THU 22 - 8 - 2019
Aug 8, 2019
The Daily Star
Activists rally for concert against oppression
Emily Lewis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: “The sound of music is louder.” This is the slogan for a concert and comedy show slated for Friday night, the same day that Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila was supposed to perform at the Byblos International Festival. Outraged by the festival organizers’ decision to drop Mashrou’ Leila’s Aug. 9 concert, a group of independent activists got together to put on a show “against hatred and against oppression.”
At 7 p.m. Friday, more than 20 musicians, bands and comedians will take to the stage at Hamra’s Aresco Palace for a show in solidarity with the Lebanese indie-rock band.
One of the organizers, Ali Mourad, told The Daily Star Wednesday that “none of us knew each other before but after [the cancellation of Mashrou’ Leila’s concert] we got together to take action.”
“We all got together with one goal ... to fight against what happened to Mashrou’ Leila,” said Roy Dib, another independent activist, artist and filmmaker.
Around two weeks before Mashrou’ Leila’s concert, a visceral campaign was launched on social media calling for its cancellation, with Christian groups and others accusing the band of devil worship and singing lyrics that were offensive to Christianity and Islam.
Members of the band were called into questioning by one of Lebanon’s top prosecutors, interrogated by State Security and pressured into removing at least two of their songs from social media.
Eventually, the Byblos festival announced that Mashrou’ Leila’s concert was cancelled.
Mashrou’ Leila are known across the Middle East, and globally, as an advocate for LGBTQ rights and for speaking out against injustices in the members’ home country of Lebanon. Many comments posted on social media in the run-up to the concert targeted the band’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno, who is openly gay.
During a news conference Wednesday to officially announce the concert, activist Joumana Talhouk said the attack on Mashrou’ Leila was not an isolated incident, but part of a wider trend of oppression and crackdown on freedom of speech in Lebanon.
“These kinds of nightmares are repeating themselves,” she said. “This is not a random incident, but a new regime of hatred that is growing more powerful.”
Talhouk cited other recent examples of this “regime of hatred” that have taken hold in Lebanon in the last few months and years, including the rise of inflammatory rhetoric against refugees, attacks on environmental activists opposing the Bisri Dam and the detention and torture of actor Ziad Itani, who was falsely accused of spying for Israel.
Itani will make a guest appearance at Friday’s concert.
She was clear to note however, that the “hatred” was not just committed by one sect or group, but had become “a formal policy.”
Rania Barghout, the director of the Aresco Palace that will host the concert, said the center was opened “for everything that is different.”
“We are not afraid,” she added.
The Samir Kassir Eye Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, which advocates for freedom of speech and expression, is calling on people across Lebanon to blast Mashrou’ Leila’s music at 9 p.m. Friday night in homes, at nightlife venues and in public spaces.
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