A scheduled event at the Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) that was supposed to feature Lebanese pop band, Mashrou’ Leila, was canceled due to a massive online anti-LGBTQIA backlash, which caused safety concerns for its attendees.
The band’s lead singer, Hamed Sinno who is openly gay, had planned to participate in a talk on ‘Media Revolutions in the Middle East’ at the university’s campus in Doha on February 4.
The university consequently announced that it had “mutually” agreed with the band’s members to move the discussion to its home base in the United States state of Illinois instead. The announcement came in a statement on the university’s official website.
“After discussing the planned visit with band members, the University and Mashrou’ Leila mutually agreed to change the venue of their talk to our home campus in Evanston,” the statement read.
Mashrou’ Leila is comprised of four members from Lebanon – Sinno on vocals, multi-instrumentalist Firas Abou Fakher, violinist Haig Papazian and drummer Carl Gerges. The band reportedly frequently refers to issues regarding religion and sexuality in their lyrics, often drawing on their own experiences when composing songs.
Social media war
Twitter users in Qatar created the hashtag in Arabic “we refuse Mashrou’ Leila’s discussion” in Arabic, as they demanded the event to be canceled. Some social media users have also accused Mashrou’ Leila of pushing agendas and views in contrast to traditional Islamic values. “No… this is not ok. Qatar is a religious country, and they are literally opposing our religion publicly. There are limits…” tweeted @althaniim.
Several NU-Q students, however, have voiced out their frustration over the cancellation, saying the decision was crucial in raising awareness regarding issues of self-censorship and the lack of freedom of speech. “Wait, universities in Education City don’t have to abide by Qatar laws anyway, so on what grounds are locals trying to shut down Mashrou Leila’s lecture?” tweeted @hotgirlhala.
Mashrou’ Leila’s scheduled appearances at other venues in Qatar have also been canceled following the recent social media backlash.
The band’s appearance at the Byblos International Festival in Lebanon in July 2019 was canceled, following opposition by conservative groups. They reportedly faced performance cancellations over their freedom of speech, when they were opposed by traditional Christian groups.