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Muna Khan: Silencing songs of freedom: How a Syrian-American’s recitation was cancelled in the US

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Oh, the irony of an anti-discrimination group discriminating against a singer who wanted to sing a song that might be seen as anti-Syrian.

According to a report in The Atlantic on June 8, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee asked German-born Syrian pianist Malek Jandali not to perform his piece “Watani Ana: I am my Homeland” and when he refused he was dropped.

The ADC is hosting its annual event this coming weekend, which is when Mr. Jandali was expected to perform until he was asked to drop the song and refused. Incidentally, the song in question doesn’t mention any specific country or the Arab Uprising but speaks about freedom and liberty; Mr. Jandali calls it a “humanitarian song,” said The Atlantic.

“Is it the words? The scale of the music? Was the rhythm too slow? Did the melody maybe bother them?” Mr. Jandali asked the blog Politico. “I really would love to hear their answer. It would have been a perfect song.”

Mr. Jandali need not think that hard. ADC’s Chairperson, Safa Rifka, has been referred to “as one of my three best friends” by Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha.

So performing a song with lyrics like “Oh my homeland, when will I see you free… When the land is watered with the blood of martyrs and the brave/And all the people shout: Freedom to mankind” might make someone feel queasy.
We know who that someone is (Bashar Al Assad, I’m looking at you).

There’s a silly little saying among editors, which is part joke, part truth: when in doubt, cut it out.

That works rather well when we’re trying to make sense of gibberish sent in by a reporter who learned English watching Knight Rider in the 1980s but is a rather servile policy for an organization like the ADC to follow. Especially an organization whose mission is to end discrimination against Arabs—unless it sanctions Arabs discriminating against other Arabs.

It’s disappointing to note that the ADC bent to President Assad’s will (purported or real), and this move is likely not to go down well amongst other members or the guests invited to the event. Many of the luminaries expected to attend this weekend’s event include prominent academics and writers like David Cole (professor at Georgetown), Alia Malek (civil rights lawyer), Sharif Al Gamal (developer of Ground Zero Mosque), Hady Amr (USAID official for Middle East) and Ahmed Ahmed (comedian) to name just a few.
It’ll be interesting to see if any of them drop out—in protest of the ADC’s bullying of one of its performers.

Artists are among the first to be persecuted by regimes even though they are only one of the groups to be marginalized by administrations that give little to the arts. If they’re given their due credit, it’s usually by the regime that follows a truly authoritarian one, or they get posthumous recognitions.

Unless you’re Umme Kulthoom of Egypt and actually bolster Gamal Abdel Nasser’s popularity, inadvertently or not, because you are that powerful and deserved of the accolade of “Nightingale of the Middle East.”

Perhaps leaders think it’s easy to push artists around because their public humiliation will serve as a lesson to others thinking of… well just thinking. The intimidation, bullying and detention of artistes have been age-old brutal tactics of regimes world over that have rarely worked.

Artistes are detained, beaten up, tortured, killed even but they are not silenced.

The sooner our leaders learn this, the easier it’ll be for artistes to sing songs of peace and love for others to follow.

(Muna Khan, Editor of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at muna.khan@mbc.net)