BEIRUT: Pressure has been building steadily over the past few days from mainly Christian groups to cancel a show in Lebanon by local band Mashrou’ Leila, set for Aug. 9. The groups have cited the religious and sexual ideologies expressed in the band’s lyrics, videos and performances.
“After looking at the goals of Mashrou’ Leila and the content of the songs it performs, which affect religious and humanitarian values as well as Christian sanctities, the Maronite Archdiocese of Jbeil strongly condemns the concert,” the archdiocese said in a statement that circulated on social media Monday.
It called for “the suspension of Mashrou’ Leila on the land of holiness, civilization and history, and leaves it up to the Catholic Information Center to do what is necessary.”
Latifee Lakkis, the president of the Byblos International Festival, told The Daily Star that she was unable to provide further details on the situation, but said a meeting would be held in the next two days to discuss the event.
The Byblos Municipality could not be reached for comment.
Rev. Abdo Abu Kasm, the director of the Catholic International Center, told local media that the rejection of the band “stems from our dealing with a Christian issue.”
“The songs performed by Mashrou’ Leila touch directly on Christian beliefs,” he went on, adding that the center would not accept them to be played at a concert attended by thousands of people.
“We received a lot of calls in the last few hours to pressure the concert to stop,” Kasm claimed, saying the “Maronite Patriarchate gave us an invitation to do what is necessary at this level in the face of the anger expressed by the Christian public opinion.”
“We have made extensive calls, specifically with MPs of the region, and we will hold a meeting that ends the debate.”
When asked about the potential security risks should the concert move forward, a General Security spokesperson said the agency was aware of the situation but had not received details on the matter yet.
Mashrou’ Leila is no stranger to controversy. Having tackled issues such as homophobia, classism and sectarianism, the band has made its fair share of enemies. Hamed Sinno, the band’s lead singer, is openly gay, and has advocated for LGBTQ rights in the Middle East.
In September 2017, the Egyptian government banned Mashrou’ Leila from returning following the arrest of at least six people who raised a rainbow flag during a concert in Cairo.
One Twitter user, Naji Emile Hayek, said that if the band was permitted to play, he would stop the performance “by force.”
A Facebook group called God’s Soldiers has run a number of posts since July 17, one of which criticized a post by Sinno from 2015.
Sinno responded on Facebook Sunday: “It’s clear that [these campaigns] are not about posts that were published, so please stop hiding behind your fingers, and those who have been spearheading the campaigns under the pretext that they’re protecting ethics in the country should not lie.”
Despite claims on social media that opposition to Mashrou’ Leila’s performance in Byblos was not based on Sinno’s sexual orientation, many comments were directed at Sinno and his sexuality.
In a statement on its social media pages Monday, the band members said they were surprised about the waves of objections. “We are four Lebanese boys from different religious faiths, who combined our love of music and studying engineering at the American University of Beirut. Our goal is to raise the art and highlight humanitarian issues and raise the name of Lebanon in the world. No more, no less,” the statement said.
Critics aside, that work has earned them fans the world over. Mashrou’ Leila plays regularly in Lebanon. The band has already participated in the Byblos International Festival, in 2010 and 2016, as well as the Baalbeck International Festival in 2012.
The members have also performed in Europe and the U.S.
In 2017, Mashrou’ Leila played at a secret Amnesty International gig in Beirut in support of refugees.
The band performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City earlier this month.
“How fragile you must be to feel threatened by a bunch of songs,” a user on Twitter wrote.
“Supporting @mashrou3leila in the face of ignorance and censorship,” another said.
Yet another Twitter user pointed out that singer Lana Del Rey performed in Byblos in 2013 despite the fact that she “dressed like the Virgin Mary ... [with] songs about daddies, drug, sex and Jesus. But it’s not okay for @mashrou3leila to attend the festival due to some metaphors and lyrics that many don’t understand.”
When reached for comment via social media, Mashrou Leila told The Daily Star, “We got a feature in The New York Times. Which makes it all sad to see what’s happening back home.”