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.

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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.