As I reported last week, Syrian-American musician Malek Jandali was disinvited from performing this past Saturday before the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The problem seemed to be his chosen first song, whose lyrics were translated for me as: “I am my homeland, and my homeland is me. The fire in my heart burns with love for you! Oh my homeland, when will I see you free? When the sun of virtue rises in your sky, when the pen writes of loyalty and love. When the land is watered with the blood of martyrs and the brave, and all people shout: Freedom to mankind! Freedom to mankind! Oh my homeland, cradle of humanity, we pray to the heavenly God to lift calamities from my country, my people and all mankind!”
I spoke to Jandali by phone. I asked him if he was politically active before this incident. “Not at all,” he said, confessing he really didn’t “have a clue” about international issues. “I write about peace, justice, harmony, love and stuff like this.” He told me that the ADC sent out a press release on May 27 announcing that he would perform works including the above song — a recent composition. But that invitation didn’t last long. He was called by someone on behalf of the chairman of ADC’s board (Safa Rifka) and told he wasn’t going to be performing. Why was he disinvited? “That’s exactly what I want to find out,” he said. With a deadpan delivery, he asks, “ Was it the melody? The harmony? The beat was too slow?”
He remarked that the lyrics don’t mention “Arabs or Bosnia or Cuba” but are words of universal love and peace. He also said, “I’m really saddened.” He said he wanted to be clear that he supported the message of nondiscrimination and of civil rights, “which is why I was so excited.” The reality turned out to be quite different.
It is noteworthy what the Syrian lobby finds objectionable these days: freedom, love and justice. It seems that the ADC’s minders in Damascus can’t tolerate such concepts. And in a sense they are right to be concerned; these concepts are antithetical to the brutal dictatorship that is now shooting at will at its people.
Interestingly, after days of bad press and just hours before the event, the organization reversed itself and decided to permit a recording of the song to be played. Freedom, it seems, is hard to shut up.