Muhammad marketing mishaps in Sydney

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I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, All over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out a warning, I’d hammer out love between, My brothers and my sisters, All over this land.

So begins the first stanza of “The Hammer Song”. Written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, the progressive anthem had its first public performance by Seeger in 1949 at a rally in New York on behalf of the leaders of the Communist Party-USA, who were on trial for sedition. It was recorded by The Weavers in 1950 but attracted little popular interest. In 1962 Peter, Paul and Mary recorded their version, which reached the top of the charts in August of that year.  The song has continued to move away from its Communist roots and has been recorded by artists ranging from Luther Vandross to the Von Trapp Family Singers — (never knew they too were secret Communists).

My introduction to the song — and the Peter, Paul & Mary oeuvre — came in summer camp and church youth groups. In the space of 25 years “The Hammer Song”  had been sanitized — homogenized if you will.  Stalinist agitprop rendered into wholesome children’s camp fire music.

As I write this post it is Friday evening. Time for some free association and thoughts of change (and decay all around I see). What I once believed the “The Hammer Song” meant and what it’s authors meant bore no relationship to one another.  For that matter, what did “Puff the Magic Dragon” mean?

The Australian the largest daily newspaper in Australia and a part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire– this week published an expose challenging the cherished beliefs of one religious group. It took a hammer to Mypeace exposing their claims as exaggerations at best or deliberate falsehoods. The Australian press — the Fairfax newspapers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald in particular — are strongly anti-clerical, but I nevertheless was surprised to read this story entitled: “Ads for Islam ‘misquote Shaw from bogus book’”.

The article began:

Anti-”Islamophobia” advertisements due to screen on major free-to-air channels from today rely on a fabricated quote from Irish playwright and avowed atheist George Bernard Shaw, from a book that does not exist, according to the International Shaw Society.

The 30-second ads have been funded by the Sydney-based Mypeace organisation, which says it hopes to “build bridges” between Muslims and other Australians. Animated with voiceovers and with quotations displayed on the screen, they feature major historical figures including Mahatma Gandhi and Shaw praising the prophet Mohammed.

Hows that for a strong opening! And notice the small “p” in prophet in the last sentence. The BBC, to cite one outlet, in deference to Muslim sensibilities always uses a capital “P”. The story reports:

The advertisements quote Shaw proclaiming the prophet Mohammed was “the saviour of humanity” in a book he is supposed to have written entitled ‘The Genuine Islam’. But International Shaw Society treasurer Richard F Dietrich said he had compiled a complete list of Shaw’s works. which did not include the book. “I think ‘The Genuine Islam’ is bogus”, he said.

The Australian does not stop there, but goes for the kill.

In his writings, Shaw described the religion in a 1933 letter to Rev Ensor Walters as “ferociously intolerant”. “Mahomet rose up at the risk of his life and insulted the stones (that the Arabs worshipped) shockingly, declaring that there is only one God, Allah, the glorious and the great…And there was to be no nonsense about toleration”, Shaw wrote. “You accepted Allah or you had your throat cut by someone who did accept him, and who went to Paradise for having sent you to Hell”.

The article further states the Shaw-Muhammad myth had its origins in a newspaper article.

The suggestion that Shaw may have written a book entitled “The Genuine Islam” has its origins in an interview between Shaw and Muslim propagandist Maulana Mohammed Abdul Aleem Siddiqui published in a Muslim periodical in January 1936. The interview took place in Mombasa, Kenya, some time between April 10 and 20, 1935, and copies of the periodical remain. It contains a quotation which describes Mohammed as the “saviour of humanity” and Islam as having “wonderful vitality” and “the chance to rule of Britain, nay, Europe, in the next hundred years”, but these are not recorded as the words of Shaw.

When was the last time you read the phrase “Muslim propagandist” in a mainstream newspaper. The article closes with this word from Mypeace.

Mypeace, a Muslim organisation dedicated to fostering understanding of Islam did not respond to The Australian’s requests for comment. Mypeace founder Diaa Mohamed told the [Sydney] Daily Telegraph the advertisements were a response to “misinformation” about the prophet.

That will  leave a mark. Lest you not see what The Australian did in the closing … they lay out a story documenting misinformation being broadcast in the Mypeace advert and then close with a quote taken from a rival paper (something normally not done) where Mypeace claims they were fighting misinformation. Was this take down over the top? “Muslim propagandist”? The closing insinuation of hypocrisy? Or should The Australian be praised for applying the same standard to Islam that it applies to the Catholic or Anglican Churches in Australia?

Was there an innocent explanation for Mypeace’s mistake? Had there arisen a [false] folk memory of Shaw praising Muhammad that entered the conventional of Western Muslims 75 years later? After all Shaw did have good things to say about Stalin and Mussolini. Would it be too much of a stretch for any but a Shaw scholar to believe the playwright added Muhammad to his pantheon? Or, is the Costanza law of history at work here? “It’s not a lie, if you believe it.”?

What say you GR readers?

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  • George Conger

    N.b. The Sydney Daily Telegraph is owned by the same corporation, News Limited, that owns The Australian. However, I consider their news staffs to be rival organizations. Just as the NY Post and Wall Street Journal are rivals though they are owned by the same corporation.

    • Tim Hoskins

      The New York Post wishes it was the Wall Street Journal’s rival.

  • Frank Elliott

    Pete Seeger of the Weavers left the Communist Party by 1949, the same year that he penned the “Hammer Song.” This song was first sung by the Weavers to protest the trial of the American Communist Party leadership for their political beliefs. Putting Americans on trial for their political beliefs was and is un-American. That is precisely the warning that the Weavers were “hammering out.”

    It seems to me that Christians who dissent from their government and turn to civil disobedience as a means of speech would recognize the importance of protecting free political speech – especially unpopular speech.


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