Mashrou’ Leila Getting Banned In Jordan Is The Ultimate Validation Of Their Art

Mashrou' Leila - Jordan

Lebanon’s most prominent indie band Mashrou’ Leila, who were embarking on a tour to promote their most recent and exquisite album Ebn El Leil, had a concert planned for April 29th at Amman, Jordan’s Roman Hippodrome.

Today, only a few days prior to the concert, they were informed that their concert was canceled for, as “official” reasons cite “[their] performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site.” In other, more hidden words, the Jordanian authorities view Mashrou’ Leila’s progressive message, by Arab standards at least, as an agenda they don’t want to advance on their territories. Obviously, that scary message is one of sexual equality transcending genders and orientations. How frightening.

Mashrou’ Leila issued a lengthy statement on their Facebook page which you can check here (link), of which I quote the following:

We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom.
We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world.
We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal, and just place, even if “only through song.” We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message, or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.

The ironic thing is that Mashrou’ Leila had been allowed to perform in Jordan, at that specific site, before. Their Jordanian concerts serve as a vehicle for their fans in that country to watch them perform and, more importantly, for many Palestinians to make their way into Jordan in order to attend those concerts.

Not only have Mashrou’ Leila been stopped from holding this particular concert, but they’ve been banned from performing in all of Jordan at all times.

Of course, for the feisty Lebanese who will proclaim Jordan as a backwards-thinking land because of this, please remember how Zouk Mikhayel had a problem with Mashrou’ Leila performing there only two years ago simply because their lead singer Hamed Sinno was openly gay. Leila getting banned in Jordan is not a reflection of Jordan, but about the collective Arab culture that favors oppression over acceptance.

I have to wonder though, how is this reflective of a country whose king and queen proclaim to be champions of modernity and progression in a regressing region?

 

It’s a shame that Jordanian and Palestinian concert goers won’t get to watch the awesome Mashrou’ Leila in concert. I’m terribly sorry that Arab governments are so scared of music imbued with messages that challenge what they know, in a way that they can’t really fight because, ultimately, progression is inevitable whether it takes a year, ten or a hundred.

In being banned from ever performing in Jordan, Mashrou’ Leila are not just winners. They are triumphant.

In being banned, they’ve reached the echelons of those entities in the Arab world that challenge the status quo so profoundly with what they do that they’re shaking governments, systems and belief foundations to their core.

In being banned, Mashrou’ Leila have proven that their music is not just an assortment of notes strung together to construct a catchy phrase, but rather a message for Arab youth to rise above what they know, what they’ve been brought up to believe and accept that diversity in the heart of their own culture is to be embraced not feared. Today, Mashrou’ Leila are victorious because their message of no fear is causing governments to be afraid.

Mashrou’ Leila’s music will not be silenced if their concert is stopped. In them being forced to be silent, they’re louder than ever, and their music will gain more audiences than they’ve dreamed possible. Today, they are victorious. Today, they should be proud of the walls they’ve broken and of the boundaries they will break with every note they sing.

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World Press Photo of the Year – Samuel Aranda

Samuel Aranda just won the World Press Photo of the Year for a shot he took back in October 2011 while working in Yemen for the New York Times.

This is the photo:

Jurors said the photo captured multiple facets of the “Arab Spring” uprisings across the Middle East last year. It was taken at a field hospital inside a mosque in Sanaa on October 15 and depicts a veiled woman cradling a relative of hers after a demonstration.

Jury chair Aidan Sullivan said:

“The winning photo shows a poignant, compassionate moment, the human consequence of an enormous event, an event that is still going on. We might never know who this woman is, cradling an injured relative, but together they become a living image of the courage of ordinary people that helped create an important chapter in the history of the Middle East.”

Aranda, a Spanish photographer, hopes this picture would help the people of Yemen, a country he thinks is often forgotten.

As for me, I decided to blog about this simply because the picture is that powerful.

The “Arab Spring”… One Year Later

Yesterday, January 25th, marked the Egyptian revolution’s first anniversary. To celebrate this, millions of Egyptians went to Tahrir to protest the current situation in their country:

The protest in Tahrir on Jan 25, 2012.

Yes, the Egyptians are protesting after a parliamentary elections that birthed a parliament with people like these in power. Thinking about it, though, if one wanted to give an overall description to the “Arab Spring,” the most accurate expression would be: rise of the fundamentalists.

It serves as a catchy Hollywood title, no? Arab Spring: The Rise of the Fundamentalists. I should trademark this. And nothing describes the way it is in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries that protested better than this picture:

A caricature circulating currently in Tunisia

Who cares that Egypt has a soaring poverty rate or that Tunisia has a ridiculously high unemployment average. The first thing the new Egyptian parliament did was not to start serious discussions about the country’s future but to refuse to commit to women rights. Again, who cares about women rights, men rights, children rights, animal rights. Who cares about the Copts getting killed on daily basis because of their faith? What matters is saying no to overly revealing clothing and taking extended naps during parliamentary sessions.

Just some food for thought but perhaps one of the few things keeping the society in Lebanon from absolutely crumbling is the fact that fundamentalism cannot and will not get to power.

The Nakba

Gebran Khalil Gebran wrote in “The Prophet”:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

Imagine this quote being applied to something more concrete than a human soul… imagine this quote being applied to your land.

Your land is not your land. It does not belong to you.

There is nothing harder than having no home – only a transient house, or even a tent, where you sleep the night, worrying what the following day brings.

Some people have been worrying about that issue precisely – where to sleep – for more than sixty years. I am not appealing to any political reason, only humanitarian common sense. There’s a people who has had their land swept away from beneath their feet on the premise that this land does not belong to them, whose homes got ripped to shreds because they were built on a land that was not “theirs” and who are in limbo just because they were the victims of wrong place, wrong time circumstances.

The Palestinian people, and I do not mean its political figures (because those are as rubbish as garbage goes), are a collection of human beings whose lives have been torn apart by years of them being in the middle of a conflict they chose not to be part of.

I shall not go into the history of how they lost their land. After all, the history is well known (Balfour promise, etc…). But the sad thing is how this people is portrayed today: a collection of terrorists voting terrorists to fight those who are good, aka, Israelis.

Sure, the Palestinians have had their share of mistakes. They sought out a country where a country was already built and they have constantly failed to get themselves represented in the best possible way. Arafat? Abbas? Seriously?

But there’s more to the conflict than what ABC, CBS and Fox share with their viewers. There are people who are the victims of massacres against them on daily basis, whose children are used as bullet pillows and whose souls are being hammered with missiles. I firmly believe the holocaust has happened. Whether the number of Jews who died is ten million or one million, it doesn’t mean they were not ruthlessly exterminated at one point. But you’d think going through that ordeal would deter you from wanting to inflict it on another people. Not true, obviously.

I do not advocate equaling the holocaust with what’s happening in Palestine today. But I feel the human life has become of so little value in some areas of the world, it’s sickening.

However, the Arab Nakba (which translates as catastrophe) does not stop with Palestine. Arab countries are infested with dictators who kill their people ruthlessly without caring and who limit freedom, in spite of protests demanding for their basic right to speak.

The Arab Spring, which is also the name analysts have called the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, is slowly turned into another Nakba. Why? Sectarian clashes in Egypt against the Coptic population, just for them wanting to remain Christian in their country. Copts face daily discrimination, having to ask state permission to build churches and must indicate their religious affiliation on their ID cards.  Their schools were nationalized by the government in the 1950’s and over the last several decades they have witnessed terrible massacres. This past weekend witnessed two churches being burned and several dead. And yet, people in the Arab world have turned a blind eye on them and their suffering mean while constantly bemoaning about discrimination against Arabs. Not to mention what has happened to Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, half of whom have fled for their own safety. And no it was not American troops who drove them out.

Add to that rioting in Tunisia that is knowing no end. The Libyan revolution dying a painful and agonizing death amidst an international silence that knows no limit. A Syrian revolution attempt that is the victim of people simply not caring anymore and a Yemeni revolution that’s the victim of them being so geographically distant that they have become also distant from attention.

It doesn’t help as well that the population in the Gulf suddenly got preoccupied with watching Star Academy and counting their oil millions again.

Yes, the Arab Nakba doesn’t stop with Palestine, although they are the bigger victims in it. It’s the story of a whole region of the world that allows itself to be degraded with time by incompetent rulers, indulgent people and hypocrisy without limit. The next time you protest against Israel ask yourself. Do I believe in equality in my own home? Have I treated one of my own citizens differently based on ethnicity or sect? Are people in my own state suffering because they are religiously or ethnically different? Next time you march or protest ask yourself these questions.

And quoting Gebran Khalil Gebran again,

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
[…]
Pity the nation divided into into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.
PS: Thanks to Paul Gadalla for his input in this post.