The Caged Bird Sings

I had no idea – and you probably didn’t either – that Simon Cowell’s Simon Fuller‘s Idol franchise extends to the Arab world – and, in fact, may be one of the last gasps of pan-Arabism, as the region descends into a sectarian and educational hell. But the story of a young Palestinian who somehow managed to get past all the roadblocks and barriers to make it to the first stage of the competition in Cairo is quite something. From a Gaza refugee camp, he eventually had to climb over the walls of the compound where the auditions were taking place because he arrived too late. Once inside, without a ticket, he just burst into song amid the crowd of contestants, and one of his fellow competitors was kind enough to offer him his place. He’s now one of the favorites to win – and has managed to pierce through the grinding existence in Palestine to offer a unifying – and strikingly Western – vision. His main rival? A Syrian woman.

Maysoon Zayid, in a truly engaging essay, explains what she sees as his significance:

Mohammed Assaf is the face of the Palestinians that Netanyahu and friends refuse to admit exists. He is Muslim, but not radical. He is owned neither by Hamas nor Fatah and represents not just Gaza but Palestine as a whole. He humanizes a generation of males who have been reduced to terrorist caricatures. He has parents who obviously love and support him, the antithesis of the fabled Palestinian parents who want their children to die martyrs, and he has fan girls. Arab girls of all ages are in love with Mohammed Assaf and they are not afraid to Tweet it. Nor are they in danger of being “honor”-killed by the men in their families for doing so.

Know hope.