On Peace, Justice and Sunflowers
Small States in a Changing World
I turn my head in all directions and all I see is my brothers, my sisters and the blue blue sky. I was born a sunflower, here in this field, as yellow as gold and as pretty as a little girl's dress.
I hear the wind blowing in my head and again I hear that tune coming from the distance. It must be the farmer singing Fairuz songs. Right, here he is checking if we were mature enough for harvest. He gently caressed my face with his fingers while the sun warmly caressed my face with its rays. Although he must have been thinking of the appropriate time to up-root us, I couldn't but listen to the song. The lyrics said something about a small country where people died, a transgressor and a deaf world. I could hear among the wind whispers that soon me and my brothers would be gone, but I wouldn't care, the song was enchanting.
By the way, do you know who is Fairuz? Fairuz is an artist, born in a small country in the Middle East called Lebanon. Along with her husband and family -the Rahbanis- she established a new era in modern Arabic music, what would be later commonly called "Lebanese music". She started her career singing for love and life, and then war exploded all over the region and in her country, children died, women died, and men died. I don't know why when women die it is a bigger disaster than when men die; this is unnecessary death after all and it is not a nice thing to happen to either men or women, but that is beside the point for the moment. So Fairuz sang for love and life, for justice and peace, for dignity and hope. And soon she was on every lip and in every heart in the Arab world. She became so famous in the region long before fast communication tools, the internet and the race for market share. Her reputation emanated from the fact that all her works (songs, musical plays, etc…) carried the message of peace. Even in a recent concert in Las Vegas (May 15, 1999) non-Arabic speaking audiences knew that "Every time she sings she brings peace to the Middle East". It is spectacular how someone can -through music- help a society torn by war and subjected to everyday violence, stand on its feet and keep hoping for a better future.
The ancient Greek historian Thucydides once wrote that the strong do what they will while the weak suffer what they must. However, when that suffering is attenuated by any sort of action, even if just by music, weakness becomes a source of strength standing against the will of the strong. Building a culture of peace in a region of conflict is not an easy task. Carrying that challenge through music is even harder. Yet, Fairuz and the Rahbani family took in charge that mission and believed in the power of people if their perception of themselves as weak and helpless is changed.
They knew that there is no peace without justice, so they embedded the message in their musical plays. Many of these plays (Petra, Hala and the King, Mountains of Sawwan), almost known by heart by most Arabic speaking people, tackled the issue of despotism and dictatorship, a widespread phenomenon in that part of the world. They even made inferences to external influences on internal politics and how rulers can take advantage of power to serve their own personal interests. Simply by a musical play, they were spreading the message that if citizens had the sense that they themselves can shape their own future, they could influence even a totalitarian regime and induce change. As if they were concluding that democracy, where people are empowered, is an essential political system to achieve sustained human development.
The Rahbanis knew as well that there is no peace without the brave will of the different communities to live together in harmony. It takes an advanced state of maturity and courage to get to this kind of resolution, so the theme was as well included in musical plays (The Bridge of the Moon, Mays El Reem). After all, the world is big enough to accommodate for everybody when human dignity and human rights are properly respected. The message embedded in the plays was that being different does not necessarily mean being superior or inferior, as much as it does not mean being in conflict. Being different is diversity, and diversity is richness. In fact, the values that human rights and democracy seek to promote can be found in almost all cultures. All human beings in the world need freedom and security so that they may develop to their full social and intellectual potential. Hence, it is precisely because of the cultural diversity of the world that it is necessary for different nations and people to agree on the basic human values which will act as their common unifying ground. Good governance that provides security without destroying individuals' freedom could then be attained.
These messages were broadcast and still are, via songs on almost every radio and every day for whomever wants to listen. Disseminating this message amidst war was a very courageous act. Being a devoted artist in times of conflict could have been dangerous. The Rahbani family and Fairouz continue till the present moment to spread the word for hope. In an era of global markets, global culture and global citizenship, one might wonder if individuals in small states could have an impact on the world scene. If one keeps in mind that globalization does not necessarily imply loss of identity amidst diversity, music -in this sense- could be an excellent manifestation of diversity and a readily available medium to reach the masses. Music with a mission could easily play the role of a good-will ambassador for cultural identity. Hence, citizens of small nations can make some space on the world's map for their country's worries, problems, hopes and ambitions.
And here I am, as mortal as all the sunflowers that preceded me, deep rooted in my land. I turn my head in all directions and all I see is my brothers, my sisters and the blue blue sky. I look at them all, draw from their experiences, then turn to the sun.