Alan Rickman, the famed actor best known for his role as Severus Snape in the film adaptation of the seven-book series, “Harry Potter,” passed away recently from his long-running battle with cancer.
Although American audiences associate the actor with the wickedly austere professor, Rickman had a long and illustrious career in film, television and theater. Rickman’s remarkable versatility as a thespian landed him a diversity of rolls, from the deadpan-yet-droll angel Metatron in Kevin Smith’s dark comedy “Dogma,” to the quiet and genteel Colonel Brandon in Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.”
Rickman’s voice practically vibrated with a sonorous je ne sais quoi, which elicits a visceral delight in the viewer when treated to one of his infamously sharp quips — as his persona Metatron was wont to do, to the delight of American audiences — or sent a sharp chill down our spines, evinced spectacularly in his role as the menacing terrorist Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.”
However, in addition to Rickman’s long-standing and varied career in acting, it’s interesting to note that Rickman was deeply committed to liberal politics; in fact, his love for the Labour Party once prompted the joke that Rickman was born “a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.”
Rickman’s wife, for instance, Rima Horton, spent 20 years as a Labour councillor in Chelsea from 1986-2006, and the couple were high school sweethearts who dated for 40 years before they decided to wed in a secretive ceremony in 2012.
Rickman’s concern for the welfare of the poor and the struggling middle-class was probably informed by his upbringing in a working class family in London. His father, an Irish Catholic who died when Rickman was just 8 years old, worked in a factory, while his Methodist mother was a homemaker.
In addition, the actor enjoyed warm relationships with many of Labour’s top brass; he visited former Chancellor Gordon Brown to congratulate him on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s victory in the elections in 1997.
Immediately following his passing, Labour leaders chimed in to offer their condolences and reminisce on the actor’s love of progressive politics. Journalist Alastair Campbell mused that “Alan Rickman was a supporter of the Labour Party when it was far from fashionable among artists to be so. He had a passionate belief in progressive causes and progressive politics and was a great friend to many in the party and beyond.”
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s far-left candidate known for wearing a Keffiyeh to political rallies and voicing the strongest criticism of Israeli policies among British politicians (second only to George Galloway, of course), was one of the first to offer his condolences, stating he was “very sad to hear that Alan Rickman has passed away. One of the greatest actors of his generation. My thoughts are with his family & friends.”
Despite Rickman’s long-standing support of progressive values — which underlies his love for the Labour Party — even liberal political parties in the United Kingdom are facing harsh criticism for pandering to special interest groups.
The Labour Party’s stance on the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, for instance, has often been marred by the same issues of campaign finance corruption that has plagued the Democratic Party here in the United States, with lobbyist and special interest groups often holding stronger sway in setting policy decisions than the electorate which votes in candidates.
The Zionist lobby’s clout in English politics, for example, rivals only the U.S. in its grip on foreign policy decisions, especially in regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The BBC’s TV documentary series “Dispatches” aired a special on the power of the Israel lobby in Britain, noting that 80 percent of the Tory Party are members of the “Conservative Friends of Israel,” while Labour is often treated to the constant lobbying campaigns of “Labour Friends of Israel,” who hosted a dinner attended by Jeremy Corbyn.
Despite his carefully restrained criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, he still suffered heckling by a particularly irate member.
Diane Langford, writing a detailed synopsis of the BBC documentary, noted, “It exposes the breadth and scope of the lobby’s reach and the relationship between the Israeli foreign ministry, the Britain Israel Research and Communications Centre (BICOM), the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the CFI, Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), the Zionist Federation, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), HonestReporting and other manifestations of Israel’s well-funded propaganda offensive.”
Within this context, it’s really no surprise that Rickman has quietly withdrawn from the political stage in recent years, bitterly noting, “I find myself becoming less and less enamored of public statement — I’d rather see it in action.”
Considering the inherent contradiction between serving the needs of the electorate and catering to the demands of the wealthy interest groups who bankroll election campaigns, Rickman was probably referring to the tendency of politicians to offer empty election promises and engage in vapid political rhetoric in public speeches, while discarding progressive politics that serve the populace in order to push legislation and policies that are favorable to the campaign financiers who offer the highest “campaign contributions.”
In 2005, Rickman’s political cynicism came to the fore during his attempt to showcase a theatrical production entitled “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in a New York theater, a play based on the diaries and letters of 23-year-old activist with the International Solidarity Movement named Rachel Corrie, who was murdered by an Israeli soldier when he ran her over with a bulldozer in 2003.
The International Solidarity Movement is an international Human Rights NGO who document and publicize the various war crimes perpetrated by settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces, with the full aegis of the Israeli government.
Part of their activism includes protesting home demolitions, a controversial policy Israel adopts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their homes and villages in order to make way for Jewish-only settlements.
Corrie stood in front of a Palestinian home, her arms linked together in solidarity with other activists in a human chain, to protect the Palestinian residents from having their houses demolished by an IDF bulldozer. Despite the fact that Corrie wore a bright orange vest and was shouting at the driver — along with her compatriots — in order to halt the bulldozer, the driver ignored her and ran her over.
Corrie’s parents have tried repeatedly to sue the Israeli government for a measly $1, trying desperately to gain justice for their murdered child, yet Israeli courts have dismissed their claims, accepting the soldier’s statements that he “didn’t see Corrie” and “accidentally” ran her over, ruling the murder an “accident” in which Corrie herself and her compatriots shouldered the blame.
Rickman directed and co-edited the screenplay with Katharine Viner, the Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian. Rickman was deeply moved by Corrie’s plight, and according to Viner, “Alan had recognized that Rachel’s voice could work brilliantly on stage, and I was commissioned to help him turn her words into a play.”
The play garnered international accolades with “two runs at the Royal Court, a West End transfer and productions around the world, from New York to Haifa,” Viner reflected, stating, “on the opening night we each admitted that we couldn’t have done justice to Rachel’s words without the other.”
However, Rickman and Viner ran into steep opposition when they attempted to showcase the play at the New York Theater Workshop. According to James Nicola, the Artistic Director of the theater, they decided to cancel the play after conducting a poll of local Jewish community organizations to apparently ask “permission” to run the play, and they were met with a resounding “no.”
Rickman attempted to break free of this mold, and took the diaries and letters of Rachel Corrie herself and created a beautiful and touching portrait of an activist, using her thoughts and words to guide the overarching narrative.
Cowtailing to Zionist organizations, the theater claimed, “in our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon’s illness and the election of Hamas, we had a very edgy situation,” further explaining that, “we found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict, that we didn’t want to take.”
Rickman was furious at what he publicly decreed as “censorship,” and although he acknowledged the difficulty of funding a small theater house in New York, nonetheless insisted that “This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences — all of us are the losers.”
In such a climate of fear against openly challenging the prevailing political status quo that elevates the Israeli narrative as the predominant “objective” stance, Palestinians and their supporters are often silenced, and their struggles and stories often relegated to the shadows, with very few people brave enough to demand that the Palestinian stance receive equal recognition.
The net effect posits the Palestinians as simply objects of observation and study, where their thoughts, opinions and experiences are often mediated by Zionists, and are therefore filtered through that ideological lens.
The official Palestinian “position” on the conflict then becomes simply a re-packaged version of the Zionist perspective of what constitutes the Palestinian “position.” This ultimately flawed understanding of the “Palestinian narrative” becomes a major part of the mainstream perception of the conflict, which is then presented to the general public as “fact.”
The populace, as a result, may end up supporting foreign policy decisions by Zionist-led politicians out of an uninformed understanding of the root causes of the conflict.
Rickman attempted to break free of this mold, and took the diaries and letters of Rachel Corrie herself and created a beautiful and touching portrait of an activist, using her thoughts and words to guide the overarching narrative, giving her an agency and complexity often denied to Pro-Palestinian activists in the mainstream conversation of the conflict.
Ultimately, the special interest groups who dominate the “official” mainstream conversation on the conflict silenced Rickman as swiftly as they did to Corrie and others who tried to forcefully promote a more nuanced and humanizing discussion of Palestinians and their struggles, one informed by the complexity, depth and moral ambiguity that often govern human socio-political actions.
Rickman’s heroic effort in and of itself elevates him beyond that of just another actor who passed away, and firmly ensconces him as a passionate defender of the vulnerable and downtrodden, who was taken away from us when we needed voices like his more than ever in this increasingly polarizing political climate.