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Lebanon must end religious 'hate campaign' against Mashrou' Leila

Mashrou' Leila's music challenges various established norms in Arab societies. [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 July, 2019

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Several religious figures have called for the cancellation of the band's concert on August 9 in Byblos over the 'group's aims and the content of their songs'.

Lebanese authorities must protect worldwide famous band Mashrou' Leila from a mounting hate campaign and ensure they are able to perform safely at an upcoming concert in Byblos, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

Several religious figures have called for the cancellation of the concert on August 9 in the seaside town, seemingly over a graphic mash-up using an image of the Virgin Mary.

"The authorities, mainly the Ministry of Interior, have a responsibility to take the necessary measures to ensure the band is protected from this spiteful campaign, and to ensure that the concert not be cancelled for security considerations", said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.  

The overwhelmingly Christian town's Maronite archbishop on Monday asked for the gig to be cancelled over the "group's aims and the content of their songs".

They "undermine religious and human values, attack sacred symbols of Christianity", he said in a statement.

The Catholic Information Centre, an authority that works with the Lebanese authorities to censor artistic content, called the group a "danger to society".

"It is not permissible to insult religions under the guise of freedoms," said its head Father Abdu Abu Kassa.

A Facebook page set up to condemn the band and demand their concert be cancelled contained comments calling for the group to be "showered with bullets."

"It is unconscionable that there continue to be such calls emanating from institutions that are meant to serve as role models to their constituencies, and can and should be upholding the right to freedom of expression and protection of vulnerable groups, instead of enabling hate speech, including homophobia," Amnesty said.

The band on Monday in a statement said they "respected all religions and their symbols", and they were saddened by "wrong interpretations" and "the distortion of the lyrics of some of our songs".

Mashrou' Leila's music challenges various established norms in Arab societies concerning gender roles and sexual and religious freedoms.

Former lawmaker for Byblos, Fares Said, came to the band's defence.

"Boycott if you want, it's your right. But let Lebanon retain its taste of freedom," he wrote on Twitter.

After a Mashrou' Leila concert in Egypt in 2017, at which members of the audience waved a rainbow flag, the authorities launched a crackdown on the country's LGBT community.

Its concerts in Jordan were cancelled in 2016 and 2017.

Same-sex acts between consenting adults in private are treated as a criminal offence in most of the Arabic-speaking world.

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