American singer John Legend is performing a concert in Bahrain amid calls for John to cancel his performance in a country where the government brutally cracks down on dissension. Performing at the Spring of Culture festival on Monday, March 2, tickets to see Legend sold out in a few hours; however, many are questioning why John would choose to perform there.
Legend, along with fellow musician Common, won an Oscar for Best Original Song last week for “Glory” for Selma. Legend took the opportunity to make a political statement with his powerful acceptance speech.
John said, “We say that ‘Selma’ is now because the struggle for justice is now. We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today.” Legend added there are “more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery.”
While many were moved by his speech, Legend now faces criticism from all sides for refusing to cancel his concert in Bahrain. John said he hopes to meet and encourage human rights protesters in Bahrain.
“As we move this work forward, I hope to meet the many people who are peacefully struggling for freedom, justice and accountability, regardless of what country they live in, and tell them directly that I stand with them.”
Not everyone is as optimistic about Legend’s chances of meeting with protesters at the concert. Maryam Alkhawaja, an activist for human rights, wrote an email about her disappointment that John still plans to perform in the country. Alkhawaja’s father and sister, both peaceful protesters, have both been sentenced to long jail terms.
Alkhawaja wrote in her email that Legend’s concert “will be used by the regime to whitewash ongoing violations.” She adds, “‘Freedom fighters’ couldn’t attend even if they wanted to. [Mr. Legend] should not drown out the cries of people being attacked only 10 minutes away from where he is performing with his music.”
Marc Lynch, director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, used his blog to pen an open letter to John Legend.
“Bahraini lives have been taken by the police with impunity as well, and Bahraini lives do matter. I hope that you will think deeply about the implications of performing in a country like today’s Bahrain, where the violence of an unaccountable police against peaceful protesters mirrors everything against which you have spoken out at home. If you do decide to perform, perhaps you could speak out about the situation there as you have so gracefully done here in America.”
In response to the letter, John Legend had this to say.
“I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about human rights, civil rights and other issues of justice, both in the United States and abroad. The solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott. Most of the time I will choose to engage with the people of the country rather than ignore or abandon my commitments to perform for them.”
Brian Dooley with the Huffington Post writes Legend will have to be careful if he does perform, because the Bahraini government could try to spin John Legend’s concert as a “return to normalcy” after the protests back in 2011. Dooley also notes, “He should know that there are human-rights activists and families of those in jail who would be eager to meet him so that he can tell them directly that he stands with them.”
What do you think of John Legend’s decision to perform in Bahrain?
[Image by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images]