Benjamin Zephaniah interviewed
by Dan Glazebrook exclusive for
Sons of Malcolm
PART THREE: Fighting back
"I think it’s a fact that it’s not going to be very long before America is not going to be the dominant power. And when you go to China, you can see that China is going to be..."
What about the struggle on a global scale? Recent years have witnessed an impressive development of unity in the developing world, which has been growing into a challenge to US political dominance and discriminatory trade policies. This has largely been spearheaded by China along with the new left movement developing in Latin America. Benjamin has lived in China for some years now so I am interested to hear his take on this.
“I think it’s a fact that it’s not going to be very long before America is not going to be the dominant power. And when you go to China, you can see that China is going to be. And China also has to change because if China has the power that America has, and doesn’t change, and doesn’t become more transparent, we will be really fucked! The Chinese government and the people are not sentimental at all. If you try and talk to the average Chinese person about the death penalty, they just say “no – kill them”. “What, but somebody just stole a bag, they may need some help.” “Kill them – and then take their kidneys and take them to someone who needs a kidney” So I would hope that in this new world order China is more influenced by Chavez and some other people who are a little less brutal than the Chinese, but it is going to happen, it really is. Unless you are there in China and seeing it, its almost like there are some boxers in a boxing ring, and they are boxing away, but what you don’t see is that there’s one being trained in the gym that hasn’t come into the ring yet and this one is going to knock you all out! This is the big one, it really is: China is nuclear, it has more dollars, almost than America itself – it’s certainly got the biggest reserves - and if you think about some of the positive stuff – it’s moved more people out of poverty than in the history of mankind…”
“When you meet people in China now who see themselves as middle class, they can remember when they were peasants in the field – in Britain you’d have to talk to people a few generations back, in China you just talk to one. And I do like the fact that they can take a stand against America sometimes. What Venezuela do sometimes is fascinating and I’ve spent time in Cuba. Chavez, a few years ago, said he we’re not going to just have the army sit there waiting for a war: start making houses! And he got them to work, building roads, building houses. These places aren’t heaven, but then there’s another thing: in China there are so many people who write against China; it’s a very fashionable thing to do right now, how people suffered during the Cultural Revolution. But what the fuck happened before it? This so called state had absolute power. Look at Cuba – what was before Castro? Women were forced into prostitution, Americans didn’t even need a passport to go there, it was their playground for sex and gambling - and now Cuba has 99.9% literacy, it’s the only country in the world to have achieved that. When the New Orleans disaster happened, there were something like 500 Cuban doctors volunteered to go and they wouldn’t let them in and at a time when they wouldn’t even get their own doctors there. These doctors were willing to volunteer: fly themselves there, work without wages and all that; but Bush didn’t care.”
What about China’s commitment to the environment? I have heard they are building some eco cities using the latest green technology?
“Yeah, they are quite amazing: you get some of the most polluted cities in the world, and then you get this complete carbon neutral city, and there’s a couple of carbon neutral villages. They’re very efficient. One of the good things about having a one party state is that if there’s something that needs to be done, it just gets done. The bad thing is that if there is a bad thing that’s being done there’s no one to oppose it; but if something really needs to be done, they just get it done.” I tell him how impressed I was with the Chinese relief effort during the earthquake, when the army was on the scene almost immediately. “Even in the mountainous zone, even before the army got there, the local police, anybody that survived, just started digging.”
Is there anything positive in the current rise in popularity of religious movements?
“If Jesus saw Christianity, if Mohammed saw Islam, I think they’d all be horrified by it, by the way it’s manifested itself. Mohammed was quite progressive. People see it as reactionary now, you know a man marrying lots of women – but at the time he was saving the lives of those women – they were going to be condemned to live on the streets and prostitution, so at the time it was a very progressive thing to do. But what happened is men have held this power thing over women and they misuse religion for their own gain and things get wrongly interpreted. There’s no such thing in the Koran about women wearing a veil, people brought this stuff in. In Christianity the only time Christ ever went into a church was the only time he ever lost his temper, so it shows you it’s not about the church. I mean, where did he spend his time? On the streets with what we’d call today the whores and the AIDS victims, the lepers, that’s where he was! He wasn’t in church dressing up on Sunday banging the bible! And people find it hard to imagine Jesus not having blonde hair and blue eyes! My mother who is a black woman finds it hard to! But his family came out of Egypt – he would have looked like a cross between Yasser Arafat and Bob Marley!”
Before we part company, I ask Benjamin what projects he is currently working on.
“Well actually I have a book about my travels in China coming out. It’s a very small book; I wanted to call it “Enter the Money Monk” but for some reason the publishers didn’t like that. So they are calling it a “Kung Fu Trip” or something.” Benjamin has so far written four acclaimed novels aimed at teens; I ask if there are any new ones in the pipeline. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s about kids taking over the world…A bit Lord of the Flies, a bit Animal Farm.”
Any films coming out?
“Teachers Dead” is being made into a film. Well, the script has been delivered to the BBC but I’m not happy with it. It’s a bit complicated; we are having a re-think, so it may happen, it may not. And Face, my first novel, has also been made into a film.
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