Why we still have issues with Ieperfest [English]

Statement of the group FEL – feminist and leftist – concerning Ieperfest. For Dutch version, click here.

(Trigger warning for sexual violence, racism, Nazism, homophobia and lesbophobia)

 

 

The band Impaled Nazarene would normally have performed at the alternative music festival Ieperfest. It is a band that is known for their racist and homophobic statements, with lyrics such as:

Listen you fucking homo boys, your time has come
And if you are a lesbian, you still got a cunt to rape
It is unnatural!”

and

Why should we tolerate Pansy faggot shit
Not even in an animal world Male sucks male dick
Zero tolerance No fucking rights
Monkey fucks monkey
Punishment is aids”

and

I raped her because I did not / Wanna waste a good erection”

Nobody will be surprised that there was a lot of protest. They also have lyrics about “The Burning of Provinciestraat” (a street with a lot of people who have a background of migration), and about “untermenschen -1, 2, 3… arbeid macht frei”, and much much more.

Many are mainly surprised about why this band has ever been booked at Ieperfest? And when the problem had been brought to attention, why did it take so long to cancel them? The band was removed from the line-up only when the discussion on social media blew up.

Ieperfest is not just a festival. It is an alternative ecological festival, with an organisation that has always taken a stand against sexism and racism, and that shows an anti-sexist and anti-racist engagement with workshops and information-stands in the “More than music” tent.

FEL has taken up the problem concerning this band in May 2017. A reaction only followed after the massive protest in June, which shows that it was not a matter of principle for the organisers, but a matter of image.

The official response on the 6th of June is problematic:

Dear music lover,

After a firm debate – that’s what you do in a democracy – the organization decided to cancel Finnish band IMPALED NAZARENE (in mutual consent). Otherwise we can no longer guarantee everyone’s safety at our beloved festival.

For 25 years Ieperfest stands for the values the festival always stood for. Nothing has changed! Also, in this matter or in any matter, the organisation was, is and will be always open for discussion. Instead we are confronted with ‘internet hero’ calls for hate and violence. Everything we do not stand for!

Ieperfest consists entirely out of volunteers. People with boundless love for music, but also full-time jobs, families and children. Threatening the personal integrity of our volunteers and visitors in today’s context of attacks and raging violence… some of you should think twice!”

This, we shall say, marketing speak, does not mention the principles of Ieperfest. It does not mention the unacceptable lyrics of the band. Actually, it turns the story around and puts the blame with those people who were brave enough to stand up to the situation and protest.

The official reason to cancel the band is apparently ‘safety’. Not the safety of gay and lesbian people and/or people of colour who want to visit the festival, however, but the safety of this hate-speeching band and the broader festival. The statement references the current context of terrorist attacks, which is obviously a very problematic link. Suddenly everyone who protests is labelled a potential terrorist, instead of people who point out the principles of Ieperfest to the organisation of the festival and their responsibility to the minorities who had previously found a safe space at the festival.

You could say that we reached our goal, so why complain? We still take issue because this does not just concern this one band. Ieperfest did not apologise for putting them on the program. What is to stop Ieperfest to book a similar band next year? Will they check the reputation and song lyrics then? So far, they remained quiet on the topic.

In a later reaction in the discussion, the focus was on “shocking people”. Ieperfest said :

We are not definitely not afraid of the shocking side of this or any other band that we have ever booked or will book. Certain people however have expressed serious physical treats against the band and us as organisation if we would let the band play their set. And in these times, we want to guarantee the safety of everyone at the festival (bands, volunteers and visitors) as optimally as possible. Hence this decision.”

It is striking how often principal protest is reduced to “not being able to handle anything” or how problematic words and actions are minimised to “they just want to scandalise”. We do not care if people want to scandalise. They can go ahead. Spreading hate, however, is a different thing. How are gay and lesbian people supposed to feel safe at this festival? How are people of colour supposed to enjoy lyrics that directly threaten them? Unfortunately, their safety is not mentioned in the answer from the Ieperfest organisation.

It was all brought down to discussions on “freedom of speech”, which is often used in (pseudo)political discussions. But racism, homophobia, sexism,… are not opinions. These are crimes. And it is unacceptable to spread hate when it comes to already suppressed minorities. An alternative festival such as Ieperfest, that officially highly valuates progressive values, should know this.

Therefore we at least expect an apology.

 

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