Dutch group cancels concert in support of censored Lebanese artists

The Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation announced on Sunday canceled a concert at a festival in Lebanon by “solidarity” with a Lebanese rock band whose performance was deprogrammed after virulent criticism of Christian groups.
M ardi, organizers of the international festival of Byblos, a seaside resort north of the capital Beirut, claimed to be “forced” to cancel the concert of the alternative rock band Mashrou ‘Leila “to prevent bloodshed”.

With an openly gay singer and committed lyrics dissecting social issues and addressing LGBT issues, the Mashrou ‘Leila group, formed in 2008 by students from the American University of Beirut, was accused of undermining sacredness of Christian symbols.

The Dutch group, which was scheduled to occur Wednesday in Byblos, lamented Sunday on its Facebook page the “violent threats” made by “religious fanatics” against Mashrou ‘Leila.

“We decided to cancel our show in Byblos in solidarity with Mashrou ‘Leila and in support of tolerance, freedom of speech and expression,” the group said in a statement.

The Catholic Information Center, a religious institution that collaborates with the authorities on artistic and cultural censorship, was one of the voices calling for the cancellation of the Mashrou ‘Leila concert.

Within temptation noted that “Lebanese authorities are not able to provide security so that artists can perform in peace”.

On Sunday, the artistic director of the Byblos festival, Naji Baz, said he was saddened by the decision of the Dutch artists, saying however not to regret having canceled the concert of Mashrou ‘Leila.

“The safety of our artists and spectators is our top priority,” he told AFP.

“We have never canceled any performance in the context of our festival, even in the worst moments […] If we did it this time, certainly the rage in the heart, it is by absolute necessity”, has he insisted.

At the origin of the controversy around Mashrou ‘Leila, an article shared on Facebook by the leader of the group, Hamed Sinno, illustrated by a photo montage where the face of the Virgin Mary was replaced by that of the American star Madonna .

But also two songs, Idols and Djin , offending the Church’s “religious and human values”.

Mosaic of eighteen religious communities, Lebanon is one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East. But religious institutions continue to exert a major influence on social and cultural affairs.

The cancellation of the concert Mashrou ‘Leila “is a step backwards for Lebanon,” said Tuesday the NGO Human Rights Watch.

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