The Emptying of the Political in Lebanon: Lara Fabian and consumable revolutions.
Recently, a concert by Lara Fabian scheduled in Lebanon brought upon a storm of actions by the “Campaign to boycott supporters of Israel in Lebanon” who protested the pop singer’s recent involvement with and support of Israel and called for a boycott that eventually led to the cancellation of the concert.
This brought upon a counter campaign from Lebanese businesses and the pop singer’s fans who accused the boycotting campaign of censorship and of threatening the singer. A picture of the Lara Fabian’s concert was published on the Facebook page “stop cultural terrorism in Lebanon” accusing the campaign of cultural terrorism and of mixing politics with art and music. These events were all preceded by the state censorship of “Hotel Beirut” , a Lebanese movie prevented from showing in Lebanon because it contains scenes that “threatens national security”. The counter campaign grew strong enough for Lara Fabian to re-establish her concert in Lebanon, which will be again held on February 14th.
Abundant debates over Lara Fabian’s concert in social media like Facebook, and newspapers like Al-Akhbar, that recently published around four articles in their Culture section on the topic, has clearly brought upon two main and opposing arguments: 1) boycotting Lara Fabian’s concert and any other cultural event in support of Zionism is a way to resist against Israel’s apartheid system and its unlawful policies against Palestinians, and 2) leaving people to decide for themselves which cultural event to attend and why, is a human right that should never be censored or politicized under any circumstance.
Somewhere in these debates, the act of boycotting Israeli commodities, or commodities dangerously linked to Israel, was equated with the act of cultural terrorism and censorship.
These forms of identification, arguments and debates are strong examples of how the political is emptied in Lebanon, in the midst of the “Arab spring” and revolutionary changes in the Middle East.
Boycotting vs. cultural terrorism: signaling the terror in commodities of the global
Boycotting and cultural censorship are both forms of politics that reflect an anxiety over certain forms of commodities, whether because of their attachment to Israel, as is the case with Lara Fabian, or whether they are deemed to be culturally inappropriate, commodities that might shake the social and political system, like “Beirut hotel”. While the act of boycotting assumes a personal or collective choice to abstain from consuming certain commodities, state censorship is a more institutionally implemented “abstinence”, where citizens have no say in the matter.
What is at stake here is a visibility/censorship dichotomy that reflects the current state of global politics. Both the act of boycotting and censorship are a reflection of a generalized anxiety over the consumption of certain global commodities. The act of boycotting however marks the commodity as dangerous and bad by localizing it in history. Lara Fabian’s concert, when boycotted, stops being “just art” and becomes visible in the political arena as holding marks of Zionism and oppression.
Through the act of boycotting, certain local and dangerous characteristics emerge onto the surface and become unveiled, which threatens the globality of the commodities themselves. The act of censorship on the other hand, works by removing the commodity all together from the reach of the public, marking it as dangerous as a whole, by removing it entirely, thereby rendering it invisible and unreachable.
Therefore, boycotting marks and signals the terror in commodities, thereby making them political, while censorship signals them entirely as terrorizing and remove them all together from the political field and from consumption. So, why did boycotting Lara Fabian’s concert become so rapidly equated with censorship and “cultural terrorism”?
The global politics of human rights
In order to understand why and how boycotting became equated with cultural terrorism, we need to locate Lebanese social actions within global politics. In the Lara Fabian debates, the boycotters centered their argument on the importance of being conscious of the forms of commodities consumed within the current global order, while the other group evoked freedom of expression as the primary and most essential human values that should never be compromised.
While the boycotters framed their argument around the right to abstain from consuming certain commodities, the pro-concert group evoked a clear discourse of human rights that mainly revolved around freedom of expression anywhere and anytime, regardless of history and context.
Through these human rights values, commodities like music and clothes (etc.) become global in a sense that they can hold similar meaning and consumptive function anywhere without being challenged. Their locality must always be hidden. After all, art is just art, music and fashion has nothing to do with politics and should be enjoyed by everyone regardless of who made them and for what purpose. To mention for example that Coco Chanel worked as a Nazi agent from the occupation of Paris to the aftermath of the world war II , should not be mixed with fashion line that modernized and revolutionized clothing. By not respecting this politics/art dichotomy, the boycotters threatened the very globality of commodities of art and were accused of censoring and interrupting their global flow.
The emptying of the political in Lebanon
The Lara Fabian’s debates are one example of how the political is emptied in Lebanon through the subscription to a global discourse of human rights, whose politics of life assumes a universal way of being that disregards and makes hidden the locality of the human. In the midst of the “Arab spring” revolutions and social movements, Lebanon appears to have been emptied of the political at the expense of moral discourses of human rights and of the globality of consumption.
Much like dominant arguments that called against the incorporation of the political into domains like art and consumption, the current state of the art in Lebanese politics brings into the present past narratives and stories of rebellion and resistance and re-introduce them into the political discourse as “revolutions”. Recently produced movies like “Rue Huvelin” (2011) revoke and combine post-civil war youth demonstrations, protests and sit-ins in Lebanon between 1990 and 2005, into a solid revolutionary narrative under the new light of “the Arab spring”. Conferences like “Lebanon on the margins of the Arab Spring” held in Washington DC on the current state of Lebanese politics strive to bring into the present past demonstrations and protests like the “Cedar revolution”.
These narrative forms are also strong examples of how the political, or practice politics, in Lebanon, is easily replaced with apolitical narratives of consumptive revolutions. In this sense, “Lebanese revolutions” become commodities themselves that are consumed to satisfy the need for political and social action.