Musician without a conscience

I don’t deem it a “privilege” to listen to Zubin Mehta

BARBER SHOP BANTER

IBN HUSSAIN

The widespread opposition to Zubin Mehta performing in Srinagar is right but for wrong reasons. The letter written to the German Ambassador by some enlightened members of our civil society invokes the disputed political status of J&K as the reason for opposing the concert. Their asking the German Embassy to “issue a statement accepting the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir, and recognizing the pain and legitimate political and legal struggle of its people” is far fetched, if not meaningless.  After rightly bringing to note the context for the concert, the letter ends in a rather servile manner: “A Zubin Mehta performance in Jammu and Kashmir, though a privilege, cannot be used to further an occupying State’s narrative”. By saying this, the signatories exhibit a teleological deterministic mindset.
I am sorry but I don’t deem it a  “privilege” to listen to Zubin Mehta. Nor is my “narrative”, evolving as it may still be, so weak and helpless that it cannot counter the “occupying state’s narrative”. I have no problem with outside musicians coming and performing in Kashmir. I welcome it. I don’t want my civil society to be autarkic, arcane and insular. I want to be international. Contemporary. Vibrant. But I have a serious ideological problem with a Zubin Mehta concert in J&K.
No one seems to know or care to recall that Zubin Mehta is no plain vanilla musician. He conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). For the uninitiated, the IPO is and has often described as, "Israel's foremost cultural asset". It is widely regarded as the Orchestra of the Jews. It is an organization that can’t be delinked form the history and politics of the Israelis who not only own it but also have put a lot of time and money into it. Zubin Mehta has the orchestra advised it since 1968, directed it since 1977, and led as musical director for life since 1981. It is for this reason that I have a problem with Zubin Mehta.  I have a problem with his politics and associations. And because his music is deeply and inexorably intertwined with his politics, I don’t want him to perform in Shalimar. Or for that matter not even in Singapore or Shanghai. For me Zubin Mehta is a Zionist. It is this that makes his music not only the music of oppression, but also music without a conscience for me.
It is precisely for this reason that wherever he goes, he faces protest. If it was in Buenos Aires earlier this week, it was in New York some time back that he faced protests. All in support of “Palestinians’ call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli “apartheid state” that is occupying Arab land, building settlements, and repressing Palestinians”. The similarities between them and us are too strong to go unnoticed. And Zubin Mehta, a man of strong political beliefs and stronger actions, believes that most of the criticism of Israel is unfair!! That is his politics.
Indeed, Mehta is not only passionately committed and devoted to the IPO but also to Israel and Israelis. He has shown exemplary loyalty towards Israel. In times of war and crisis, he has often canceled other commitments to perform with the IPO. In 1991 Gulf War, he conducted performances with the IPO during scud missile attacks. That is his politics and political action that I hear more than his music.
If all of this is not enough reason to boycott Zubin Mehta, here is some more: most of his orchestra members are ultra-Orthodox ideologists who refuse to perform if women are singing in the choir on stage. They express religious grounds to women singing!
I am aware that Mehta is conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra at Shalimar Gardens but I still shudder to think what and whose compositions will he play? For many of the symphonies conducted by Mehta have movements that offer a narrative of Jewish history. It is about Jewish life before the Diaspora until the Holocaust, the genocide itself, the revival and renaissance in Israel. A narrative deeply in conflict with our own. Mehta, currently, seems to be enamored of musical pieces written by composers of Jewish descent! Be it Arnold Schoenberg’s Kol Nidre; or Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concertoor or the  “Revival of the Dead,” by Noam Sheriff. The last may be more appropriate in light of the thousands who have been killed.
Knowing the government that we have, Zubin Mehta will perform to the military and civil administrator elite, most of them will be non Kashmiris! While the Kashmiris will be under curfew. So here is what we should do: from our homes let us play, as loudly as we can, music of legendary Bob Marley who was a vocal advocate of peace and black power in the political tumult of 1970’s.
Or more to the point, having blaring music of British musician Elvis Costello who recently joined greats like Pete Seeger, Carlos Santana, Brian Eno and the Pixies, in refusing to perform in Israel. They did this in order to make a statement against the government’s apartheid regime and abuses of the human rights of Palestinians.
We should boycott and silence Zubin Mehta’s concert  as a matter of conscience and political support for our fellow resistors: the great Palestinians!

Lastupdate on : Sat, 31 Aug 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 31 Aug 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 1 Sep 2013 00:00:00 IST




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