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Nadia Hijab

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Arab Freedom and the ADC Convention

Posted: 06/10/11 06:30 PM ET

A storm rages around the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee's (ADC) decision that award-winning German-born Syrian musician Malek Jandali should not perform his song "I Am My Homeland" at its annual convention in Washington, D.C. Many Arab Americans are angry about this decision. Meanwhile the pro-Israel segment of the U.S. media is having a field day.

As one of the scheduled speakers at the ADC convention, I have, like other speakers, been weighing my participation in the event. In the end, I have decided to speak and to make public my reasons for doing so, writing in my personal capacity and not as an affiliate of any organization or institution.

As a human rights advocate, I believe the ADC should have let Jandali sing. Those of us who hail from the Arab region now live in a different era -- one that we have struggled for and dreamt of for many years. Arab peoples are rising up against the dictatorships that have stunted freedom, political participation, and initiative for decades, all the while stealing and mismanaging national resources.

The Arab Spring, as these struggles are collectively known, build on and reinforce the Palestinian people's struggle for freedom from Israel's 44-year military occupation -- during which two generations have been born into captivity -- justice for the Palestinian refugees and equality for the citizens of Israel.

I believe in speaking out for fundamental freedoms whenever they are being trampled by Arab states, by Israel, or by my recently adopted country, the U.S., I want to put on record my support of the Syrian people's struggle for those freedoms as well as those of the peoples in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Palestine, and my condemnation of the regimes' draconian responses.

And I salute the victories won by the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt. I am heartened beyond words by the inspiration of their revolutions, and stand in solidarity with their continued struggle to achieve all of the freedoms to which all human beings aspire.

Some of my closest friends and colleagues, whose positions I respect, have urged me to withdraw from the ADC Convention, saying that to attend would not be in keeping with my history of working for human rights and international law.

Yet, I believe that not speaking is the easier course. Our new world is not yet born, and many are struggling to make sense of it. How do we deal with the alliances forged in the old world? How do we shape the new world in a way that recognizes the very real constraints that people on the ground have to deal with in order to put bread on the table? How do we sustain our valuable institutions and organizations without accepting contributions from the governments that crush them but rather from the people?

The real challenge is to speak, and to do so from a position of principle that is applied without distinction and increasingly without fear of those in power. Those of us who have the luck to live in countries where rights are still -- for the most part -- respected, enjoy freedom of expression and must use it to help define the way forward.

I have been a longtime supporter of ADC and its work for the civil rights of Arab Americans. In Arabic we have a saying that when the cow falls, the knives proliferate. ADC remains an important institution even when a serious mistake has been made. Rather than abandoning the ADC, I believe it is better to engage with the organization and help set it on a different course. The purpose would be not only to avoid such mistakes in the future but also to participate in an inter-Arab dialogue on these and other issues.

I still plan to moderate the Sunday brunch at which the former Palestinian ambassador Afif Safieh is the keynote speaker as well as the subsequent Town Hall on "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions as a peaceful, legal, and just campaign" for freedom, from ending Israel's occupation, justice for Palestinian refugees, and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. And I will endeavor to ensure that all voices that speak with respect are heard, including my own, no matter how difficult or controversial the message, as we struggle to build a different future in which all human rights are upheld.

Note: the original post referred to Malek Jandali as Syrian-German; it has been amended to say that he was born in Germany.