Kal on Arab-American life

In response to my post about the ADC's banning of a pro-Syria uprising song at a recent event, Kal of The Moor Next Door wrote a long comment that I thought was worthy if highlighting. It's reproduced below. 

I share Issandr's view of the major "Arab American" organizations. I think the point on the community (and it's organizations, frankly) being divided on sectarian and national lines is very important. What I'm going to write here is based on my own experience growing up in the Arab community with an immigrant and US born set of Arab parents (and a mixed Christian/Muslim family). And I won't say I'm giving the best informed comment but this is my personal observation/sentiment.

The failure of large Arab American associations to be politically effectual in defending the civil rights of Arab Americans or to be of any relevance as the US political discourse has grown more anti-Arab and sectarian over the last decade, I think, speaks to this. As a secular progressive myself (and an Arab American) it is distressing that the most prominent groups led by or including Arabs are sectarian religious organizations which define how Arabs and Muslims are treated and defined in political discourse.

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ADC bans Syria freedom song

The state of Arab-Americans organizations in the United States is bad enough — they are largely ineffective, the community is divided along sectarian and national lines, they tend to be too uncritical of successive administrations in Washington — and then you get this outrage:

A leading Arab American group dropped a prominent Syrian-American musician from performing at their annual convention in a dispute over a freedom-tinged song that he was set to perform.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a longtime Washington civil rights group, repeatedly asked the German-born Syrian composer and pianist Malek Jandali to reconsider his piece choice, Jandali told POLITICO. When he refused, Jandali was told today that he couldn't perform at this weekend's event.

Jandali's "Watani Ana: I am my Homeland" doesn't specifically mention Syria or the broader Arab Spring uprisings, but is heavy on the themes of freedom and liberty. Jandali calls it a "humanitarian song." But lyrics include "oh my homeland, when will I see you free" and "When the land is watered with the blood of martyrs and the brave/ And all the people shout: Freedom to mankind."

Jandali himself declined to speculate why he wasn't allowed to perform "Watani Ana," and an official at the ADC, Nabil Mohamad, refused to explain its decision.

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

"It doesn''t mention the word 'Arab' or 'Syria' or anything," he said. "It''s a humanitarian song."

Ben Smith, the Politico reporter who wrote this story, says the head of the ADC is close to Imad Mustafa, Syria's ambassador in Washington, but only cites a blog post by Mustafa to confirm this. So that may not be the reason, but the decision is still inexplicable (and ADC members would not comment.)

One of my problems with the existing Arab-American organizations is that they are too uncritical of Arab governments, and some receive funding from them, especially Saudi Arabia. But they are not there to lobby for the Arab world. They are there to lobby for Arab-Americans. 

Update: The ever-opportunistic Jeffrey Goldberg uses this incident for a bit of demagoguery, although he rarely takes to task the much worse actions of organizations with extreme viewpoints like ADL and AIPAC in intimidating the Jewish-American community. No surprises here.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 11.12.09 to 11.15.09

Violence Flares Ahead of Algeria-Egypt Soccer Match - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | The NYT's blog The Lede has a nice post about the Algeria-Egypt, game, so I don't have to do it as I don't even like football. ✪ Daily News Egypt - Egypt Among States Attempting To Weaken Un Anti-Corruption Convention Enforcement Mechanism | Egypt and others against review mechanism for corruption convention. ✪ The Young Brotherhood in Search of a New Path | Khalil al-Anani. ✪ The Brotherhood vs. Al-Qaeda: A Moment Of Truth? | Jean-Pierre Filiu. ✪ The Saturday Profile - An Arms Dealer Returns, Now Selling an Image - Biography - NYTimes.com | Profile of arms dealer Adnan al-Khashoggi, who apparently has fallen on hard times. Still, I'd like to know why he met with Richard Perle in 2002. ✪ Blogging Imam Who Knew Fort Hood Gunman and 9/11 Hijacker Goes Silent - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | Can't believe this guy has not been arrested prior to leaving the US. ✪ 'Going Muslim' - Forbes.com | NYU professor "goes desi" after Texas massacre. Is this just Indian (I assume the professor is originally Indian or Sri Lankan) prejudice against Muslims? I wonder if the next time an Asian shoots people at a college we'll say, "going oriental"... Shame on you, Forbes. ✪ Palestine: Salvaging Fatah | ICG's new report on Palestine. [PDF]
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