Head to Head : Jordanian Government and Lebanese Rock Band Repeat History.

Head to Head : Jordanian Government and Lebanese Rock Band Repeat History.

Will it happen again?

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.”

Cover Image Credit: Somerset House

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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News Flash: 'Building The Wall' Is Still A Dumb Idea And Always Will Be

The government is still partially shutdown because of funding for the wall. Really?


A man who is a strong supporter of building the wall told me this metaphor: If you don't want the wrong people walking into your backyard, you put a fence up. We don't want the wrong people coming to America, so we put a wall up. I respect people's political beliefs, and because of this, I want to share mine.

I believe that President Trump demanding money to build a border wall is dumb.

It's hard to believe so many people really think that this "build a wall" has everything to do about border security. It's just inhumane and wrong.

Literally, the most notorious drug lord of Mexico has shed light about how he smuggles the drug into the U.S. They have brought it through fishing boats, trucks going through the legal point of entry, underground tunnel, but not through unwalled parts. The half of million pounds of narcotics that were secured at the border? They were all al legal points of entry.

I'm saying this because I am a proud daughter of immigrants who crossed the border. The media has portrayed immigrants as these horrible people infiltrating our country. They just want somewhere safe to live to raise their kid.

The conditions of Latin American countries are inexplicable. Communist have risen from the ashes dominating these countries letting people rot on the street starving. There are little to no job opportunities. I haven't seen my family in three years because it is dangerous to go.

The media doesn't tell you this. They don't tell you how many people have gone to the border and returned to Mexico because ICE agents tear gas them.

They tell you that they throw babies over fences to distract border patrol agents. They tell you children are dying because of malnutrition of trekking thousands of miles to get the border. They don't tell you that those same children have been eating unmonitored food with thousands of microorganism some mal some good.

Not all immigrants are not bad people. The notions that all immigrants are criminals is "fake news." It has been a hook, line, and sinker for the Republican Party. There are studies such as one from the journal Criminology showing that places with high undocumented immigrant population does not equal high crime.

Should undocumented citizens attempt to become legal residents of the United States? Absolutely, and that is a problem if they are evading taxes and other legal notions with more consequences.

However, we should not lie to ourselves and act as a wall is to help border security against drugs and crime. It's just a physical quota like 1920s immigration laws. There is a better solution then sacrificing 5.7 billion dollars. Let me translate that: 5,700,000,000 dollars. That is our taxes. As a college student, I rather have those 5.7 billion dollars be translated to scholarship, grants, financial aid, and helping us, the future of this country become the best people we can be. Why build a wall when the future of America, who I personally think is more important can be helped.

I don't come from a rich family, and I don't have the means to afford a college education without loans, so when I hear that the Government can afford to give 5.7 billion dollars for a wall, I have the right to be upset. Tell me I'm wrong, and call me dumb, but this is my unpopular opinion.


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