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.

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Myriam Klink & Jad Khalife’s “Goal:” A New Low In Lebanese Cultural Trash… But It Shouldn’t Be Censored

I was informed of a little piece of trivia information yesterday that Myriam Klink is the first Lebanese woman – ever – to have a presidential vote cast in her favor. Imagine, that out of all of the great women in Lebanon, our politicians in parliament think that honor is best given to someone whose only rise to fame is through a song about her vagina.

Yesterday, Myriam Klink delivered again with a song about her playing football, or – if you’re too old for such useless similes – about her getting laid, with a has-been singer named Jad Khalife. According to Google, he used to sing decent songs once. But don’t you think it’s the witty, catchy sexy song in the vein of, say, Haifa Wehbe. No, Myriam Klink and Jad Khalife do what they do best: be as trashy as possible in the hope of getting the attention that gives their existence purpose.

You might say it’s best not to talk about such a person, but I believe that not talking about her, or him for that matter, does them a disservice. Not all attention is good attention, and it is our duty as a society to speak up against such an abomination to our intellect and our taste. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal, or conservative, religious or atheist, I think we can all agree that that “football-themed” “music video” is distasteful.

Here are the “song’s” lyrics… or whatever they are:

*moans.*

Klink:

Goal, fawwatet l goal.
Goal, fawwatet l goal.
7ettayto fiyi w 3abbayto – brief gasp – fawwat l goal.

Khalife:

Goal, fawwatet l goal.
Goal, fawwatet l goal.
7ettayto fiki w 3abbayto, fawwat l goal. Y WASSA3!
Fetna 3al mal3ab nel3ab, ma3 Barcelona,
Fawwatna goal mrattab, eja b 3youna,
Wa2ti l asli 3addayto,
Tani goal 7attayto,
Ta jann jnouna

Klink:

Addi, ana mesh addi,
Ana 2belt l ta7addi,
Addi, ana mesh addi,
Ana 2belt l ta7addi,

Together:

Klink… Jad (with a moan),
*another moan*
*another moan*

To the backdrop of such a masterpiece is Myriam Klink prancing around in lingerie in front of a child, while Jad Khalife rides her – literally – and tries to have his way with her.

Of course, it is within Myriam’s right to do whatever it is she pleases. I’m not here for a dose of sexism and misogyny that some Lebanese outlets will spew out in the next few days when they decide to jump on the video bandwagon for some attention. In fact, I find it horrifying that, when the video features her and a man, she’s the one who’s taking the most criticism and getting called all kinds of names, as if Jad Khalife has nothing to do with the sexual innuendos taking place in their “work.”

I’m all for more sexual liberation in Lebanese culture, and generally the Arab world. Anyone would tell you that more sexual freedom would go a long way in helping advance our societies, but don’t those who are eternally horrified at the degradation of “our values.” But at some point, one wonders: is a music video where a woman just moans as if she’s having intercourse the best way to advance such an agenda?

The answer is no.

The Western pop music scene is filled with music with sexual innuendos, and there’s nothing wrong with it. From Ariana Grande to Beyonce to Bruno Mars to the Weeknd, and many more artists, songs have been released over the past few years purely about sex. And yet, all of those artists combined have not reached the level of trashiness that Myriam Klink and Jad Khalife gave the world in the space of 90 seconds.

My problem with Myriam Klink’s video isn’t that it’s sexual. It’s that it is trashy and does a disservice to all the leaps forward we’ve made in trying to advance the liberation of our societies. And to think that a few years ago, the extent of “sex” that was deemed controversial was Haifa Wehbe’s wawa or Ruby running on a treadmill?

Despite all of this, entities like Myriam Klink and Jad Khalife should not be censored. Today, Lebanese authorities have decided to fine anyone who posts their video to the amount of about $30,000 and to call on those who have posted the video to delete it. But what good will that do? I received the video through a WhatsApp message. Those who have seen it have probably already downloaded a copy.

Censorship has never solved anything, and it will never solve anything as long as we’re not permitted to have a discussion about what it is that the government wants censored. It doesn’t matter if Klink and Khalife’s video is pornographic. The moment we allow authorities to dictate what we are allowed to be exposed to, we give them the ability to interfere into way more than that. The government has no business in dictating the kind of media that should be allowed or not, especially a system of governance such as ours where anything that exists beyond what’s considered the Lebanese acceptable norm is frowned upon.

In a way, it’s a good thing Myriam Klink and Jad Khalifeh released such a video because they might let the country have a discussion about the kind of music and art that we deserve. By refusing “goal,” we send a message that such garbage has no place on our airwaves. So let’s refuse it massively, but more importantly, let’s be civil about the way we reject it.

Upcoming Lebanese Doom: Hassan Nasrallah “Hosted” on Basmeit Watan

You can see it now, the headlines of tomorrow: riot spreads across the land… because of a caricaturization.

LBC has guts. They’ve been expanding their forte over the past several months with excellent reporting and productions. They have now set the bar higher for everyone else once again by doing something that they did a while back to some grave consequences: they got Hassan Nasrallah to be caricatured on their satire show “Basmeit Watan.” They also mentioned a prophet.

The following is the video of the episode:

Hassan Nasrallah’s supporters have already cut off roads around Beirut in protest.

I guess everyone tunes in when the subject matter is this juicy. I mean, come on, you can smell the drama coming off from hundreds of kilometers away. It’s not like Lebanese mentalities have evolved in the years since Hassan Nasrallah was “hosted” last in order to fathom such caricatures. If anything, the country has gone way backwards in its extremism.

The YouTube comments on the video in question are hilarious. The following is a screenshot:

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 12.16.02 AM

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 12.43.43 PM

I wondered for a while if I just don’t get it. Then I decided that I do. I understand that Hassan Nasrallah is important to his people from a religious perspective, being theoretically a descendent of the prophet Mohammad and whatnot. I understand that a country like Lebanon where religious figures are taken in high regard is not the place to turn those people into satire.

I also know the following. Mr. Nasrallah is as active on the political scene as any other major Lebanese politician, if not more. Mr. Nasrallah is much more active politically and militarily in the Lebanese setting than any other politician and religious person in the country. Mr. Nasrallah is also the head of a party that is not, as its name claims, holy. Why should he get the prerogative that others do not get? Where do you draw a line that should not be drawn when it comes to criticism?

No Lebanese public figure should be above being portrayed in a show such as Basmeit Watan. No Lebanese public figure is holy enough not to be criticized. No Lebanese figure that toys with our lives in any way whatsoever gets to be put on a pedestal, as far as I’m concerned, and kept there until God knows when.

I couldn’t care less if Basmeit Watan or any other show portray the Pope, the Patriarch, my non-existent favorite politician or anyone else. What I do care about is that there are people in my country who think a silly TV show is enough reason for them to take it to the streets, do riots, cut roads and cause mayhem. What I do care about is the fact that the country has not changed one bit between Nasrallah 1.0 and Nasrallah 2.0. What I do care about is the fact that, in 2013, people still think holding religious office makes you immune to any form of criticism.

What’s sad is that our Lebanese priorities are reflected in the riots taking place today over a silly TV show instead of what actually counts. It’s sad that there are people who think Basmeit Watan portraying Nasrallah makes LBC an “Israeli Jewish parasite.” It’s sad that there are people who think such a portrayal is somehow a victory for Israel. Such logical fallacies exist in Lebanon, it seems.

Hezbollah, how about you take your men off the streets? Isn’t there some war we shouldn’t be fighting in to take part of? Isn’t there some government that should be formed but isn’t? Isn’t there a country that should not be run to the ground and have its streets cut off and liberties killed off in vain?

Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP Gets Censored for the Middle East

Like her or hate her, there’s basically no escaping her especially if you tune in for 10 minutes of local radio. Lady Gaga is gearing up to release her upcoming album which she has titled: ARTPOP. A few weeks ago, she revealed the album’s title to be the following:

ARTPOP

Pretty weird, right? It’s not like you’d expect anything less from her at this point though. However, Middle Eastern countries are getting a different and censored version of this same cover, which was just released and is the following:

BYP0Iz0CQAAE123.jpg-large

They’ve increased the dimension of that ball in front of her, whatever it might mean, to cover her breasts. They’ve also colored her legs black in order to give the impression that she’s covered up.

And yes, Lebanon is one of those countries as is evident by the Lebanese iTunes Store.

I really don’t get this. Did local authorities tell her label they would refuse to sell the album under its previous cover? Or did the label do this out of courtesy? If so, did they really think people wouldn’t simply switch the censored and covered-up cover for the other one in case the decided to purchase the album?

I may not like Lady Gaga and her music but I absolutely hate censorship especially when it’s this absurd and non-sensical. What’s next? Cover her up with a burqa and retitle the album to something regionally-appropriate in order not to irk some people? After all, who knows how they’ll take the “art” in Artpop?

Last time I checked, regardless of whether I agree or not with her methods, she was someone championing for personal liberties and whatnot. Our countries have squashed that right out of the bat – and the album is yet to be released. Perhaps they’ll then censor the track listing as well which contains songs called Sex Dreams and Swine because, as you know, sex and swine are both haram.

I guess the bright side is that this wasn’t banned, not that it would make any difference given that’s available online aplenty.

This Website is Banned As Per The Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications

Picture via @ohmyhappiness, click for full size.

Picture via @ohmyhappiness, click for full size.

Yesterday afternoon, Twitter user Raja Farah was busy researching late Lebanese politician Habib Pasha Saad when he stumbled on a page that wouldn’t open.

The notification as to why that particular website was unaccessible was a simple prompt: This website is banned as per the Lebanese ministry of Telecommunications. The above screenshot is what he got.

Using modern technology, which seems to have escaped our ministry of telecommunication, I managed to access the website in question. It turned out to be a directory of people: trying to build family trees, connect with relatives you may not know, etc. There was nothing more to it and definitely nothing less since it was pretty bland as it is. And yet, the website was banned. I tried to access it using a different ISP and the website would refuse to load even though my internet connection worked quite well.

katagogi.com

The page Mr. Farah was trying to access had nothing striking as well. I managed to procure the following screenshots of its content. As you can see, there’s simply nothing there.

Yesterday as well, it was revealed that another website was blocked as well, pertaining to the Mansour Labaki scandal. You can check out the details regarding it here. The Mansour Labaki website also has next to no shocking content. It provides next to nothing new on the case; it doesn’t give any new information, it doesn’t give any proof as to what the man did. It is, however, not accessible for anyone whose IP address is Lebanese.

Ladies and gentlemen, it seems we have more things to worry about when it comes to censorship in Lebanon than the banning of movies, books and possibly some music. It was only recently that they removed two movies out of the Beirut Film Festival because they didn’t fit with the moral code they want to enforce on all of us. But we now have another big brother watching over our heads in order to make sure we get “proper” exposure: our ministry of telecommunications.

I remember well when that same ministry made itself  the knight in shining armor fighting for my rights as a citizen to have my data remain private from security personnel who wanted to use it to fight terrorism. But there are other rights that pertain to me, as a citizen, which seem to be trampled on left and right. What right does anyone have to grant or restrict access to any sort of information to me? Isn’t this a violation to one of my fundamental rights as well?

How many websites already exist that we can’t access because someone out there decided that we had inadequate intellect to handle their content? What criteria is followed to decide that we, as a Lebanese population using our dismal and detrimental internet services, should not be allowed to access this website and not the other? What right does the minister of telecommunication, or whoever decides these things, have in order to decide whether a website should or should not be allowed to the general population?

They tell us day in day out about how our internet and telecom services have improved recently. They brag about 4G, about prices dropping and whatnot.  We have faster internet to access less and less websites. It starts with the ones I listed here, but who knows where this will go?

We have 4G and better 3G, supposedly (the reception in my hometown would beg to differ). But bringing in 4G phones into the country, or any phone that you want, for that matter is simply going to hell and back (link) with regulations upon regulations whose only purpose is to make your life as an irrelevant citizen harder while not making a dent in the business of those who’re supposedly targeted by these rules.

This isn’t about politics. I couldn’t care less who’s the current minister of telecom, who was before him or who might come after him. As I look at this, a clear pattern unfolds in front of me: the supposed advancements in the telecom sector we are having are coming at the expense of my personal freedoms as a consumer and as a citizen. The more we’re “advancing,” the more we crave for how things were before all this “improvement.” True advancement is giving people choices. It’s giving them full access to everything they need to formulate opinions. At this rate, I’d say take back your 4G and give me those choices for that is true advancement.

Lebanese Priorities: Censoring The Film Out of Beirut’s Film Festival

L'inconnu du Lac movie poster

L’inconnu du Lac movie poster

When I was walking around the streets of Paris a few months ago, a movie poster at one of their newspaper kiosks caught my attention. It was a colorful painting of two men kissing, with stamps of some impact the movie had at the most recent Cannes Festival. It was called “L’Inconnu du Lac.”

I jokingly said to my friend back then that such a movie would never be released in Lebanon because, you know, there’s someone out there whose main concern is my moral well-being. Who needs art? Who needs some degree of taboo breaking? Who needs any form of mental challenges when you have a bureau whose job is to make sure you don’t get the least mentally stimulated?

A year ago, a friend of mine expressed pride in her cousin, a filmmaker named Farah Chaer, who had produced a short movie called “I Offered You Pleasure,” on the widely known but not-spoken-of topic of “Met’a” marriage among Lebanon’s Shiite sect. An interview conducted with the filmmaker back then asked her about the possibility of having her movie censored. I was sure she’d have trouble.

I was right about both movies.

Our bureau of censorship, which censored a play about censorship about a month ago, decided that both movies couldn’t be part of the Beirut Film Festival, which was opened by Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” yesterday, an excellent movie if I may say so.

Our bureau of censorship decided for every single Lebanese that a movie talking about the “met’a” marriage was not to be seen by the Lebanese people. It decided that such an issue is not to be allowed to discussed on screen. It decided that they want to preserve our well-being by banning us from being exposed to that facet of our society that not all of us are aware of.

Our bureau of censorship decided that a movie about a homosexual relationship which had a torrent of praise bestowed on it in Cannes is not suitable for viewers here. It decided that we all have the mental span of a two year old and as such couldn’t withstand having such forms of art approach us without damaging our souls, our precious whole Lebanese souls which should never be maimed by such indecencies. I wonder, what will happen to the movie “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” which won the top award at Cannes and which also has unsimulated lesbian sex scenes? Will we also not be allowed to watch that movie as well because they don’t see it fit?

As Lebanese, we truly don’t have the extent of freedom that we think we do. We can’t discuss religions freely. We can’t discuss politics freely. We can’t discuss politicians freely. We can’t even criticize our president freely. And lately, there’s been a growing phenomenon of censorship that’s been greatly limiting what we get to be exposed to in order to maintain public order.

As a Lebanese today, with such bans I am stopped from having discussions that would otherwise not be possible in my society. I am stopped from being able to get exposed to the culture that exists beyond this country of mine. I am stopped from being able to enjoy this art that is cinema due to the prongs of a bureau that cannot appreciate the art in it. I am forced to remove the film out of the Beirut Film Festival because there’s really no point in having a movie festival where every single scene is not an expression of freedom, but a mere manifestation of some scissors that decided that scene was allowed.

As a Lebanese today, I am very thankful my country has its priorities in order: my morals, ethics and whatnot top that list. As if we can’t download both movies really soon. Wlek tfeh.

Lebanon Censors a Play About Censorship

Some officials in this country don’t seem to live in the same place as people who are worried about going by everyday, about explosions and impeding wars.

Instead, they are more worried about how their reputation plays out through a play that doesn’t even target them in a documentary way. A play about censorship was censored by Lebanon’s bureau of censorship. Why?

1) Because the bureau couldn’t grasp the fact that this is satire.
2) Because the man in question doesn’t require his subordinates to stomp their foot in salutation and was offended the play suggested he does.
3) Because our censorship bureau got offended that a play is making fun of them.
4) Because the play in question was, according to the bureau, “not a work of art but a work of shame.”
5) Because even though there’s no law to dictate we can’t criticize the censorship bureau, they can – according to this article – “forbid whatever [they] want and [they] will forbid it.”

A play is not something that our censorship bureau can cut into little pieces for the audience to watch. They either take it whole or not take it at all. Our bureau has decided not to take any parts of it.
A play is also not something that we can get access to through modern technological means. It’s not the art that has gone digital to become accessible. Instead, our censorship bureau has decided that its sense of moral well-being is best served by stopping every single Lebanese from getting access.

In this act of censorship, this bureau in question has made a bigger fool out of themselves than this play would ever do. They showed us that what we get exposed to is dictated by something that can’t even take a joke.

I’m not one to usually follow the rhetoric of “there are worse things happening to care about this,” but when the country is on the brink of war, this is what is decided to be censored: a play meant to make people smile in these troubling times, instead of all the crap of sectarianism and violence instigation that we are bombarded with everyday by our media. I guess that’s what our bureau likes. Such a shame.

This is the play’s trailer: