The amount of extremist comments calling for bullets in the heads of Mashrou’ Leila members and anyone who supports them have multiplied in the past week ahead of their Byblos International Festival on August 9.
For the past week, a Facebook page with almost 5.5K followers –and, right now, a profile picture of Mashrou’ Leila with a giant red X on it– has been condemning a Lebanese band with an openly-gay frontman and political music that has successfully managed to gain both international critical acclaim and fans from around the world.
Comments range from “God is great, everyone should rally against these immorals” to “Anyone who attacks Christianity and the saints should be showered with bullets.” Even the Maronite Eparchy of Jbeil has circulated a document that calls for the cancellation of the Mashrou’ Leila concert and for “media to do as appropriate,” once again highlighting how the majority of traditional media in the country carry agendas and biases that sectarian and religious organizations know they can actively manipulate.
People are calling for the cancellation of Mashrou’ Leila’s concert, and a protest in front of the festival’s venue, for songs (particularly, one song called Djin) with satirical lyrics that have been interpreted to “insult religion.” Mashrou’ Leila hasn’t released any new album since Ibn El Leil in 2015. The local band even performed at the Byblos International Festival in 2016. So, why are religious groups criticizing them now?
It’s by the same logic that Beirut Pride 2018 was raided and shut down, but Beirut Pride 2017 proceeded. While the attacks against Mashrou’ Leila have not been particularly framed as being against LGBTQ+ rights that the band champions lyrically and personally, their queerness undoubtedly intersects with the religious-basis of these attacks.
As more people become tolerant of the LGBTQ+ community or some simultaneously choose to move away from the traditional lines of religious thinking, heteronormative and highly-religious groups and institutions that previously dominated the sociopolitical arena feel threatened. For more conservative people, cultural shifts are extremely disturbing.
The beautiful (read: horrifying) part of any discussion even remotely-related to religion in Lebanon is that taking part in and speaking out about cultural shifts can be interpreted as insulting religion or inciting sectarianism, which in turn can lead to prosecution and sentencing to jail under articles 474 and 317 of the country’s criminal codes.
As expected, authorities leave what “an insult to religion” up for their interpretation. Does the same law apply for people or institutions that have insulted, attacked, and threatened the lives of the Mashrou’ Leila band members or their fans?
Mashrou’ Leila has, for years, released music that an Arab audience can relate to. They’ve poignantly and critically tackled the Israeli occupation of Palestine, interfaith marriage, political assassinations, immigration, war, love and loss. Whether you enjoy their music or not, forcing the cancellation of their concert is an attack on the freedom of expression and so much more. It’s denying members of the audience the ability to think for themselves and to reflect on a multitude of themes other than religion.
The other end of the spectrum shows support for Mashrou’ Leila. “Since when is religion or faith shaken by a song or concert? And how is cancellation a solution in the age of the Internet and globalization?” reads one Tweet, a fair point bearing in mind that more people are likely to seek out and find Mashrou’ Leila’s music online following all the buzz from the possible cancellation of their concert.