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.

Lebanon Should Participate In Eurovision 2018

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The Eurovision is quite the global thing. More than 200 million people tune in each year to watch the show, not just from the 42 countries which happen to be members of the European Broadcasting Union that have the right to participate, which is why you see countries such as Israel or Australia or even Azerbaijan participating.

The 2017 version of the Eurovision concluded yesterday with Portugal getting crowed the winner after votes from the people in those 42 member countries and their juries allocated points. They succeed Ukraine, which was voted the winner in 2016 in an obvious political jab at Russia.

The Eurovision, apart from being a celebration of (bad?) music, isn’t only about the music but about the politics behind all the ways these countries interact with one another. Regardless, it’s still interesting to watch and pretend to be surprised that Cyprus, for instance, voted for Greece. I’m shocked. Can you even fathom it?

In 2005, Lebanon was supposed to participate through Tele-Liban and Aline Lahoud in that year’s version of the Eurovision. Except, as is always the case, Israel happened. You see, Israel also happens to be a member of the European Broadcasting Union and has been since the 1950s, which means they’ve been participating for over 4 decades in the Eurovision contest and have actually won 3 times.

The problem for us, therefore, becomes in the fact that we pretend they don’t exist and have laws that forbid us from even acknowledging their existence, which was why we had to withdraw in 2005, be banned from participating for 3 years and pay a penalty: Tele-Liban didn’t show Israel on the official poster of the event. When they were confronted about it, they replaced the poster with a generic one about Eurovision. They were then told they’d have to broadcast the Israeli contestant’s song, which they couldn’t legally do, leading them to withdraw.

Israel, however, will not be participating in the 2018 Eurovision, as they announced live on air yesterday as they allocated their points. Their announcer said:

“This is IBA, Channel 1 calling from Jerusalem. For the past 44 years, Israel has participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, winning three times. But tonight, is our final night, shortly IBA will shut down its broadcasting forever, so on behalf of all of us here in IBA, let me say thank you Europe for all the magical moments and the beautiful years. And hopefully we shall meet again in the future.”

For how long Israel won’t be participating in Eurovision remains to be seen, but I believe this gives Lebanon an opportunity to finally participate and avoid all the drama we went through in 2005. And why wouldn’t we? We have good singers, as long as we don’t send Star Academy grads. And we can deliver a good show, if we invest enough.

I believe that private TV stations such as MTV and LBC would and should jump at such an opportunity. They’d get the ratings, the ad money and the international exposure they always crave. It’s also a good medium for the country to have exposure on such a scale, in a setting that doesn’t involve talking about the Syrian crisis or some other issue that plagues the region.

So dear MTV or LBC or some other private media company with similar resources, connect with the organizers of next year’s Eurovision and check what we need to do in order for us to participate. It should be fun.

No, this isn’t a Phoenician attempt at building bridges with European BFFs It’s not a political move, even if the competition can have political undertones, at distancing Lebanon from its Arab history. It’s just a medium for fun, healthy artistic competitions and we need such things in this country.

I vote to send Hiba Tawaji. Who’d your pick be?

Tomorrowland Is Coming To Lebanon On July 29th

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Tomorrowland is one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world. Held yearly in Belgium, it’s attended by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts. This year’s festival is taking place from July 21st till the 30th.

However, on July 29th, Lebanon was chosen as one of only 8 countries around the world to be “United” with Tomorrowland in a live broadcast of the festivities from Belgium in an event that start at 7PM and end around 4AM, in Byblos. It’s not yet clear whether this is in the official capacities of the Byblos Festival.

The line-up has not been announced yet, but based on some research I did on their website, guests can expect an event held in a setting inspired by Tomorrowland (a customized stage, decoration and special effects) combined with a massive well-curated line-up of local & international artists (at least 1 international artist).

The special effects in question are synchronised with the show in Belgium adding value to the global connection.

The announcement took place in the following video:

This event, unless Byblos – or some other festival – bring out the big guns by bringing in a top-notch international act, should be the highlight of the summer’s festival circle in Lebanon. It’s a great image for the country, especially given how tremendous the platform of Tomorrowland is, and it’s a great opportunity for those who can’t travel to Belgium to enjoy the festival itself.

To make sure you get tickets, pre-register at this link.

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.

La La Land, Lebanon Edition: A Lebanese Oriental Version Of The Awesome Movie’s Songs

If you’ve been following my blog’s Facebook page or my personal Twitter account, you’d have found out by now that I was simply blown away by how amazing the movie La La Land was, and that I was rooting for it to win everything at the 89th Academy Awards.

Yes, I feel personally victimized by the fact it did not win Best Picture; #JeSuisLaLaLand #JusticeForLaLaLand are the official hashtags in case you are wondering.

Part of the brilliance of the movie for me, as someone who generally dislikes (read, hates) musicals, is that the music was so charming. The movie’s soundtrack basically stayed on repeat for a few weeks after watching the movie, and I suggest you download it in case you haven’t. Notable tracks are: Epilogue, City of Stars, Audition and Mia & Sebastian’s Theme.

Therefore, when a friend sent me a YouTube link of a Lebanese oriental cover of one of the soundtrack’s songs, I couldn’t but click and then be so enchanted that I couldn’t but share it here, which isn’t something I usually do:

I hope you find this as wonderful as I did. The group behind this calls itself “Aleph.” It’s made up of:

  • Aleph Abi Saad Piano
  • Jihad Asad – Kanoun
  • Ramzi Boukamel – Guitar
  • Ghassan ‘Gass’ Sakr – Palmas
  • Raed Boukamel – Nay (Flute)
  • Charlie Fadel – Cajon
  • Michel Labaki – Bass

Their covers gives an extra flair of melancholy to the soundtrack, which I daresay goes really well with the overall theme of the movie. So today, I can’t but celebrate the talent of this Lebanese musical group that turned the soundtrack of one of this past year’s most celebrated movies, one that should be familiar, into a sound that is distinctly theirs.

Kudos!