From Mashrou3 Leila To Our Freedoms: Religious Censorship in Lebanon Is Killing The Country

Picture this, a song released over 3 years ago is suddenly noticed by the collective praying masses, and crucifixes are drawn. Picture this, a meme posted on a Facebook page lands you in court. It’s not a meme you even did.

This is what is happening with Mashrou3 Leila, the top Lebanese band that has been the prime representation of Lebanese indie music all around the world. They’ve been on world tours, selling out arenas across the world. Their latest highlight was a show at the prestigious Olympia in Paris, where people like Fairuz have performed before.

Except now, ahead of their August 9th concert, Mashrou3 Leila are not welcome in their own home country, on the very same stage of the Byblos Festival that helped propel their career forward around a decade ago.

I know I haven’t blogged in a while. But this is something that I felt is important enough for me to resurrect this space in order to shout, to whoever would listen or read, that this persecution of Mashrou3 Leila, in the overall bigger picture of our freedoms in this country being killed off on the daily, is a precedence we should not stay silent to.

The song in question, Djin, from their last-released LP, Ibn El Leil, references a baptism with gin in the name of the father and the son. That’s it. The meme in question was posted on Hamed Sinno’s personal facebook page was that of an icon in which the face of the Virgin Mary was replaced with singer Madonna. Hamed Sinno did not make that meme. He is not the first human on the face of this planet to make memes out of religious iconography, but for the Maronite archdioceses as well as Christian political parties, he might as well have been the first ever visionary.

It is to the background of a song and that meme that calls for bans of the band started up, and like an avalanche they kept rolling, with support from certain media figures and politicians. Even the Maronite Archdiocese of Jbeil had to weigh in with a statement of condemnation.

I believe the Christians’ problem with Mashrou3 Leila is not just about a song or a meme, which they want you to believe. It is inherently about the values that that band and its members represent. Hamed Sinno is the first openly gay artist of the entire Middle East. The band has been a forefront in LBGTQ representation in the region, and a view into the lives of Arab queer artists to the world. Their songs have been a representation of a Lebanese current that is not beholden to Christian or Muslim establishments. They represent a youth that is atheist, loud, proud, and trying to change a status quo that religious authorities are not comfortable with.

There, herein, lies the main problem. It is the threat that a band like Mashrou3 Leila poses to religious hegemony in the country that is so frightening to them, so they call to ban it. It’s in the same vein of a show being banned because a Muslim clerk decided it mis-represented the prophet. It’s in the same vein of the calls for bans that rise up every now and then for political reasons in the country. Haven’t you ever wondered why they keep happening often, and why we are hearing about these bans more and more these days?

I wonder, if Lebanese Christians are SO offended by a song or a meme, what would they do, for instance, if they are exposed collectively to a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, a post-apocalyptic Christian theocracy, where those same beliefs they hold so dear are challenged in the form of gross misinterpretation that turns anyone who is not male and white into a third class subordinate, where women are raped in the name of God and procreation, and where their fingers are cut off if they even read?

The even more baffling entity among all this is the sheer silliness and hypocrisy. I remember during the 2009 elections, one of the FPM’s main politicians posted a picture to Facebook with an icon of the Virgin Mary and in her heart, instead of Jesus, was Michel Aoun. Both iconographied-memes are in the same vein. Except one of the two will never face repercussions for his actions.

The amount of silliness does not stop here. The following is an actual post, by a priest, who decides that Leila in Mashrou3 Leila, in reference for night, is a satanic reference. He even uses a book he wrote as a reference. Of course, homosexuality is also ridiculed in the priest’s post, further reinforcing the point that the band’s queerness is under prosecution here too:

Even Carla Haddad, your favorite weather girl, decided to weigh in:

And – because this is the go-to insult for everyone these days – the band was even accused of being a Zionist propaganda machine, even though their latest song and video are clear condemnation of Israeli occupation of Palestine:

All of this is happening to the background of actual physical threats facing the band, and those who decide to attend the concert.

I think the culmination of it all was when Mashrou3 Leila were dragged to court because of a lawsuit filed against them for “offending religions.” While the judge dismissed the suit, she did not do so because it is Mashrou3 Leila’s right to sing whatever they want, or because the lawsuit itself was so silly. She did it under the condition of the band members meeting with priests, sheikhs, political officials from the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, for them to issue an apology and to stop performing their “offensive” songs.

Today, the song Djin is no longer on Mashrou3 Leila’s official YouTube station. Of course, you can still find it online if you need to. After all, it is still 2019 even if some Lebanese mindsets are stuck in 1345.

But it is the precedence of this judge deciding that a band better be trialed in the court of public opinion that is harrowing. Our laws are not even made to protect us, our freedoms, and our voices. Instead, the judge allowed four young men whose talents have shone across continents, to be scrutinized by religious bearded men of the cloak whose boundaries have not extended beyond the 09 region, and by political figures whose names are not even relevant. Why? For the sake of sensibilities that are all too sensitive.

You see, at the end of the day, it’s all quite simple. If your religion and belief cannot withstand something as trivial as a song, a meme, or a pop culture moment, then that says more about your beliefs and faith than about what you’re offended of.

I salute those very few priests who know that, once upon a time, Jesus said to turn the left cheek to that who hits your right. I salute those religious people who know that their Christianity is not offended by a lyric or a meme. I salute those who know that the true act of freedom is to voice a counter opinion, not to silence those you disagree with.

Irreverence is a sign of modernity. With every ban, every example of the Lebanese state failing us, every call for censorship just because someone is upset, I am convinced day in and day out that the country I left years ago is in full blown reverse gear and heading backwards, as far from modernity, as possible. Our country is being killed every single day by these religious men who are offended at everything. How long will it be before our breathing space is further extinguished, I wonder?

It is 2019. راح غطس كبدي بالجن بأسـم الاب والابن has caused a national crisis in Lebanon. Oh how far we have come.

16 thoughts on “From Mashrou3 Leila To Our Freedoms: Religious Censorship in Lebanon Is Killing The Country

  1. Usually I agree with some of your opinions…but not this time….we need to live by the saying “live and let live”…..why does this group feel they have to make fun of others to entertain….we have no right to make fun of others…..it is absolute hypocricy to say you defend freedom of speech and then you yourself make fun of others beliefs ….

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    • @rrima
      It all depends on what kind of democratically advanced society you want to live in. During the Obama presidency, thousands of bigoted Americans called Obama “a monkey,” plus other vile terms. Was that disrespectful? Of course. But were they arrested and prosecuted? No. That was a clear indication of the maturity of American democracy. Juxtapose that with a Lebanese citizen “insulting” the Lebanese president, and what do you think would happen to him? You guessed it: detained, harassed, beaten, and prosecuted.

      I think the blogger said it best: “If your religion and [beliefs] cannot withstand something as trivial as a song, a meme, or a pop culture moment, then that says more about your beliefs and faith than about what you’re offended [by].”

      Freedom of speech is among the most cherished constitutional rights in liberal democracies, even when we find that speech utterly offensive. As long as a speech or expression does not lead to violence, advanced countries have all agreed that that speech or expression should be protected.

      Here’s an example to chew on:

      You would agree, would you not, that most societies have come to the consensus that racism is bad? Should we then outlaw racist speech? Certain people argue that yes, we should. I think we shouldn’t because once we ban racist speech, we restrict our ability to remind ourselves why racism is bad, and I argue that if we forget why racism is bad, disastrous consequences may ensue.

      You shouldn’t hold a belief or value if you can’t justify it.

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      • Calling Obama “a monkey” is a sign of an uncivilized society…
        There are more respectful ways to get the same message across without degrading yourself and the person you are referring to.

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        • That’s the difference between your way of thinking and theirs, i,e. advanced democracies: When you call someone a “monkey,” you are degrading yourself. You are definitely not degrading the person you’re calling a “monkey.”. So there is no reason for them to get offended, unless they are so insecure about themselves, as is the case with the Christian church in Lebanon and all the raving, useless politicians who have committed more egregious acts against the people of Lebanon than the offensive picture the religious masses are up in arms about.

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  2. Pingback: Lebanon Slipping To The Dark Ages: Charbel Khalil Wants To Start a Gay Conversion Therapy Group In The Name of St. Charbel | A Separate State of Mind | A Blog by Elie Fares

  3. Pingback: Lebanon Slipping To The Dark Ages: Charbel Khalil Wants To Start a Gay Conversion Therapy Group In The Name of St. Charbel | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

  4. I’d like to point out that Mashrou3 Leila are not the first band in the entire Middle East to have an openly gay singer. Maybe in the Arab Middle East. But you seem to be forgetting a small country to the south of you, where there have been openly gay singers for decades. In that country, a transgender even won the Eurovision song contest. Dana International, Ivri Leeder, Yehudit Ravitz, Yehuda Poliker, Ze’ev Nehama are just a few names of LGBT Israeli singers.
    So maybe the fact that Mashrou3 Leila have been accused of being “Zionist” isn’t such a bad thing.
    The accusation of Zionism in Arab countries for doing anything that’s politically controversial is becoming quite ridiculous. Maybe they should first find out what Zionism really means. Zionism is the movement that believes that the Jewish people have a right to their own country, like any other nation on earth. So if you aren’t Zionist, you’re just plain racist.

    Also, welcome back Eli.

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    • Now that you have injected politics in an otherwise social issue, we in the Arab world are not concerned about “what Zionism really means” as much as what Zionism has done and is doing to millions of marginalized Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

      Please stay on topic!

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      • The politics were there from the start. And the fact is that more and more Arab countries are starting to see the Palestinian issue for the sham it is. Tell me about how Lebanon and Syria have treated their Palestinians. Have you let them move out of the refugee camps yet? It’s been 71 years. I don’t see any other nation holding on to refugee status 71 years after the fact, just so that they can keep their feud alive.

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        • As I said, stay on topic. I appreciate your input about the LGBT Israeli singers, et.al. However, the blather about Zionism and the meaning of is for another time, another blog, and another forum.

          P.S. It is stunning the deflection in your last ridiculous comment: If Syria has mistreated the Palestinians, does that make it right for Israel to do the same?

          I have a piece of advice for you. When you debate someone, do it in the spirit of learning from those you’re debating instead of arguing with them. You are arguing.

          You’ve made your excellent point about the Israeli singers. Now stop and try to learn something you didn’t know before. That’s the only way people advance intellectually. Don’t live in an echo chamber.

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  5. I totally agree with you. And i can understand the frustration of this band against religion while the priests treated them as criminals only because they are gay. Who are they to judge them. I admire Hamed Sinno for talking openly about his homosexuality in a country as Lebanon. There are so many vital issues going on in Lebanon to focus on, such as pauvrety, scary increase in cancer because of the polution we live in, and the emigration of all our young and talented men and women. Who cares about a couple of words in a song wrote 4 years ago. I wish our dear priests could focus and condemn our government instead of true artists.

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  6. كول خرا يا لوطي. اهانة الدين مش حرية يا منتاك. صار كل بلليع اير بدو يعمل حالو فهمان. جايين تروجو لعبدة شياطين؟ مش هني قالو بمقابلة عندن اله خاص ؟ مين هل اله؟ عم تشوهو صورة لبنان اكتر ما هيي مشوهة وتحكو عن قمع الحريات؟ هيدي الفكرة يللي عم توصلوها للعالم عن لبنان كرمال فرقة بتنتاك. ولك ايري بامايتكن واحد ورا التاني شو انكن زبالة

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    • @Simon
      مبروك عليك هالأديان وهالحكّام تبعونك . يا ريتك بتهبّ وبتسبّ ويتفلت لسانك البذيء عليهن متل ما عم تهب وتسب هوني.

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  7. Pingback: From Mashrou3 Leila To Our Freedoms: Religious Censorship in Lebanon Is Killing The Country — A Separate State of Mind | A Blog by Elie Fares – Truth Troubles

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