football, and playing live music. Of course, these are two of the things that Parisians were so enjoying just before the horror. And there was something so overwhelming, so jarring, so futile about watching the news develop on our smartphones, knowing that the innocence of a night out just like ours was being torn away forever.

So, at a time like this, how can we respond? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I will try to respond in two ways. First of all, with bravery. And by bravery I don’t mean lust for retribution – for any response obviously needs to be considered calmly and carefully. By bravery I mean trying to be more kind and compassionate than ever; by critiquing and rejecting extremism wherever I can. And secondly, wherever possible, I will try to respond with gratefulness. My world was not broken apart last night, nor has it been touched by the desperation faced by so many refugees. And so, in that spirit of gratefulness, I will try to be that little bit better a son, brother, and human being; and, maybe, even that little bit better a footballer. Because this brief, gentle, fragile life is all that we have, and I will set forward to live it with as open a heart and with as much optimism as I can. And so, now all that’s said: Go Inter.

Jeremy Corbyn and The Times: Saudi Arabia and agenda-setting.

An intriguing thing happened this morning. The Times, in its editorial section, published a scathing critique of Saudi Arabia. In an extract tweeted by one of its most influential writers, Tim Montgomerie, it commented that:

“Britain must use every opportunity to press for reform in the kingdom. It must speak out on behalf of political prisoners, and openly rather than behind closed doors. For too long the fear of losing arms deals or other business has constrained criticism. Saudi Arabia considers itself an ally of the West. Yet there can be no ambiguity in this relationship. Not when it comes to the funding of jihadists by Saudi businessmen. Nor when its courts flog, behead and crucify those who question the wisdom of the princes in power.” (My italics.)

This is, I think, a hugely significant development. The Times boasts some of the commentators most respected by the Conservative Party; not only Mr. Montgomerie, but, to name a couple, Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris. This is an editorial of which its most senior members will probably take careful note, and we do not have to look too far to see what might have prompted its publication. Just a day before, Mr. Montgomerie had tweeted that “Corbyn 100% right to criticise Cameron and UK’s suck up relationship with odious Saudi regime”.

He was referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference, in which Corbyn stated that “nor does it help our national security to give such fawning and uncritical support to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who abuse their own citizens and repress democratic movements.”

It is remarkable to see The Times so strongly criticise a key British ally. Perhaps there are several of those in the British Government itself who have long since secretly tired of their relationship with Saudi Arabia. But it looks like it is Corbyn who has been the catalyst for the expression of louder discontent.

Just a few hours before he shared that extract to the Times editorial, Mr. Montgomerie had tweeted another extract, this time from an article of his own, in which he wrote that:

“In its last period of office Labour did things – like introduce the minimum wage, advance gay equality and devolve power – that a Tory government probably wouldn’t have done but now accepts. Politics needs the main party of opposition to be healthy generator of ideas and to possess the capacity to hold power to account. That cannot be said of Labour at the moment. The Corbyn experiment needs to be terminated quickly but we’ve learned quickly that it might be half-competent enough to survive for a couple of years or more.” (Again, my italics.)

With respect to Mr. Montgomerie, it does seem like Corbyn and Labour are in fact generating ideas, and do indeed possess some capacity to hold power to account – because, if it were not for the Labour leader’s speech, it is unlikely that this Times editorial would have been so forceful, or even appeared at all. There are many critiques of Corbyn’s alliances and views, one of the most forceful of which came from Steve Moore just a few days ago, and they will continue to come. The concerns about his foreign policy outlook will continue to be raised, and rightly so – especially for someone in his position. We should note another trend, though – which is that issues that we rarely see discussed, such as that of Bahrain, are now on the table. Corbyn and his party have been mocked for being more interested in talking than doing, but the truth is that policy changes often only come about after vigorous debate.  Given that Corbyn has only been on the job a few days, and has seemingly prompted a step this major, we can only wonder what conversations he will prompt if he remains in his position for a couple of years or more.

 

The next time Sandra Bland

The next time Sandra Bland

Should drive through a particularly bigoted town,

She should make sure she does so

with her windows rolled right down,

so the officer can see her hands, and is reassured

she’s not storing an assault rifle in her lap.

She should also – I don’t know – try being polite;

That is to say, female and white –

For when a white policeman is in pursuit,

A black woman is only acceptable if mute.

Still, Sandra fell silent in the end,

So it’s doubtful anything she now says can offend.

The usual will happen:

People will loudly gawp at the injustice

But quietly conclude her temper was not to be trusted.

Sandra’s crime was simply that:

Smoking a cigarette while black –

Another heinous vice to add to the list,

Such as attending Bible class in Charleston,

Or simply daring to exist.

“Danger: The Role of the Poet” – my talk at Mikrofestiwal, Wroclaw, 26 June 2015.

Recently, I was very kindly invited to speak in Wroclaw, Poland, at the town’s Mikrofestiwal; below is a copy of the short talk that I gave on Friday 26 June.

—–

I have been asked to say some words today about the political potential of contemporary poetry and spoken word in the UK. And so I thought I would give my short talk the title “Danger: The Role of the Poet”.

Why am I saying that it should be the role of the poet to create a sense of danger? Well, I’m probably being a little dramatic. After all, poetry can just be about describing nice countrysides, and flowers swaying in the breeze. But it can also do so much more. Poetry is dangerous because, in a world where we are so often encouraged not to feel, poetry makes us connect with the people and the society around us. It makes us pause through its perception, through its beauty: and, most frighteningly of all, it makes us think.

Authorities are well aware of the threat posed by poets. Just a year and a half ago, in Qatar, a court upheld the prison sentence of the poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami, who was jailed for insulting the emir and spreading incendiary material. Al-Ajami had been arrested late in 2011 for his poem, “Jasmine”, in which he appeared to look forward to the prospect of political revolution in Qatar. “I hope”, he wrote, “that change will come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory lies in US forces”. By Western standards, this might have seemed relatively tame – after all, it was alleged that Al-Ajami did not even perform the poem – but the authorities had seen enough danger in his words, and consigned him to fifteen years in prison.

Fifteen years. Qatar clearly understand the danger of the poet. Al-Ajami was speaking at a time when the “Arab Spring” looked as though it would sweep away a succession of governments. “We are all Tunisia”, wrote Al-Ajami, referring to the first country where an authoritarian leader had fallen. Shortly after the publication of these words, in what was perhaps the ultimate sign of his potential influence, he was deprived of his freedom.

British poets have a far easier time of things. For the most part, we are able to speak as we please. If I would have to name the UK poets who, in recent months, have been particularly effective on the political stage, I would have to identify five people: Hollie McNish, Michael Rosen, Kate Tempest, Inua Ellams and Raymond Antrobus. I will discuss those poets each briefly in turn, but first I must explain what I mean by “effective”. By that, I simply mean that they have, through their skill with words, enabled many people to reflect upon what it means to be human, and to celebrate our common humanity.

That may not sound like much, but we are currently in a political climate where we are being encouraged daily by our media and our elected leaders to think less of “The Other”. Just last Friday, in Berlin, I attended the funeral of an unnamed Syrian man who had died whilst crossing the Mediterranean. His burial, with the consent of his family, was carried out in a cemetery in the German capital by a group called the Center for Political Beauty. The Center’s aim, in their words, is to “tear down the walls surrounding Europe’s sense of compassion”. They seek to do this by reminding us that these dead migrants are people, by making us grieve for them.

This is why the work of the five poets that I have mentioned is political, and therefore dangerous. Each of them examine the lives of those whom we would regard as marginalised, and they do so with a sympathy that is not helpful to the powerful. The first of those poets, Hollie McNish, published a poem on YouTube in February 2013 called “Mathematics”. In this poem McNish, who studied development and economics at university, challenged the assumption that immigrants merely came to the UK to take the country’s jobs. This poem has now been viewed almost two million times, and has seen McNish tour the nation with its message. “Your maths is stuck in primary”, she recites, “and most times immigrants bring more than minuses”.

Alongside McNish is Michael Rosen, whom you can follow on Twitter as @MichaelRosenYes: he uses this platform to write poems and open letters critical of institutional excess and corruption. Kate Tempest, a poet, playwright and musician, is fearless in her examination of the struggles faced by everyday people. Inua Ellams, like Kate a poet and playwright, writes and performs work with nuanced portrayals of black life. Raymond Antrobus, meanwhile, is one of the country’s first graduates of a programme where poets are trained as educators. He now teaches poetry at a school in East London, and performs his best-selling poetry collection to audiences at various festivals.

What do these poets have in common? Well, they recognise the tremendous power of the spoken and the written word. We arguably now live in an age that is better for poets than any other. The poet, after all, is gifted at one thing above all, which is to distil an image or an emotion into just a few lines, just a few words. In a world where attention spans are shortening all the time, where many of us – including me – are constantly staring at our smartphones, poets still have the ability to capture us, to captivate us. There is a reason why, when advertising agencies are looking to launch their campaigns, they come looking for the expertise of poets. It is because they know that we have an eye for a slogan, for a quick catchphrase.

This skill – to condense a complex situation into just a few lines – also lends itself well, I have found, to a career in journalism. I would encourage any poet who thinks keenly about the world around them to blog more, to report more, to comment more. When leading UK poets are called upon to provide their view to the media, they are frequently very impressive. Benjamin Zephaniah, for example, has been an outstanding advocate for social change for many years. Many other poets are actively involved in fundraising for political causes, and can be found joining marches for progressive causes.

I have spoken of the danger of poets, but I should also speak of the danger for poets. Speaking frankly, most poets will never make that much money or gain that much visibility, which can make many of us susceptible to flattery by the powerful. In that desire for publicity, celebrity or attention, we must be wary of lessening the severity of what we wish to say in order to be acceptable to a wider audience. This is, I think, a temptation. At such times, we poets need to remember that we can amplify the voices of the marginalised partly because, as a genre of artists, we are often marginalised ourselves. We poets must remember that we can promote the cause of the Other because, in so many ways, we are Other.

I don’t mean to congratulate myself and my peers too much, but I am proud of one thing. I am proud that, though the poetry world is by no means perfect, it at has at least managed to provide spaces for self-expression that many other art-forms have not. Some of the most compelling voices in the genre right now are women, or women of colour: Sabrina Mahfouz, Jessica Horn, Warsan Shire, Rosie Knight, Chimene Suleyman, Vanessa Kisuule. Poetry has also been something of a refuge for black people, for queer people. And that, I think, is because – despite the conservatism of the institutions that sometimes surround it – poetry represents freedom. It represents, at its best, the ability to speak from the heart with a carefully-honed craft.

That is poetry’s danger, and its power within the political context. Whether using YouTube or Vine, using microphones or speaking in front of a classroom, we have the ability to humanise, to inspire. That is a skill that those on our society’s fringes – the disabled, the poor, the carers, the unemployed – need us to use more than ever; and, at the risk of preaching, we must not fail them.

My debut poetry collection, “Eating Roses For Dinner”

Musa on the stairs (6)

UPDATE: you can now purchase my collection by clicking this link, for anyone using Google in order to find the book. Thank you very much for your kind support of my work.

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So, as some of you already know: I am self-publishing my debut poetry collection this summer, “Eating Roses For Dinner”, to mark my first 10 years as a poet. The cover of the book is the photo above, taken by Naomi Woddis; and the book features a foreword from Scroobius Pip, and other very kind words from artists whose work I greatly respect. It will be just under 150 pages in length.

I am charging £10 per copy, plus postage to wherever you may live; I will also sign the book with whatever dedication you would like me to include.

I am printing a very short run of books now, just to gauge initial interest, and if that goes well then I will print some more in time for Christmas. (Please share this post with anyone who might find it of interest – I have included some recommendations below from other artists, for those who do not know my work.) Thanks very much for reading everyone, and have a fantastic day.

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About my poetry:

Ed Sheeran, musician:

“I’ve known Musa for many years and I’ve always found him a very honest, poignant wordsmith. He writes from the heart with no filter, and that’s what the best lyricists do. I’m a fan.”

Kate Tempest, poet, playwright and musician:

“Musa is precise and all-encompassing in the same line. His poetry is intimate and erudite, passionate and beautiful.”

Cerys Matthews, musician and broadcaster:

“From the first time I heard Musa’s work, at a launch event in Old Street, I found it to be lyrical, heartfelt and compelling, and I have enjoyed collaborating with him since then. His work is warm, engaging and reflective, and I hope you enjoy this collection.”

Nikesh Shukla, author and playwright:

“Musa Okwonga’s work is often about space – distance travelled, loneliness, the terse relationships between people, cities, digital lives impacting our analogue sense of being in the moment, actual outer space – and it’s these landscapes that give his poetry the gravitas of someone who plays the part of social commentator in the trenches as well as alien observing our peculiarities from afar. I never fail to be moved, astonished, surprised and humoured by his warmth and deep understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to be other.”

Steven Camden (“Polarbear”), writer, spoken word artist and playwright:

“Musa dances between worlds and circles that many others can only stumble into. He writes importance and compassion and homage and love. I think of him as a disciple of beauty, in all its forms.”

For McKinney, and Eric Casebolt: “They handcuffed the black baby the second it left the womb”.

They handcuffed the black baby the second it left the womb,

Replaced its umbilical cord

With a chain attached to the wall.

“Well”, they reasoned, “it can’t get used to freedom;

Once it’s set free, it will attack.

What it needs is a knee in its back,

A SWAT team watching its cot,

And a drone sneering overhead

As its mother combs the hair of this sighing, gurgling threat.”

All in all, they say, “that police officer, Casebolt,

Did one thing wrong; he got there too late.

He should have pulled that gun on that girl

When her mother was eight months pregnant with her,

Should have pinned her down in the ward

And warned her of the angry cargo she was carrying,

Who might, fifteen years later,

Slip on a bikini and wander lethal as anthrax

Across a white suburban lawn.

Eric Casebolt did nothing but obey one whispered law:

That the birth of each black baby

Is a fresh declaration of war.”