Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Eurovision as a force for secularism?

I must admit I groaned when I heard that Palestine was making a bid to be represented at next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Imagine the tedious debates it will resurrect about the definition of 'Europe', not to mention the political storm over whether it's possible to have two nations representing the same strip of land.

But music journalist Jonathan Walton has a different take on it, arguing that a Palestinian presence in Eurovision could be just what the struggle for a peaceful, two-state solution needs. Writing in this month's issue of the world music magazine Songlines (print version only) he claims that 'as another symbolic, incremental step in the Palestinian bid for de facto international recognition as a legitimate, independent state, the effect would clearly be significant.'

More interestingly, Walton believes that the 'deepest ramifications' would be local, rather than global, with the contest providing 'a much-needed positive cheerleader' to unite ordinary Palestinians:

But perhaps more importantly a poster boy who is a musician - rather than a sheikh, politician or shahid - would give a huge boost to the cosmopolitan, secular-minded segment of Palestinian society whose vision of an open, pluralistic Palestine has been slowly losing ground to the rather more restrictive, militant, theocratic alternative promoted by Hamas. Like many Israelis, the 'Oslo Generation' of Palestinians - a young, often Western educated graduate generation who returned in the optimistic atmosphere of the mid-90s following the Oslo Accords - find the social model of Europe and the US far more appealing than that of their Middle Eastern neighbours. Participation in Eurovision would be one small step towards strengthening their vision.

Eurovision as a force for an independent, secular Palestine? Who knows. Mind you, it seems like a trivial sideshow in the light of these developments.

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