One of the opening songs for this Lebanese rock band, Mashrou' Leila’s, most recent album, Ibn El Leil (Son of The Night), uncovers the hidden truth of young Arabs battling a culturally repressive society. As their music speaks to many communities, the adult and youth of the Arab community turn to songs such as, Djinn to compress from the overwhelming pressure to succumb to Arab cultural standards. Translated from Arabic to English, the band’s lyrics read: “Liver baptized in gin…Drown my liver in gin. In the name of the father and the son.. A wall as thick as a wine glass...Pour me another;...Oh I don't do sodas, man I don't do tea. I drown my sorrows, forget my name, and give myself to the night”
In confronting taboo issues such as drinking, drugs, sexuality and more through their music, band members, Hamed Sinno, Haig Papazian, Carl Gerges, Ibrahim Badr, and Firas Abou Fakher have been banned, twice, from performing in Amman, Jordan. More specifically, lead singer of the Band, Hamed Sinno is an openly Gay-Muslim-Arab. The city of Amman’s governor declared the first ban days before the scheduled show stating publicly last year that “some of the band’s songs contain lyrics that do not comply with the nature of Jordanian society,” giving little to no elaboration on this statement.(Translated from Arabic) As artists, in face of the consecutive bans the 5 band members issued a statement saying that they “[W]ill not stop defending the Islamic community on account of this. Nor will we stop defending the LGBTQ community on account of this. Nor will we change anything about how we go about making and performing our music. We are not afraid of the various death threats we’ve received over the last few days. We refuse to be ashamed of supporting our queer band-mate. We are proud of our work. We are proud of our audience, as always. If anything, today we are ashamed of the decisions of the Jordanian authorities.” The complexity of these two banned performances in Jordan were ultimately made considering the Jordanian customs and traditions, however the government’s decisions neglected on both occasions to address the members of the Jordanian community who avidly supported the band’s performances. More specifically, members of the Palestinian and Syrian communities hoped to make it to the performance, as Jordan works as a neutral land for people living in the surrounding countries. Those from Palestine attended who attended a concert in Amman held in 2015 were unable to attend in neighboring Jordan due to the past two bans. Member of the Jordanian Royal Family and current high school student, Princess Rajaa Bint-Talal said in a Skype interview that “The whole incident is not a reflection of us as a people, but rather our current circumstances."
“Call the devil by his name, and call a musician a liar.” - 3 Minutes, Mashrou' Leila
Understanding the political climate of Jordan and its surrounding countries as well as the role that Mashrou’ Leila plays as an outspoken Arab band outlines the suspected reasons for the most recent ban this year. As Jordan is currently one of the only ‘stable’ countries in the Levant area (Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan) it has an agenda to uphold. This includes minimizing the influence and presence of ISIS within the country’s borders. Member of the Jordanian Secret Services, anonymously told me that “Hosting the band in Amman would create an easy target for an attack, whether small or big.” He continued to explain that “going against the traditionalists of the country would also provoke outrage.” It is also important to note that Amman’s population of 4 million is arguably the most westernized region in the country with great ex-patriot influences from the west. This more western mindset present in Amman however, neglects the other 5.523 million inhabitants of the country who overwhelmingly hold the traditional values of Islam, Christianity, and the Arab culture highly. Additionally, in regions that have been threatened in the past by ISIS(attacks/presence)such as Irbid and Karak, there are still slightly traces of ISIS within their more impoverished areas. Holding the concert in Amman could make Jordan an easy target for ISIS, who are adamant that the entire region adhere to their perverted version of Islam. The choice to ban the band this year was made by the Jordanian Ministry of Interior Affairs and not the city’s governor. However, nothing was mentioned of this hidden agenda to uphold the image of peace in Jordan. Current Minister of Interior Affairs, Ghaleb Zu’bi, stated nothing upon the ban. Zu’bi has declined making any statement regarding the ban that he enforced. Zu’bi’s silence is broken by the Jordanian lawmakers who were the ones to speak out and overall initiate the ban. Members of the Jordanian Parliament voiced their unanimous opinion and petitioned to ban the band from performing. In an interview with CNN, Dima Tahboub summarized that the reason for the petition by Parliament members was because of the sexual orientation of lead singer, Hamed Sinno, as openly gay, which would contradict the values of the Jordan.
Turning to the Jordanian population, it is evident that the opposition of the band is large due to the traditional mindset of many elders. My father, a citizen of the Jordanian community hears me play their music and references to it is “garbage” and often tells me it's corrupting my mind. People of this mindset prefer music from their past, such as Oum Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Fairuz. Sticking to traditional Arab culture is prioritized and according to Hanan Khalaileh,65, “It’s the only thing we have left as Arabs.” Yet, member of the millennial Arabs, Maysa, 21, states “Everyone older than us just wants to act like these things don't exist. They want to deny homosexuality, they want to deny underage drinking. But most importantly they want to force us to have the same mindset as them. They fear change.” 18 year old Noor Sabha acknowledges however the “act of safety” that the Jordanian government implemented stating that “the majority of Jordanians, unfortunately, are homophobic,” and allowing Mashrou' Leila to perform would “trigger public outrage against the government or the King himself.” During the tense week of the most recent ban, Jordanian supporters of the band sought out social media platforms to voice their frustrations. Up and coming Arab social media star, Jordanian citizen, and freshman at Swarthmore College, Laila Hazaineh made a Facebook post stating “Whoever doesn't like the band don't go to the concert. There's no point in imposing your ignorant opinions onto others.” The band reflected upon the immediate reaction of their fans during both bans saying in their public statement, “one has only to look at the reaction of the Jordanian people to the cancellation(s), to see that the notion of a singular, homogeneous society that shares these “customs, and traditions,” does not seem to apply to Jordanian people,” That is just it. There is a direct disagreement with the progressive Jordanian community and the culturally repressive government. While Mashrou' Leila’s mission as artists is to challenge the norms of traditional Arab society, the society itself is not unanimously ready for this change. In the words of Mashrou' Leila’s song, Lil Watan للوطن For the State,"...with slogans they reply, and conspiracies they invoke, for their slogans to provoke, they call treason when you call, for changing ... the state, they made you despair, so you sell your rights to save... the state.”