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."
However other observers speculated that the song's implications might have troubled the Syrian government, which is in the midst of a bloody crackdown on its citizens, or its allies. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has defied international calls to end the crackdown and ordered security forces into the streets to quell unrest. He has also ratcheted up tensions with neighboring Israel, allowing Palestinian and Syrian protesters to approach the sealed Syrian-Israeli boarder. Twenty-three of those demonstrators were later killed by Israeli forces after they tried to rush the border.
"We are just saddened by the atrocities and the killing of innocent children," Jandali, an American citizen who was born in Germany but raised in Syria, said.
The chairman of the ADC board, gynecologist Safa Rifka, is aligned with Syria's ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha. In a blog post, Moustapha called Rifka one of his three "best friends" in Washington D.C. The ADC describes itself as the largest Arab-American grassroots advocacy group and vows to end "discrimination and bias against Arab Americans wherever it is practiced."
"I have nothing to say on that," said ADC Vice President Nabil Mohamad on charges that politics were the reason. The ADC cited logistical problems in canceling Jandali's performance. "You should get the facts," said Muhamad in a brief interview with POLITICO before declining to comment further.
This is the song.