Saturday, January 10, 2009

Frustrated Musicians for Gaza (and against Quislings)

As in most rounds of Israeli massacres of Palestinians, Arab musicians are coming out singing for the victims and decrying the brutality, and - crucially - the impotence and acquiescence of the Arab rulers. There is a long tradition of Arab musicians decrying their leaders betrayal of the Palestinian people. Um Kalthoum (probably the single most famous Arab singer of all time for those not familiar with her) famously hosted some of the Egyptian officers that the British stooge King Farouk had sent into Palestine with broken rusty rifles and insufficient numbers, as a deliberate show of disdain for the rulers.

One can read this artistic impulse in a number of ways. On the one hand, the musicians tend to be far more reflective of popular sentiment. They show the disdain of their rulers, their anger at Israeli brutality, and above all their tears for the innocent victims of Palestine and sympathy with their struggle for freedom. They reflect the people far more than anything any Arab ruler or government does. On the other hand, they also reflect the impotence of the Arab people in their desires to help the Palestinians and stop the massacres and ethnic cleansing. The Quisling rulers often tolerate this sort of expression seeing it as a harmless relief valve that doesn't directly threaten their rule. Sort of like King Abdullah or Hosni Mubarak is saying "let them pour all their energy into making songs and banging their head against the walls, let them tire themselves out with that while we suppress with our secret police any real manifestations of dissent that threaten our own dictatorial powers". So you get these huge outpourings of public sympathy that artists reflect, but no ability to channel that sympathy into real action.

Here is one recent example, Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny sings for Gaza with a clip showing scenes from the latest events. The song and video clips are full of scenes not just of Israel's barbarous actions and Gaza's scores of innocent victims, but also of Arab leaders meeting and doing nothing, protestors around the Arab world saying "we have only ourselves" (i.e., why aren't we helping our brethren?), and a heart-rending cry from a man in Gaza shouting out in desperation "wayn al-'arab?!" ("Where are the Arabs?!"). Indeed, the title of the song itself (I believe it's the title of the song, it's at least an oft-repeated phrase in it) tells of this popular frustration in the inability to actually help - "ana mish a'arif a'amal Haaga" - "I don't know what to do". Worth watching for the imagery and emotion even if you don't speak Arabic:

One other clip I found via Laila Al-Haddad's "A Mother From Gaza" blog actually comes from our side of the blog. A guy named Michael Heart who looks like your typical struggling young musician in California, made a song and video for the people of Gaza called "We will not go down". The song artistically I think is forced lyrically, but the imagery and heart strike as genuine. I point it out because I think it is emblematic of something that US opinion polls consistently show: that despite politicians and media who are stacked up entirely on Zionism's side in the US, there actually is far more understanding out there than you'd think. I am reminded of some old friends of mine, a Mormon couple who I ran into a few years after our initial friendship again by chance. They were as conservative as Mormons come, old Iowa farmer types, super-conservative, and real just wonderful salt-of-the-earth people who anyone would want for grandparents. The second Intifada had broken out, they were watching headlines with that sort of vague notion that something tragic and scary was happening halfway around the world, but they knew I was interested and knew a lot about this stuff, so they asked me what I thought about what was going on. The wife, who was a young lady at the time of WW2 and so remembered it as a real event and not just the stereotyped "Greatest Generation" Tom Brokaw image we've since adopted (don't get me wrong, totally agree it was a necessary war and that right was on the Allies' side, but even a just war is full of ugliness), when I commented about how Israeli troops were not the lily-clean "most moral army in the world" they claimed, piped in about how disappointed she and others had been in WW2 about the sexual escapades of US soldiers abroad. The husband's response (the one this run-on paragraph is really about) I think reflected an attitude that many more Americans on the right than is commonly acknowledged feel but doesn't really get air time - he said he sympathized with the Palestinians because "if somebody parked a tank in my living room, you better believe I'd shoot back!" Now, there may be massive numbers of Americans who think the Bible means Israel can do no wrong, but this conservative man's attitude, the one that is reflected in the New Hampshire state motto "Live Free or Die!" and which he essentially called upon in saying he could understand Palestinian motivations, is also widespread if little publicized in the media in the US. Seeing Michael Heart's video is very much a reflection of this view. Those widespread feelings may not be enough to overcome AIPAC and the Christian right if they can't be translated into lobbying, grassroots action, and campaign fund-raising in the US system, but they are real feelings which remain far more widespread than I think many realize or acknowledge. Here's Michael Heart's video for Gaza:

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