Saturday, January 12, 2008

“Fairuz should not play in Damascus”

A member of Walid Jumblatt’s party has called upon famous Lebanese singer Fairuz not to perform in Damascus. “Anyone who loves Lebanon cannot play before its jailer”, said Akram Shehayeb. “A person who sings for freedom, for Jerusalem, for dignity, out of choler and for the country”, he continued “should not sing for the Janissaries of freedom and for those who bargain over Jerusalem”.

Shehayeb must be a well-read man and for those who truly have no idea what a Janissary is, he is referring to Christian young men who were captured by the Turks to work for the sultan as a bodyguard. It’s an interesting choice of reference Shehayeb has mentioned, but certainly this is not the best of examples. If anything, it showed that the Turkish sultan had faith in his erstwhile enemy, enough even to let them be his bodyguards. Is Shehayeb saying that Damascus likewise has become the bodyguard of freedom?

Anyway, his appeal to Fairuz will reverberate among the Lebanese since Fairuz herself has always been identified with a free Lebanon. It was in this spirit that she refused to play during the Civil War. Defining the Syrians as the enemies of Lebanon, Shehayeb seems to be making a moral call to Fairuz to not play in Damascus, at least not until a “Syrian Spring” has arrived.

What to make of this? Certainly, Shehayeb is right to claim that the appointment of Damascus as Cultural Capital of the Arab World is somewhat of a joke, considering that, as he says, “all the intellectuals are either in prison, in exile or dead”.

Then again, where to draw the line and why should artists follow political arguments? If Shehayeb was truly invested in this topic, he would call for a nation-wide (cultural) boycott of Syria by Lebanon. Instead, by singling out one singer, it is difficult to avoid the impression of selectiveness.

Another argument for Fairuz to perform in Damascus is the play itself she is scheduled to perform: “Sahh el-nom” (Did you sleep well?). It’s a comedy about a king who spends his days mostly sleeping and only wakes up once a month to listen to his people. For the right price, the king can make any problem go away. The play is a fierce attack on the Arab regimes that are often associated with abuse of power and lackluster interest in the wellbeing of the people by the leaders.

Calling for a boycott of this play seems to be counterproductive. Better to let the audience see this story of a king who doesn’t do anything for his people unless the price is right. Let the audience have a good laugh (the play is seriously funny) and let them go home thinking who the king reminded them of.

Update: The LA Times has also covered this topic, see here.


Anonymous said...

Hi my friend, I do agree with you with the most things you mentioned.

I am a syrian citizen, but I love lebanese people to bits. i apologise if the governments are trying to split us apart, but this will not last.

when fairuz comes to syria, she proves that she is a generous person and better than us, as nobody expecting her to perform in Damas.

she comes to ensure that lebanon and syria are one family, no one can change this fact.

she sang for the people not for the rulers.

i liked what you said about educators in syria either prison, exile or dead . THAT IS RIGHT

Let us hope one day my friend to live as human in respect, peace and love