Bahrain: Responses to attack on Khalife and Haddad

20 May 2007

A performance at the “Spring of Culture” festival was attacked by fundamentalist members of the Bahraini parliament as being in violation of Islamic morals and Sharia laws.

Below are three initial responses to the controversy – from the artists themselves, from a group of Arab intellectuals, and from Freemuse.

 The artists’ response
 Statement from Arab intellectuals
 Freemuse’s news alert e-mail




Full story:
Marcel Khalife causes fury in Bahrain

The artists’ response:
Translation of Marcel Khalife and Qassim Haddad’s statement on the controversy

We Came to Declare Love

When we plumbed the depths of our Arab heritage searching for a luminous gem to light up our present and restore what has been forgotten or lost from our lives today, which is Love, we brought back a pearl of everlasting incandescence – indeed a torch whose flame never dies out so long as two souls breath in love.

We brought back the tale of a man whose heart melted away (and, it is said, whose mind perished) in love. With lyrics and music, song and dance, and scenes of drama, we dressed up this tale for stage presentation.

In creating and presenting our work, we had only one ambition: to instigate joy as opposed to indifference, life as opposed nihility. Our goal has been to give expression to human emotion in its purest, most glorious manifestations, to exult that which is worthy of exultation – love.

Never did we aim to titillate the lower senses of our audience, who attended our work with innocence, confidence, and intelligence. Seeking at once to be edified and entertained, our audience has received our work with a wide-open heart, free of preconceived notions, prejudice, and judgment. With our audience, we have a covenant of mutual respect and solemn commitment: we never insult our audience by presenting anything that is trite, trivial, or gratuitous.

It, therefore, never occurred to us that our show of clean, innocent entertainment, free of ill intentions, would be judged, in absentia, contrary to our intentions, and that Defenders of the Faith, protectors of morality and public decorum, would interpret our work as a violation of Islamic law and public morals.

Islamic bloc MPs, along with fellow travelers, have set out to confront Majnoon Layla and all the activities of the Spring Culture Fest in Bahrain, and to form a committee to investigate what they have dubbed a violation of the Sharia. We do not see this move of theirs as arising from a desire to settle some political and personal scores as much as we see it, at a more profound level, as a premeditated, systematic attempt to terrorize all forms of thought and culture and to suppress every creative endeavor. What is being targeted is the culture of liberty itself that refuses to be acquiescent.

Their move is false, fruitless, and without credibility. Islam, the religion they purport to defend, is a vibrant faith, which does not derive its vigor, magnificence, and continuity from the violence (physical or verbal) that is deployed by those jurors of darkness and purveyors of edicts, but rather from the values of love, tolerance, and coexistence that it advocates. Islam, in essence, rests upon a wide spectrum of interpretations, and, consequently, fosters a spirit of dialog among such interpretations. It is a religion that does not require the blood letting of a poet or the silencing of a song in order to survive. And it certainly does not need to be defended by a howling, agitated, convulsive crowd.

This foul cry is an open, direct call for intellectual closure, for the denial of the right of the Other to self-expression, and for the denial of plurality of voices. The irony is that this call has been launched from a parliament, which is presumed to be a forum of diverse voices and orientations.

Not only does this false call represent effrontery to human freedom to pursue knowledge and happiness, but also represents an insult to a civilized nation that is at home in the twenty-first century.

We are entitled to wonder:

Is it worthy of a civilized nation to have its people represented by MPs who have such delusions of power as to believe that they can simply ban, suppress, and confiscate at will; MPs who, in fear and trembling, foment hatred and fanaticism every time a poem or a song looms on the horizon, defying their dictates; MPs who see the devil embedded in every song, every dance, every dramatic scene, and every literary text; MPs who think that God showers his mercy upon them only, while harboring enmity towards others? Parliamentarians or not, it is no mandate of theirs to lecture the whole people on morals, and they are certainly in no position to teach us patriotism.

What is happening here has happened, and continues to happen, in one form or another, in various Arab countries. Arab intellectuals have long been placed under a cloud of suspicion, so long as they continue to be creative. Therefore, Arab intellectuals should not be content with the exercise of creativity, but must engage in the defense of creativity against the forces of suppression that lurk behind every corner.

Lastly, and rightly, we salute and embrace all the loving hearts and free minds that have expressed their beautiful commitment to love and freedom – two values that must never be abandoned, especially in the spheres of life and artistic creativity. Here, we wish to appreciate the clear, bold, and civilized stand of these courageous hearts and minds. We are confident that, ahead of us, there is a beautiful future towards which we stride in full freedom and with diverse intellectual and artistic creative endeavors. No one can hold us back.

With these hearts and minds, we join the voices of our poetry and music, saying to those who seek to thwart us:

Hands off our throats!

Marcel Khalifé and Qassim Haddad

Marcel Khalife and Qassim Haddad

Responding to an initiative of the Lebanese Cultural Forum in France, Arab intellectuals comprised of poets, writers, artists, researchers, academics, and media representatives, have signed the following statement:

In Defense of a Culture of Love and Life

The face of aggression has, once again, appeared in full display of its dark-age menace, waging an anachronistic war against the “Spring of Culture” in Bahrain, and against the basic notions of love, freedom of expression, and the pathways of culture and art, represented here by Marcel Khalifé and Qassim Haddad.

This dark-age assault on the springtime of culture in Bahrain is nothing but a protraction of the prosecution which Marcel Khalifé endured some years ago in Beirut, and of all the suppression and aggression to which Arab writers and intellectuals are subjected to by a number of Arab regimes.

Such obscurant, fundamentalist currents build no future or genuine culture, liberate neither land nor people, and augur no spring, and no love. Freedom alone, specifically freedom of expression, innovation and creativity in all its diversity, difference, and richness, can raise the foundation of our future, guarantee a culture of life, liberate women, and address the debilitating scourges of poverty, ignorance, disease, illiteracy, regression, corruption, power-mongering, aggression, suppression of thought, and dispossession of Arab lands.

We salute the institutions of civil society in Bahrain that stood up in defense of liberty and love. We salute the Spring of Culture in Bahrain and throughout the Arab World.

We salute Marcel Khalifé and Qassim Haddad.


Freemuse’s news alert e-mail:
Marcel Khalife in a new controversy

The following letter was sent by e-mail on 30 March 2007 to more than 1,500 journalists, institutions, organisations, governmental bodies and individuals:

Freemuse, the World Forum on Music & Censorship, expresses our concern over the attack on a music, song and dance drama by world renowned composer and musician Marcel Khalife and Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad. We are deeply concerned about what the consequences of the Bahrain Parliamentary investigative committee’s findings will be and express our full support to the distinguished artists.

International conventions secure musicians, composers and writers right to create, perform and act without interference from governments or religious groups. The attack by the Bahraini parliamentarians is a violation of freedom of speech as it applies to musicians.

Freemuse has signed the petition list initiated by the Lebanese Cultural Forum in France and signed by poets, writers, artists, researchers, academics, and media representatives in the Arab world.

We hereby respectfully and kindly ask the Bahraini parliament to reverse its decision and dissolve the Investigative committee, and to reaffirm the importance and role of artists and artistic freedom in society and ensure that the Parliament does not take any action violating the UN Declaration on Human Rights.



Video statement: ‘Majnoon Layla’
In this statement Marcel Khalife speaks (in Arabic language) about why artists must engage in the defence of creativity.
See the video.
Click to see Marcel Khalife's video statement
Related reading on the internet
Saudi Debate – 20 May 2007:
‘Arab players face the music as Islamic conservatives seek to silence creative spirits’

“Beyond the public condemnation by conservatives of live music and theatrical performances that are criticised for falling short of Islamic practices, a burgeoning community of artistic talent is finding a growing audience among Arabs across the Middle East and around the world. From Bahrain’s ‘Spring of Culture’ festival to London’s ‘Ramadan Nights’ season, Arab musicians and others are defying various forms of popular and governmental censorship despite serious risks – including death threats – against which they have little or no protection. As Susannah Tarbush writes, the fury meted out against the Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife and the Bahraini poet Qassim Haddad in response to their staging in Bahrain recently of the love story Laila and Majnoun, was disconcertingly typical of the artists’ plight…”
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