Adonis Diaries

Ziad Rahbani plans to exit the Lebanese stage: Immigrating to Russia TV

Posted on: October 3, 2014

Ziad Rahbani, son of the famous iconic singer Feyrouz, plans to exit the Lebanese stage: Immigrating to Russia TV

By the end of October.

Michael Young Published this Oct. 3/2014 

Lebanese composer, pianist, performer, playwright, and political commentator Ziad Rahbani performs during the festival of Zouk Mikael, north of Beirut, on July 25, 2013 (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

The announcement by musician and playwright Ziad al-Rahbani that he intended to “emigrate” to Russia because political horizons in Lebanon had narrowed was rich in contradiction.

Recently, after Rahbani suspected that Hezbollah was behind an effort to disrupt his concert in Naqoura, he began criticizing the party’s political behavior. (Actually, Ziad said that he strongly suspected Israel for the loud background noises, because Israel has the technological means for these disruptions)

He said, “We can no longer defend Hezbollah all the time. Hezbollah takes from us (the communists and the other secular and resistance forces), but gives nothing in return. What we do with [the party] it doesn’t do with us, to the extent that it doesn’t mention my name at all.”

Rahbani’s departure for Russia might not be permanent. (He said that he will be visiting Lebanon and has purchased an apartment).

It’s difficult to imagine him lasting very long in the endless Arctic nights, or getting much recognition in a country that is drawn to Vladimir Putin’s brand of xenophobia.

Come to think of it, it’s very hard to imagine Rahbani discovering political horizons in Putin’s Russia that are wider than in Lebanon. Even the artist’s attraction to communism is unlikely to mean much in a country that has preserved only a chauvinist form of nationalism from the communist era, grafted onto an oligarchic and corrupt capitalist economic system headed by a man who systematically creates new enemies to remain in power.

You wonder, then, if the motive is less ideological than cultural, a consequence of how Russia is perceived, perhaps mythically, in the Lebanese Greek Orthodox imagination. Then again, even culturally, can Rahbani long delight in a country governed by a hooligan, blessed by a materialistic and fatuous clergy as influential as the materialistic, fatuous clergy is in Lebanon? (Ziad was clear that the move was for professional reasons and enhancing his career)

Rahbani’s disenchantment with Hezbollah is hardly surprising. But it took him rather a long time to notice the party’s authoritarian core, its suffocation of any alternative paths in the Shiite community, and its habitual resort to intimidation, or worse, with opponents.

Last December Rahbani publicly declared that his mother, the singer Fairuz, admired Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, an announcement that provoked a furor.

But Rahbani is not leaving Lebanon and Hezbollah for more open climes. The behavior of the authorities in Putin’s Russia is not very different than that of Hezbollah.

For all his contradictions, Rahbani may soon realize that it is much easier to put on a play in Lebanon that welcomes the arrival of a dictator, as he did with Bikhsous al-Karameh wal Shaab al-Aaneed (With Respect to Dignity and the Stubborn People), than it is to put on a play in Russia that would welcome the arrival of democracy.

Notwithstanding Rahbani’s fine ability to pick apart the idiosyncrasies and pathologies in Lebanese society, Lebanon remains – despite its dysfunctional nature, its self-destructiveness, the incompetence of its leadership, and the deep frustrations it engenders – an outpost of pluralism and liberty in a region where this has almost disappeared.

Rahbani is living proof of this. Before and during the civil war he wrote a series of biting, brilliant plays that have become standards in Lebanon’s cultural consciousness.

All his plays were in some ways critical of the country and society, but Rahbani’s humor made them perfectly tolerable and greatly enjoyable. He showed us that the Lebanese could laugh at themselves and that was enough.

Yet once Hezbollah came onto the scene, the laughing stopped, except to the extent that when Rahbani declared his backing for Hezbollah, many of us laughed, so improbable was the match.

That Rahbani and Fairuz, artists of immense talent and imagination, should beat to the same rhythm as an authoritarian, sectarian, secretive party that gains its life-force from perpetual conflict and a cult of martyrdom remains a genuine oddity.

Rahbani is hardly the first person from the political left to have developed sympathies for Hezbollah.

It’s reassuring that he’s finally seen through the impossibility of that marriage. You can only presume that one day the Shiite community, with its own innate pluralism, will go in a similar direction, once the sectarian wars that Hezbollah has been fueling begin to die down and the exhausted Shiites have time to take stock.

All one can say to Ziad al-Rahbani is stick around. Lebanon may not be Nirvana, but at least you have the country’s number, and it can always benefit from your wicked wit.

Give us another jazz album, if you have nothing to do. Fight Hezbollah with Charlie Parker and Bud Powell, not with Vladimir Putin. Rest assured, at least we will continue to mention your name.

Michael Young is opinion editor of The Daily Star newspaper. He tweets @BeirutCalling

Note: I watched the segment in Arabic on New TV.

Ziad was clear as water: “I reached the age of retirement. I could not change the stinky socio-political system in Lebanon and I don’t want to let this system change me and humiliate me in my old age.

I am moving on to where I can be supported to resume doing what I love to do…”.

And what if he is broke? At least he has the possibility to move on and the courage to decide to live in a different environment.

Ziad pronouncement struck a vigorous chord in me.

Ziad said that Hassan Nasr Allah highlights the articles he publishes in Al Akhbar, but he never received any acknowledgment or letter from him.

I wish those who are criticizing Ziad be as talented and as engaged as he is.


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