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15 June 2017

Mashrou’ Leila and the ‘forces of darkness’

By: Daoud Kuttab
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My daughter was excited and worried. A few weeks ago, upon hearing that the Lebanese music groups Mashrou’ Leila will be performing in Jordan, she got excited, but at the same time, she was worried that there will be attempt to attack the concert.
 
She was not worried about attacks on Facebook, she was worried about physical attacks against the performers and concertgoers.
 
I told her not to worry, Jordanian security is very good and for sure they will be guarding the place and checking everyone coming in.
 
A week later, I was even more sure of myself telling her that the Ministry of Tourism will be sponsoring the event and therefore for sure the Jordanian security forces will be out in full strength to ensure that no one tries to stop them.
 
Little did I think then that the problem will be Facebook and the party to stop the concert would be another government ministry.
 
Mashrou’ Leila is a Lebanese band with a political message.
 
The Guardian said that the “Beirut-based band is out to stir a musical rebellion in the Middle East”.
 
It added: “The band is part of a rebellious surge of new bands in the Middle East, such as El Morabba3 in Jordan and Lebanon’s Zeid and the Wings. They all emerged around the time of the Arab spring, creating a potent fusion of pop and politics.”
 
The name is not about a woman called Leila. It means a night’s programme and refers to an overnight jam session in Beirut that saw the birth of the band in 2008.
 
A year ago, the same band was supposed to perform on the Citadel, in Amman, but the performance was cancelled at the last moment under the excuse that the location is public and not licensed.
 
This time, with the Ministry of Tourism on board, most people, including my daughter, thought the concert would take place.
 
A stream of protests was made on Facebook, including by supporters of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
 
Leading the charge was Dima Tahboub, the front’s member of parliament who heads the national guidance committee.
 
The committee was unsuccessful in stopping the media commission from stopping screening Wonder Woman, a Hollywood action film starring a former Israeli soldier that attacked Palestinians.
 
The brunt of the attacks against the Lebanese music band was the sexual orientation of one of its singers.
 
Social media were abuzz with attacks against the government, using this fact as proof that the government was supporting homosexuality.
 
Sure enough, the storm bore fruit and the minister of interior stopped the concert, throwing the minister of tourism under the bus and pointing to what appears to be a generational and social schism within society.
 
The reaction was swift, again on social media, with the government attacked for buckling under the Islamists’ demands.
 
There is no doubt that a majority of the Jordanian society is conservative and nothing angers cultural conservatives more than the issue of homosexuality.
 
But the percentage of youth in Jordan is very high and eventually the generation that is in control of all levers of society today will soon be turning over their powers to the next generation, or else this generation will find other ways to express itself.
 
In any democratic society, the majority rules.
 
But at the same time, any democratic society understands that the minority has rights and protecting the rights of the minority is as much an integral part of democracy as allowing the majority to rule.
 
Mashrou’ Leila may have been born overnight in Beirut. In Jordan, conservative forces also met and schemed overnight and as a result, the country is less tolerant day after day.
 
If the country is looking for ways to fight extremism, the search should not go as far as Daesh and Al Qaeda. The Daesh ideology is much closer to home than many think.
 
Cancelling a musical concert twice in two years is not a good omen for the fight against extremism. It feeds it.
 
My 17-year-old daughter understands that. When will the government stop capitulating to the forces of darkness?

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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