Jordan has banned a concert by a Lebanese rock band that has a gay singer and has been accused in the kingdom of promoting homosexuality and inciting political revolts.
Lawmaker Bassam al-Battush said Wednesday he had been told by the Amman governor that this week’s concert at a Roman theatre by the group Mashrou’ Leila had been called off.
“The written justification officially provided is that the performance would have been at odds with what the ministry of tourism viewed as the ‘authenticity’ of the site,” the band said on its Facebook site.
It said the group, whose singer Hamed Sinno is openly homosexual, a criminal offence in Arab countries, had been “unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom”.
The band, which has toured several countries, performed in Dubai, and has gigs lined up in North America, condemned what it called Jordan’s “censorship” and stressed that it had played the very same Amman venue three times in the past.
For Battush, however, the musicians were trying to propagate “ideas which are foreign to our society and our Arab-Muslim culture” with their lyrics about sex, homosexuality, Satanism and “revolts against governments and societies”.
The six-member band says on its Facebook page that “with their distinct approach to storytelling and orchestration, they have crafted some of the most melancholic ballads and raucous anthems in contemporary alternative Arabic music”.
Criticism of the government’s decision spread quickly on social media, including a widely shared post by the lead singer’s mother:
— Ø³ÙØ·Ø§Ù Ø³Ø¹ÙØ¯ Ø§ÙÙØ§Ø³Ù Ù (@SultanAlQassemi) April 27, 2016
And here’s an official statement by the band members:
“We deeply regret to inform you that unfortunately we will not be able to perform our concert in Amman originally scheduled for Friday 29th of April.
We have just been notified that our authorization to play has been withdrawn. The written justification officially provided is that the performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site, despite the fact that we had the chance to perform for you at the same specific site three times in the past and had followed the same permit procedure before the competent authorities.
Informally, the story is much more problematic. We have been unofficially informed that the reason behind this sudden change of heart, few days before the concert day, is the intervention of some authorities. Our understanding is that said authorities have pressured certain political figures and triggered a chain of events that ultimately ended with our authorization being withdrawn.
We also have been unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom.
We deeply regret having to cancel this event in this country that we have made our own. Jordan is the home of some of the most supportive, beautiful, and kind people we have had the pleasure of working with and playing for. Jordan is also the only place where we get to perform for our Palestinian audience, who organize elaborate bus trips to come from Palestine to see us play. Jordan is the birthplace of our lead singer’s mother, a formative part of his identity and writing, and a place we have always considered our second home.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of voices of political dissent.
We denounce the systemic prosecution of advocates of sexual and religious freedom.
We denounce the censorship of artists anywhere in the world.
We apologize for having thus far failed at creating a cultural environment that allows our children to speak their minds. We believe whole-heartedly that we have only ever acted with the intention of making our world a more equal, and just place, even if “only through song.” We pledge to our audience that we will continue to place the integrity of our art as our foremost priority, and to never succumb to the pressure to compromise our message, or to waive our freedom to speak. We promise to continue to write out of love, and with the desire to spread love. We will fight, as we have always done, for our right to freely play our music and speak our mind.
We urge our fellow musicians and artists across the world to continue to produce work that challenges any unfair status quo, despite the difficulties confronted.
We respectfully ask the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to reconsider its stance towards our message, and our art, and urge the Kingdom to choose fighting alongside us, not against us, during this ongoing battle for a culture of freedom against the regressive powers of thought control and cultural coercion.
We strongly hope the authorities will make the right decision, so that we can see you in a few days.”