Syrian violence touches former Concord musician

Maybe in the last two weeks you read about a Syrian editorial cartoonist's hands being broken because he'd infuriated one too many Middle Eastern heads of state. Maybe it seemed like a really faraway tale.

But former Concord church musician Malek Jandali, a Syrian-American composer and pianist who lives in Atlanta, wants you to know the story is local.

Jandali once lived in North Carolina and was organist for St. James Catholic Church in Concord. He got his bachelor's degree from Queens University in Charlotte and a master's degree in business from UNC Charlotte.

He, too, has been touched personally by political violence in the Middle East.

His parents in Syria were savagely beaten after a July concert in Washington, D.C., at which Jandali played a song he wrote about freedom for all people.

Jandali lived in the Charlotte area for 11 years and loved calling it home. While here, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. St. James Catholic Church celebrated his accomplishment with a party featuring red, white and blue bunting and U.S. flags. His career took him to various other places; he lives in Atlanta now.

Political cartoonist Ali Ferzat, 60, a personal friend of Jandali, is the man whose hands were broken by Assad's agents, according to the Associated Press. Ferzat had created caricatures that angered Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Libya's Moammar Khadafy and Syria's autocratic Assad family, the AP reported.

Such violence is not unusual in Syria, Jandali said, as artists and intellectuals are routinely targeted when they speak out against Syrian President Bashar al Assad's administration.

Human rights groups say Assad's forces have killed more than 2,000 people since the uprising against his rule erupted in mid-March, touched off by the revolutions in the Arab world.

Then, after Jandali performed a piano composition called "I Am My Homeland" - which he said is about freedom for all people, not just Syrians - his aging parents were attacked in the Syrian city of Homs.

Jandali said he was asked to play a concert in June for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. After inviting him, however, the committee learned of an event in Ohio on Memorial Day weekend. There, Jandali asked for a moment of silence "for the brave who are asking for their freedom in Syria" and everywhere people are not free, he said.

The ADC asked Jandali not to play "I Am My Homeland" at its gala, he said. He refused, and the ADC withdrew its invitation.

He wrote a note of apology on his Facebook fan page, which was picked up by national mainstream media and bloggers, causing an outcry against the ADC. The committee then announced that it would allow the song to be played after all.

But instead of having Jandali perform it, the ADC played a recording of it at the gala. Jandali sued the ADC for copyright infringement unless it issued a written apology to him and donated $1,000 to the International Red Cross. He says he's waiting for a reply.

Then on July 26, Jandali played at a rally in front of the White House in support of Syrian protesters; 2,000 people turned out.

"I played the song that the ADC had banned. Two days later, my parents were beaten."

Men approached his father, a 73-year-old physician, as he was unloading groceries from his car, asking him to help an injured friend, Jandali said. Instead, the men handcuffed him, duct-taped his mouth and nose and forced him to open the door to his home.

Jandali's mother was in bed recovering from a cold, and the men made his father watch as they beat her, bloodying her head and breaking many of her teeth, Jandali said. They beat Jandali's father and locked both in the bathroom, he said.

Jandali said the men were agents of the Assad administration. They told his parents they should teach their son better and that he should stop playing concerts and criticizing Syria, he said.

"My mother said animals have more mercy than these men did," he said.

Jandali said his parents are recovering. His mother recently arrived in the United States and will have dental work to restore the teeth she lost.

His father, however, refuses to leave Syria. It's a matter of national pride, Jandali said. His father believes it's his duty to stay and try to help in the struggle for a free Syria by treating victims of the regime's attacks and serving as a voice for freedom.

Jandali is proud of his heritage. Throughout history, Syria was known for innovations. When Syria is free from autocratic rule, Jandali said, its people will make historic innovations again.

"When people are free, they invent civilizations. When people are hungry and looking for bread, they don't have time to invent the alphabet."