Damascus, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Israeli war on Lebanon has surprised many Arabs owing to its ferocity, its length and the way the international community has reacted to it. It has also upset many Arab intellectuals yet subsequent developments have obliged everyone to take sides.
As images of death and destruction continue to appear on television screens, anger has erupted in the streets as many have rallied in support of the besieged Lebanese people. In many cases, they have used creative methods to express their anger, including songs, poetry and fiery speeches. They hope that their deeds can offer some sort of consolation. Time will tell whether events in Lebanon this summer will provoke a seismic change in Arab public opinion and behavior.
In Damascus and other Syrian cities, given the close geographical, social and cultural links between Syria and Lebanon, and the presence of a large number of Lebanese refugees on Syrian territory, the anger expressed in street protests is consistent with the official recommendations and mobilization of the state.
All around Syria, patriotic and revolutionary songs can be heard in streets, buses and balconies. Fairouz, Julia Boutros and Marcel Khalife are some of the artists whose songs echo across the country. The war in Lebanese coincided with Khalife’s presence in Damascus, where he launched the Arab Youth Orchestra and gave a concert at the National Opera House, in which he spoke of the need to make music that glorifies the values of humanity and nationalism. “What is the value of music if it is not rebellious? Civilization was born out of rebellion.”
The Syrian media has also showcased artists who are in support of the Lebanese people and their steadfastness. Interviews with leading Arab intellectuals of various political persuasions have also been conducted. Many have written to rally the public and strengthen patriotic feelings and raise morale, including opposition figures who had previously remained silence. Before the start of the war in Lebanon, these calls were part of age-old rigid speeches and statements. Today, however, these calls have come to life, heralding a new era of cultural activity. Advocates of this discourse believe that the effects of the current war will be felt beyond the Lebanese borders and that the Israeli army has been defeated. Some have gone as far as regarding events in Lebanon as the beginnings of a nationalist revival!
Writing about the confusion that befell Syrian intellectuals as a result of the conflict, Dr. Bashar Khalif, a novelist, asked, “What is the meaning of an intellectual turning not being concerned about what is happening 90km away from Damascus in Lebanon?” He called on independent Syrian intellectuals to seize the initiative and express the vitality of an independent Syrian culture, which doesn’t have to be the antithesis of the official line.
“Artists should head toward Damascus ’ old alleyways and draw on sidewalks and walls. They should dedicate the proceeds of their paintings to the Lebanese people. Musicians should give concerns in public gardens and squares and actors should take part in plays, in universities and theatres. This is how we should respond to the current events. Let singers sign everywhere.”
His call for action remains unanswered so far, except for a limited number of hastily arranged exhibitions and plays that have taken place in the last month, since the war began in Lebanon. Some artists believe the time is not yet right for them to distance themselves from the conflict and create a piece that can reflect the magnitude of human suffering.
`Nationalist songs are currently the most affordable and quickest way to respond to the crisis and mobilize public sentiment. Military songs have been broadcast on the radio, including old songs dating back to the era of Jamal Abdul Nasser. Halim Hafez and Marcel Khalifeh are particularly popular, even with children, as they sing about steadfastness. However, many songs have been inappropriate and encouraged people to seek vengeance and shed blood. These types of destructive aims are fuelled by wars and conflicts and find fertile ground in such critical times. Such is the dilemma of contemporary societies where, in some cases, wars recur repeatedly and for the very same reason!