Trump vs The Arts

Among the victims of President Donald Trump ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Middle Eastern countries is Kinan Azmeh, a noted Syrian clarinetist 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 last 16 years. The U.S. government prohibition for Azmeh (and to 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 U.S. this weekend, but he doesn’t know if he will be allowed to enter the U.S. because of the ban. “Our America is big, it is free, and it is open to dreamers of all races, all countries, all religions. Our vision of America is directly antithetical to that of President Trump. I want to specifically tonight reject his vision 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 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 in the University of California at 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 U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Should Azmeh be not allowed to enter the U.S. 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 President Donald 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 of 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 prestigious Juilliard School of music, where he was a student of Charles Neidich, a world famous American clarinetist, 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, der Philharmonie in Berlin, the U.S. Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., 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 s 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, 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 antagonize big sectors of the population in the U.S., and is a source of almost universal scorn.

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”