The Arab Conscience and the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War

The below is part of an anti-war “opera” sung by the most famous of the Arab videoclip stars (Nancy Ajram and Cheb Khalid are featured here). The whole is very long. The Zoom videoclip satellite channel is playing it repeatedly this week, apparently to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War.

It begins with a man saying “We want to live in peace. Enough killing! Enough slaughter! Enough!”

“The Arab Conscience” is produced by Ahmad Al Aaryan, written by Karim Maatouk, Sayed Shawki, Ahmad Al Aaryan and Siham Shaashaa, composed by Tarek Abou Jawdeh and Khaled Bakry, and arranged by Adel Hakki. It has been performed at the Cairo Opera House.

Although the opera works within the framework of Arab nationalism, it has a strong anti-war theme and it is not sectarian. One singer has the refrain, “The origin of the human race is the human being; all the prophets are brothers/ Moses, Jesus, Muhammad reject aggression.” This verse explicitly states the brotherhood of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and daringly shows the Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount as a site of Muslim-Jewish conflict while doing so, seeming to say that holy places should not be a basis for violence. The lyrics say God is love, God is peace. At one point the “love of the Gospels, the wisdom of the Qur’an” is celebrated, and Christians, Sunnis and Shiites are all called to peace.

For Americans, the most touching part would probably be the Egyptian songstress Amal Maher’s libretto sung over a powerful visual condemnation of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. I think she knew she would be singing over those unspeakable images. She turns away in horror as her stanza ends.

The images of US actions in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, etc., interspersed with a denunciation of the assassination of Lebanese leader Rafiq al-Hariri and of Israeli occupation forces’ brutality to Palestinians, give a sense of how the Iraq War is viewed in the region, as yet another attack on the Arab nation. But there is also a critique of the internal divisions and use of aggressive violence by that nation. (It does not condemn what it sees as resistance to occupation; but I think the underlying message is that violence just begets more violence.)

I urge my American readers to try to watch the clip below even though they cannot understand the lyrics. (Though, note to the squeamish: the explicit violence may be hard for some to stomach.) Note that a lot of the performers here are Lebanese Christians; others are wealthy members of the new upper middle classes in the region, who speak English and sometimes have signed with American labels. They are condemning violence and war and intolerance.

The opera reminds me of the anti-war anthems at Woodstock in the US during the Vietnam War. There hasn’t been anything quite like that on this side of the Atlantic. But the Arab world’s Joan Baezes and Arlo Guthries are beginning to be heard. I discussed the Kuwait singer Shams’s anti-Bush video here. Although some journalists, including the intrepid Helena Cobban, wrote in English about Shams, I don’t know of any article about this opera, which is a major cultural event. I couldn’t find a mention in Lexis. And, oddly, even a search of the Arabic web turned up no journalism or music criticism of it.

I really don’t think that, in the medium term, Dick Cheney can defeat Nancy Ajram in the projection of soft power in the region.

The Arab Conscience, Part II: