Donald Trump v the arts

Cesar Chelala
5 Min Read

Among the victims of president Donald Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries is Kinan Azmeh, a noted Syrian clarinettist and composer. Presently, Azmeh is stuck in Beirut, even though he has an EB-1 “alien with extraordinary abilities” visa and has lived in New York for the past 16 years. The US government’s prohibition for Azmeh (and for thousands of others) to return to his own home is a cruel and unnecessary measure that does a disservice to culture and the arts.

Azmeh is currently in Beirut, and planned to return to the US this weekend, but he doesn’t know if he will be allowed to enter the US because of the ban. “Our America is big, it is free, and it is open to dreamers of all races, all countries, and all religions. Our vision of America is directly antithetical to that of president Trump. I want to specifically reject his vision tonight and affirm that America has to be better than that,” declared John Legend, the famous American musician and actor when he spoke at the Producers Guild of America awards.

For many observers, Trump’s executive orders feel like a vendetta, a revenge against all those who are demonstrating against him, as well as those who didn’t vote for him. Trump is clearly oblivious of the dozens of protests around the country against his government and constantly uses Twitter as a weapon of war against those that oppose him.

For example, after protesters at the University of California in Berkeley smashed windows and set fires to show their indignation at the scheduled speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right Breitbart News editor, Trump tweeted: “If UC Berkeley does not allow free speech and practises violence on innocent people with a different point of view—NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Should Azmeh not be allowed to enter the US, it will be one more show of the Trump government’s intolerance; one that is not based on real facts, not “alternative facts” as claimed in her ungracious words by Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump. Azmeh is not only a musician but also a human rights activist, whose talent has received international acclaim.

Kinan Azmeh, who was born in Damascus to Syrian parents, was the first Arab to win the first prize at the 1997 Nicolai Rubinstein International Competition in Moscow. Kinan is a graduate of New York’s prestigious Juilliard School of music, where he was a student of Charles Neidich, a world famous American clarinettist, composer, and conductor. He is also a graduate of Damascus High Institute of Music and Damascus University. He earned his doctorate in music from the City University of New York.

Kinan has appeared as a soloist, composer, and improviser in several prestigious places around the world such as: Opera Bastille in Paris, Tchaikovsky Grand Hall in Moscow, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Royal Albert Hall in London, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Philharmonie in Berlin, the US Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Salzburg Mozarteum, and the Damascus Opera House.

He has been a soloist with the Bavarian radio orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan orchestra founded by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, the Kiev Camerata, the Izmir State Opera Orchestra, the New York Juilliard Ensemble, the Syrian Symphony Orchestra among many others. His compositions include works for solo, orchestra, and chamber music and he is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble.

Kinan doesn’t know if he will be allowed to return home and, even if he does return home, he does not know if he won’t face further difficulties from a government who has shown considerable intolerance to foreigners, particularly from Arab countries. If Kinan is not allowed to return to his home in New York and perform with total freedom, it will be one more stain on a government who has managed to antagonise big sectors of the population in the US, and is a source of almost universal scorn.

Cesar Chelala, an international public health consultant and writer, is a winner of several journalism awards.

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Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, is an international public health consultant who has conducted health-related missions in over 50 countries worldwide. He is also a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.
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