Sinéad O’Connor: Fight the Real Enemy. Open Post.

Tuesday saw the funeral of that brave, beautiful, belligerent soul, Sinéad O'Connor. In Ireland we have a saying when a great person dies. “We'll never see their like again.”

We need to see more like Sinéad O'Connor. For that to happen, we all need to see more as she saw.

Lots of the recent obituaries have referred to Sinéad O'Connor as a rock star. Before she died, lots of the same or similar people used to call her a crazy lady (to use the politest of their terms).

She was neither.

Sinéad O'Connor was an activist, and a protest singer, and a spiritual seeker. A complex human being who did us all the favor of telling her truth, producing her art, and living out loud without a filter on her pain.

What she protested, what she sang, what she sought, was what every mindful Irishwoman of our generation protested, sang, and sought. What every mindful woman and man everywhere wants.

If we really want Sinéad to rest in peace, as the tsunami of international outpouring since her death has suggestedk, then we must listen to the words she chose to voice when she had the eyes of the world on her.

We must fight the real enemy.

Who was Sinéad O'Connor's “Real Enemy”?

For creatives and creativists, the face of the enemy changes all the time but it is always the face of power.

Dominating power. Power over, not power to. Overlording.

It's a shape-shifter, this kind of power. It turns up in a thousand contexts, which can be confusing. We all know how to recognise its face when we see it, though sometimes we need artists like Sinéad O'Connor to remind us. To open our third eye, the eye of our knowing.

To help us see the truth. To help us to speak truth to power. To help us act from truth.

Sinéad O'Connor and the song “War”

When on October 3, 1992, Sinéad O'Connor got the chance to appear on the US television show “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), of all the songs she could have picked from her own catalogue and everyone else's, she chose to sing the song “War”.

The lyrics of this song, recorded by Bob Marley for his 1976 album with the Wailers', Rastaman Vibration, come from a speech given to the United Nations in 1963 by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

Marley, along with fellow Rastafari, believe that Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as either a reincarnation of God, or a human prophet. They often refer to him as “Ras Tafari,”  his birth name, or “Jah,” or “The Lion of Judah.”

Haile Selassie I gave the “War” speech on October 4, 1963, calling for world peace, at a U.N. Conference in 1963, just a few weeks after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in Addis Ababa.  For the first time, an African head of state could speak in the name of Africa before the U.N. General Assembly.

In the original speech, Selassie urged U.N. officials and country representatives to disarm nuclear weapons, and to end international exploitation (specifically with Africa). His speech, and Marley's song, contends that racism being the cause of all wars, about how war cannot end until racism end.

Sinéad O'Connor, being an Irishwoman of her place and time, changed a few lines to turn the song into her declaration of war against child abuse, her conviction that war cannot end until racism ends.

When she finished singing the song, she then (in)famously ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II, the overlord of a powerful hierarchy of child abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church.

Sinéad O'Connor and John Paul II

In her memoir, Rememberings (War, parts 1 & 2, pp 169-178), Sinéad O'Connor goes into some detail about this picture, and her motives for tearing it up.
It had belonged to her mother, who suffered from mental illness, and had physically, emotionally and sexually abused Sinéad as a child. After she died, Sinéad took down from her bedroom wall the only photo she had ever put up, a picture of Pope John Paul II taken when he visited Ireland in 1979.
She writes:
“Young people of Ireland,” he had said, after making a show of kissing the ground at the Dublin airport… “I love you.” What a load of claptrap. Nobody loved us… nobody ever gave a shit about the children of Ireland.
The Roman Catholic church had run a powerful theocracy in ireland for seven decades since the foundation of the state, that was  horrendously cruel to women and children, and highly hypocritical. Sinéad took the picture intending to destroy it in some symbolic way.
For her it represented “lies and liars and abuse”.
In 1992, she got her chance, in the most public way, on the US Saturday Night Live Show.

Sinéad O'Connor and Saturday Night Live

To understand why she picked this time and place you have to understand her relationship with the Rastafarian community, and especially with Terry, the owner of a Rasta “juice bar”, who was teacher and mentor to her when she was lost and lonely after moving, on an impulse, from London to NYC.
Terry adopted the young waif, first thinking she was a boy (though she was already a mother by then), and drove her around the outskirts of NYC in the early hours of the morning to eat ackee and salt with elderly Jamaicans, grocers and fishmongers and butchers and such.
Sinéad writes:
Jamaicans don’t do small talk. At first this is a bit uncomfortable, because Irish people are always filling the gaps… I thought they didn’t like me, that’s why they were silent. But it ain’t anything other than they are watchers. They’re watching out for God everywhere. They’re like gods security detail.
In the backs of their stores, they call me “sister“ or “daughter“ as they hand me sources of food… It worries them that I don’t eat… Secretly [I’m] loving the food, but also feeling that painful humiliation from childhood that comes when I register hunger. It’s too connected with my mother; I can’t accept it. The food turns to pebbles in my mouth.
When she was in New York to rehearse for Saturday Night Live, she was in Terry's weed shop one night when he suddenly gestured for everyone to leave, except her. He closed the shop door, pulled the  shutters down quickly, and asked her to sit beside him on the floor. He had something to tell me. He wanted her to try to forgive him.
He told her that he ran guns and drugs and had been using kids as mules. He'd moved in on someone’s territory and it’s only a matter of time before they kill him.
Sinéad was horrified–by what he’d been doing and that he was going to be murdered. Thanks to this man who has cared for her, children were carrying guns and drugs instead of books in their school bags.
This traumatic incident leads Sinéad to think of tearing up her mother's picture of the pope, on camera, because “I’m pissed at Terri for what he told me last night.  I’m pissed he’s been using kids to run drugs.”
She was also “pissed“ about an article she read at the back of an Irish newspaper, hinting that children were being abused by priests in Ireland, but their stories disbelieved by police and bishops.
Back then, child abuse was still in feminist Marilyn French’s memorable phrase: “the slime under the rug of patriarchy.” Cover ups were everywhere.
Sinéad told no one what she intended to do. She knew it was an act of war. In her book she talks about understanding why everyone was horrified.
I’ve torn up the dreams of those around me. But those aren’t my dreams. No one ever asked me what my dreams were ; they just got mad at me for not being who they wanted me to be.
My own dream is only to keep the contract I made with God before I ever made one with the music business.

Fighting the Real Enemy

Evil has many overlording faces but good always looks the same.

The song defines it for us: Basic human rights … equally guaranteed to all without regard. Lasting peace. World citizenship. Rule of international morality.

The calls of progressive political protest, always and everywhere.

Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil.

The weight of the truth is not easy to carry. Often, artists like Sinéad O Connor cannot bear being the bearers.

We would lighten their load if we shared it.

Imagine if all of us who mourn Sinéad's loss were to do what she asked us to do, in the moment when her fame was at its height.






And fight the real enemy.



Until the philosophy which holds one race
Superior and another inferior
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned
Everywhere is war
Me say war
That… until there are no longer
First-class and second-class citizens of any nation
Until the colour of a man's skin
Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes
Me say war
That… until the basic human rights
Are equally guaranteed to all
Without regard to race
Dis a war
That … until that day
The dream of lasting peace
World citizenship
Rule of international morality
Will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued
But never attained
Now everywhere is war
WarAnd until the ignoble and unhappy regime
That hold our brothers in Angola
In Mozambique
South Africa
Sub-human bondage
Have been toppled
Utterly destroyed
Well, everywhere is war
Me say warWar in the east
War in the west
War up north
War down southWar, war
Rumors of war
And until that day
The African continent
Will not know peace
We Africans will fight, we find it necessary
And we know we shall win
As we are confident
In the victory
Of good over evilGood over evil, yeah!
Good over evil
Good over evil, yeah!
Good over evil
Good over evil, yeah!


Featured image from the New York Times interview with Amanda Hess