Getting emotional about diamonds

We know all about ‘blood’ or conflict diamonds, don’t we?

They are so-called because they have been used by rebels in Africa, in parts of which diamonds occur naturally, to finance their insurrections.

We know of this primarily through Blood Diamond, a 2006 movie set in Sierra Leone, during 1999, “a time of chaos and civil war”. One graphic advertising the film shows a diamond dripping blood.

Diamonds From Sierra Leone‘ (2005) by Kanye West, see above, exploits the same meme. We first hear Shirley Bassey singing ‘Diamonds are Forever’, the title song from the James Bond movie of the same name and it runs throughout the entire track and video. Funnily enough, it was also the title of a de Beers ad campaign in 1947. More on this below.

In the video above, Bassey’s voice is juxtaposed with images of an imagined ‘blood diamond’ mine, where children work as slaves of ‘the rebels’. ‘We are the children of the blood diamonds’.

To add a touch of historical gravity, West himself appears on the 600 year old Charles Bridge in Prague which connects the Castle and the Old Town. Look carefully and you can see the house where Franz Kafka was born. Not even him could make up this stuff.

For a religious overtone, West and the camera look up at a statue in the form of a crucifix, looking very much like this: Mary Magdalene and John the Evangelist looking up at Jesus on the Cross. Only now it is we who are joining them in supplication. It is these child miners who are being crucified—for our diamond-buying sins.

Just so there’s no confusion, at 1:50 when a man places a ring on the finger of his intended, blood pours from her fingers. They look on, horrified. Lovely touch that.

The lyrics are banal and have absolutely nothing to do with the message of the video. Exploited children be damned—the lyrics are all about him. It is the phoney emotions of the video that sell the rap; well, together with the melodic voice of Shirley Bassey.

To complete West’s mining motif, check out his ‘Gold Digger’ on the same album. (The degradation of hip-hop is a sorry business.)

As the video closes, West walks back across the bridge and we are implored, ‘Please purchase conflict free diamonds‘.

Since only “insurgents” like conflict, blood diamonds are thought to be a “bad thing” in Western diplomacy, especially in the United Nations.

One would think, though, that much depends on what these rebels are rebelling against.

Nevertheless, trade in these illicit diamonds has been outlawed by the United Nations. Diamond trade, to be lawful, must fall within the scope of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, established in 2002.

One wonders why this intolerance towards the financing of wars is not applied to wars prosecuted by Western countries, or to the suppliers of armaments to all and sundry.

But, no, it’s just arms bought using blood diamonds that’s the problem.

There is something not quite right here.

The unspoken truth is that blood diamonds were banned, not because they funded African wars, but because they threatened the cartel of diamond traders, led by de Beers.

The anguished wringing of hands over blood diamonds is a moral gloss on old fashioned money-grubbing. This touching humanitarian gesture also nicely preserves Western “interests” in these countries.

There are diamonds in Mali too—along with gold, uranium, bauxite and a wealth of other natural resources. Thank goodness the French have gone in to protect them.

And you think legitimate diamonds are conflict-free?

De Beers was built by exploiting slave labour, in the days of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Even today, you wouldn’t want to be one of those who dig diamonds out of the earth, or who cut and polish them.

Most of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in Surat, 150 miles north of Mombai, India. Many of the cutters and polishers are bonded child laborers.

And how were these mines acquired if not by conflict. Diamond mines the world over, tend to be on lands expropriated from, now displaced, indigenous peoples.

The diamond cartel’s brand rests on a carefully polished image: the belief that diamonds are scarce and that diamonds are a symbol of romantic love.

Like romantic love, the brand’s narrative goes, diamonds are scarce and precious. But if they are not so scarce, and if they come to market by dubious means, diamonds as a symbol of love falls flat on its face.

Well diamonds are not as rare in nature as we have been led to believe. That’s one lesson of blood diamonds. They are rare in the market place, but only because for years de Beers has jealously controlled their supply. It isn’t about to let grubby insurgents destroy its cartel.

Those warm and fuzzy associations between diamonds and love which seem so natural, were created by an advertising agency in 1947/8 —that’s when de Beer’s slogan “A Diamond is Forever” was created—and placed in the heads of generations of lovers by some first rate emotional marketing.

The purpose of this slogan wasn’t to cement romantic relationships, it was to kill any prospect of a secondary retail market in diamonds—what woman wants to trade-in an object cocooned in love?—which allowed de Beers to control price at the wholesale level.

Diamonds may last forever, but romantic love certainly does not. Science says a year to 18 months, if you’re lucky.

The marketing of diamonds focuses on love as a noun, the feelings our beloved elicits in us. This poses the question, Do we love the other person, or the feeling the other person elicits in us? It can, of course, take years, sometimes a lifetime, for couples to figure out the difference.

Love is best considered as a verb. It’s not what people say, imagine or conceive about love—it’s how they act that matters.

And these actions cost nothing.

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