The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have led to various types of wars, including those of an artistic and cultural characters. One could certainly classify the diatribes of Faya and Rihan Younan in their “peace message” video clip (لبلادي) and the brief YouTube video by Lebanese singer Julia Boutros (in which she describes the Arab Spring as an “invented farce to deflect attention from the Palestine question”) as forms of political expression. This is not to say that differences do not exist between the performers, with the Younan sisters being amateurs, while Boutros performs professionally, and has a long standing record of “pro-resistance” (Hezbollah) political video clips. However, both videos attempt to deny obvious realities, and both reveal the rock bottom depths of political deceit to which Lebanese and Syrian discourses have descended. In the case of the two sisters and Julia Boutros, this political deception, or artistic duplicity, if you prefer, entails a failure to credit the main villain in the Syrian conflict and his Iraqi counterparts, past and present.
As is to be expected, the artists accomplish their goals through different means: The Younan sisters surreptitiously hide their pro-Assad regime message behind generalities, while Julia Boutros’s blunt words, delivered in an elitist and stern tone, preach to us that the “Arab Spring is a farce to shift Arab focus from the central cause and insist that the real Arab Spring is in Gaza” (the artist’s own words as translated by her promotional video clip, Monitor Middle East). Ironically, the amateur couple score over the professional when it comes to religion. While the Younan sisters do not advertise their religion (for which I commend them), Boutros goes out of her way to identify herself as Christian singer (or at the very least allows her promoters to associate her with the Christian religion, not only in a brief statement in this video, but in some others as well). I note this assertion not because of any issue with Boutros’ Christianity, but rather to contrast her actions with those of most other Lebanese and Syrian artists and people of letters, who have chosen to make a statement by not declaring their religious affiliations
Back to the Younan sisters, I must admit to having harbored a feeling of ambivalence and a suspension of critical thought when I watched the video for the first time. Like many viewers, and some social and conventional media, I also felt taken in and charmed by the Fairuz music and the sisters’ innocent appearances. This left me confused and took my focus away from the “lyrics.” Like so many others, I was guilty of going with the music and not examining the subtext closely or paying attention to other important details. Fortunately, a critical review by Martina Sabra, translated from the German, by Raed al-Bash, and published in Qantara magazine on November 3, 2014, has dispelled my confusion.
Although the Younan sisters’ video has been labeled as anti-war production, the review questions that assumption, asking whether it isn’t in fact a form of “pro-Assad regime propaganda?” According to Ms. Sabra’s perceptive analysis, the interest in the video by both anti and pro-Syrian regime groups stems from the attention it has enjoyed in influential Western media outlets, such as Germany’s Der Spiegel online and the BBC. Nor should the viewer and the reader rule out the historical context. The Qantara article reminds us that while the blue-eyed, soft-spoken Younan sisters have charmed the media with their honeyed words of peace, sense of optimism (something that fascinates Westerners) and atypical appearances as unveiled Arab women, ISIS has beheaded hundreds and Assad barrel bombs have killed tens of thousands.
Leaving aside the harsh judgment Ms. Sabra passes on Faya Younan’s performance of Fairuz’s songs, I am concerned, as is the reviewer, with the lyrics delivered by Rihan Younan which explore war in the Middle East. These lyrics, delivered in a sermonic manner, examine the supposed causes of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. The method of her delivery, which appears alternately “festive,” “accusatory,” and “encouraging,” features words that Ms. Sabra correctly characterizes as “devoid of meaning.”
Rihan’s diatribe about “illogical” war offers the reviewer an opportunity to ask whether a “logical” war can even exist? But Rihan’s logic falters even further when she says “the war has broken into the doors secretly.” This statement has apparently left the reviewer to satirically ponder: “Can war break in the door so easily?” And does Rihan think that Syrians would have welcomed war with a cup of Arabic coffee had it simply abandoned its clandestine approach to announce itself with a knock at the door?
The Younan sisters’ careful removal of the person responsible for the violence from their lyrics belittles the viewer’s intelligence, and elicits even more sarcasm from the reviewer. In her twisted logic, Rihan finds no one to be responsible, declares that the war “has no beginning, “and assures viewers that it is “dreaming of an end.” This evidently absolves the Assad regime, which gave orders to shoot at the peaceful protesters in the spring of 2011.
As if this is not enough, Rihan dons the hat of a political analyst, just like her ideological soul mate, Julia Boutros. She ambitiously offers her opinions on the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, revealing either a woeful lack of experience, coupled with an impressive political naivety, or a willingness to parrot a pro-Syrian regime script. Like many media ideologues, she blames the "Other" as being the cause of regional conflicts, citing the “imperial powers in the 20th century, Britain, France, and the U.S.” Nor does she forget to reference Palestine, which she considers the “compass” of all conflicts, while seemingly brushing aside the depopulation of more than half of her own country and the killing of close to a quarter of a million of her people.
It would be a mistake to judge Julia Boutros or the Younan sisters on the merit of their analysis. Boutros’s politics are known to many Lebanese and Syrians. If I were to place her within the Lebanese political spectrum, she would definitely reside in the mumana camp, i.e. the pro-Assad, Hezbollah, Iran alliance. In a recently publicized and emotional statement, Boutros characterizes the Arab Spring as a farce, and declares ISIS and Israel to be “different sides of the same coin,” leaving one to ponder the possibility that she suffers some form of amnesia. Alternately, one has to wonder where this woman actually lives. She decries Arab silence concerning what has been happening in Gaza, but fails to acknowledge her own deadly silence, and that of her Lebanese and Syrian comrades, concerning the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, and the displacement of millions more from their homes. Apparently, they deserve their fates. After, all, Julia Boutros has already made up her mind, declaring to the cheering mumanah crowds that these hapless victims must either be ISIS members or Zionists.
This essay will appear in Al Jadid, Vol. 19, No. 68.
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