By Daniel Barenboim – New York
The sovereign independent republic of the West-Eastern Divan, as I like to call the orchestra I founded with Edward Said to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, began as an unpredictable experiment in 1999.
Over the years, it has grown into an example of how Middle Eastern society could function under the best of circumstances. Our musicians have gone through the painful process of learning to express themselves, while simultaneously listening to the narrative of their counterparts. I cannot imagine a better way of implementing the first and most fundamental article of the United Nations' declaration of human rights: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, that they are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Unfortunately, today in the Middle East, not all human beings are granted the same freedom and equality in dignity and rights. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a musical organisation, not a political one, but for the approximately six-week duration of its annual existence it is able to provide its members with one basic need: equality.
The same two young people who might encounter each other at a checkpoint in the roles of border guard and citizen under occupation sit next to one another in this orchestra, equally striving for perfection of musical expression and equally responsible for the result of their striving.
Music, unlike any other art, requires the ability to express oneself with absolute commitment and passion while listening carefully and sensitively to another voice that may even contradict one's own statement. This is the essence of musical counterpoint and a limitless source of inspiration to us in our ‘extra-musical’ dialogues.
Before a Beethoven Symphony we are all equal. Regardless of our origins, we must all approach the music with the same humility, curiosity, knowledge and passion. Music makes it possible for the subjects of mutually hostile governments to support one another because it engenders a true and effortless spirit of creativity and brotherhood.
This year, I carry the title of United Nations Messenger of Peace, which I believe gives me both the right and the responsibility to work toward abolishing ignorance, and to contribute in whatever modest way I can toward real equality. Without equality, there can be no justice, and without justice there will be no peace.
-Daniel Barenboim is a world-renowned pianist and conductor, music director of the Staatskapelle Berlin and principal guest conductor at La Scala Opera in Milan. (This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service, CGNews, with permission from The International Herald Tribune - www.iht.com.)