The renowned Syrian composer Malek Jandali has composed a hymn to the Syrian revolution. In an interview with Falah Elias, he comments on the situation in his homeland and explains why he has no fear of a confessional conflict after the Assad regime has gone
Mr Jandali, what is your experience of the current situation in Syria?
Malek Jandali: Looking at current events in the wake of the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution against the Assad regime, we artists must bear new responsibilities. After all, it is the public that bestows us with the title of "artist". And art, in its essence, is the search for truth and beauty. It is a mirror of reality. As long as art is subject to restrictions, then it is not truthful and can therefore never really be art.
The peaceful Syrian revolution has brought forth artists who depict this reality. They have become the spokesmen for the angry people on the street. One of these was the folk singer Ibrahim al-Qashoush, who courageously stood up to the criminal regime of the dictator while giving a voice to the insurgency.
Al-Qashoush paid for his opposition with his life. He was murdered by regime thugs, who tore out his vocal cords and then threw his corpse in the Orontes River. I therefore felt the need to preserve the memory of this immortal artist by dedicating a symphony to him with the title "Freedom – Symphony for al-Qashoush". My aim was to honour him, as well as all the other rebels in my homeland.
As an artist, you support the Syrian movement for freedom. Other Syrian artists remain hesitant. Do you know why?
Jandali: Those who still remain silent at this point in time make themselves complicit in the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the criminal Assad regime. Let's speak to each other as normal people, not as artists or intellectuals!
Whoever witnesses the torture or murder of children, such as the four-month-old Afaf, little Hajir, and other children, or of activists, such as Tal al-Mallohi and Ibrahim al-Qashoush, can no longer remain silent. In my opinion, not to raise one's voice under these circumstances is simply morally, religiously, and humanly unacceptable.
Yet, a number of creative individuals in Syria are frightened…
Jandali: What are they frightened of? When we see how children are shot down in Deraa, Homs, and elsewhere, this makes a peaceful revolution even more necessary. And here I stress the word "peaceful", for it has truly displayed this character in Syria. Its weapons are applause and the chanting of slogans.
Of course, this is not to ignore the Free Syrian Army, which stands for the renewal and restructuring of the Syrian Army. The regular army no longer defends the Syrian people, but has mutated into the helper of the Assad gang by shooting at my countrymen – including children and even infants – and by raping women. This can't be our army! The Free Syrian Army, on the other hand, returns a sense of honour to its soldiers by ensuring that it is their duty to protect our homeland and its citizens.
When you comprehend this, you can no longer be afraid. An unbelievable wealth of human emotion has been aroused by heroes like al-Qashoush, al-Sarout, and others, who have displayed such enormous courage that I would probably never be able to muster. I am lucky to be living in the USA where my basic rights are guaranteed and where I am respected as a free person. And I am not shot at or confronted with tanks.
We have seen images over the Internet showing how your parents were beaten. Can you tell us exactly what happened to them?
Jandali: Every action logically entails a reaction. You could say that the attack against my parents was a sort of an honour both for them and for me. At least we were able to do something for the Syrian revolution. Two weeks ago, our house in Homs came under fire and this took place immediately after the premiere of the Symphony for al-Qashoush.
Thugs from the regime assaulted my parents and attacked my web site, because I published a simple five-minute song with the title "I am my Homeland." There is not a single reference to Syria in the song. It begins with the words, "My homeland is me and I am my homeland. Your love is a fire in my heart. When will I see you in freedom, my homeland?"
How did your parents react?
Jandali: As I just mentioned, for my mother this was an honour. Only a few days after she was tormented by this beating, she said to me, "These murders were furious about one of your benefit concerts." Luckily, the beating has left no lasting psychological effect. She said that these thugs weren't human, not even animals. She doesn't consider them to be living creatures. And that is why she did not allow herself to be emotionally abused by the attackers. My parents now live with me in the USA.
The beating of my parents and the threats and intimidation against me have only resulted in my being even more committed in my support for the revolution. I can see that freedom is not so far off. I have postulated my own mathematical equation in this respect – the Syrian people minus Bashar al-Assad equals a free Syria.
Are you not thereby ignoring the announcement of the Syrian ruler that a package of reforms will be introduced within a given timetable?
Jandali: What reforms? Up until now, the regime has spilled the blood of some 10,000 Syrians. In addition, there are all those who have been imprisoned, who have disappeared, and who have been forced into exile. Assad wants to give us a new constitution, but who should accept it? This is a constitution without any honour. How can we ever accept the constitution of a pharaoh?
Bashar al-Assad and his wife portray themselves as benevolent individuals interested in the welfare of the Syrian people. In fact, benevolence is something absolutely foreign to their characters. They are evil. Bashar's wife claims to assist charities and people who require special care. First provide assistance to the people of Syria and take care of their general needs!
It is unimaginable that reform will come from this regime. It would mean that Bashar al-Assad would have to get rid of all of these butchers who prop up his power, all of his accomplices and relatives. This is something that he will not do. The only possible way out of this dilemma is the overthrow of the regime.
You grew up in Syria and attended school there before you left the country. Why do you think that Syrians have risen up against the ruling regime?
Jandali: Normal Syrians have risen up, because they have been suppressed and disenfranchised for more than 40 years. What is more, they were not even allowed to think, which applies to people in the whole of the Arab world. This has led to widespread ignorance. For instance, give people an audio book. They won't listen to it, but rather record their own voices and listen to themselves. The Assad regime has led to moral decadence and the spread of audio-visual filth.
Now, however, the people on the street have taken back their freedom with all of its potential, especially intellectual potential. They have learned to rise up courageously. And they have once again begun to think for themselves. We have now returned to the path of our roots and our culture. Until now, we have only spoken of the past, as the dictatorships have been one of the main causes of our stagnation and backwardness.
The Arab world is the cradle of civilizations and religions. We invented the alphabet, musical scales, and a great deal more, because in the past we were able to live in freedom. What we are now experiencing is a historical spiritual revolution, which could bring us back to the time before al-Assad and other corrupt dictators. We can return to our essence and our true nature.
Are you afraid of a civil war in Syria along confessional lines and the suppression of other religions?
Jandali: No, absolutely not. Take me, for example. I am a Muslim, I pray in the mosque on Fridays and I made the pilgrimage. I worked for ten years as a pianist in a Christian church. As I student, I lived here in America for two years with a Jewish family. It was we in Syria who took in our Armenian brothers during the time of the Ottoman Empire. We have also shown hospitality to Iraqis, Lebanese, and Palestinians. You have to draw a sharp distinction between the dictatorial regime and the civilized Syrian people.
Some people have expressed anxiety about a post-Assad era, whereas others fear a state controlled by Islamists. Do you share these fears?
Jandali: I don't have the slightest fear about Muslims who conscientiously practice their religion. I have no problem with other people's religious affiliation, even if that person were to accept a position in government. We in the Islamic world accept one another. Whenever true Islam has been practiced in daily life, that is when Islamic culture has blossomed. I believe that we are now on the right path.
For this reason, I have not the slightest bit of anxiety. On the contrary, I yearn for the return of true Islam and Islamic culture, which flourished from China to Córdoba at a time when tolerance and harmony still reigned. It was a wonderful symphony that was written from the hearts of the people. We would like to see the mosque become what it once was – a hospital, library, meeting place, and a forum for discussion – and not only for Muslims, but for everyone.
With the mihrab, the prayer niche, the art of the arabesque was invented. The mosque was therefore not a place of division. I have no doubt that the Syrian people, and the Arab people as a whole, which has taken in migrants for thousands of years, will rise once again after they have rediscovered their freedom.
Interview conducted by Falah Elias
© Qantara.de 2012
Translation: John Bergeron
Editors: Arian Fariborz, Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de