Music Hath Charms, But They Depend On the Geopolitical Context


Lebanon was going to make its debut this spring in the Eurovision music contest, a big pop event that features the singers of various countries and that draws huge audiences throughout the world. It would have been the first Arab nation in the expanding competition, offering a number in French, "Quand tout s'enfuit" (When Everything Fades). Suddenly, however, Lebanon has withdrawn from the event. Why? Lebanon's current TV authority wanted to pretend that one of the other participating countries wasn't there, and Eurovision wouldn't let it. That other country was Israel.

"If the Israeli contestant wins, we would have to show the celebrations," complained Ibrahim Khury, the head of Tele-Liban. Indeed, they would also have had to show viewers how they could vote for the Israeli contestant, and in fact, they would have had to show the Israeli contestant in the act of singing. "I cannot do this," said Khury.

Actually, he probably could have done it. Lebanese and Israeli contestants have competed before—and in front of big international audiences, too—and all parties survived. One notable popular precedent (because it drew a very big audience) was the 1971 Miss Universe contest, which was won by Miss Lebanon (the celebrated Georgina Rizk) with Miss Israel among the semi-finalists. And that was with the 1967 Six Day War—a source of boundless humiliation in the Arab world—still a fresh and painful memory. [Update: Okay, okay. Here's another shot of Ms. Rizk.]

The chances are that with nationalist feelings running very high, the majority of Lebanese would have welcomed such a showcasing of their country, especially in a European event. As for Israel, the opposition (the majority of the country is the opposition) appears to favor a truce on the Lebanese-Israeli border anyway.

Maybe this is a case where responsible people don't want to risk the slightest provocation; emotions are running high, there are disturbing reports of bombings, and rumors of more bombs, kidnappings, and other threats. Who knows what might lead to what? Besides, the sound of the Israeli contestant in song could have driven Hizbollah's Hassan Nasrallah mad. (Nasrallah's own Lebanese TV station, Al Manar, features no Israeli music, but makes up for that with reports that Jews are actively spreadings AIDS, etc.)

On the other hand, Tele-Liban is a state agency, the Lebanese state remains in the hands of Syrian lackeys, and this may be too dangerous a moment for such a state to do anything that might be mistaken for good sense, reasonableness, or tolerance.

You can hear Aline Lahoud, Lebanon's disappointed Eurovision contestant, singing "Quand tout s'enfuit" here.

(Thanks to Tony Badran and Matt Welch)