It's been a busy few weeks in Lebanon on social media after beloved indie band Mashrou' Leila got its concert canceled at Byblos International Festival. (And yes, I realize not everyone is a fan.)
Making sure to keep online users fired up over the topic, a campaign launched by late journalist Samir Kassir's organization, SKEyes, asked - and keeps on asking - all Lebanese and anyone who believes in the freedom of expression to play aloud the songs of Mashrou' Leila on Friday night, the date of the canceled concert.
August 9 and at 9 p.m., Lebanon's top TV channels LBCI, MTV, and Al Jadeed, along with a dozen of its best radio stations (Aghani Aghani, NRJ, Nostalgie, Jaras Scoop FM, Power FM, Radio One, Virgin Radio Lebanon, Light FM, Radio Mazzika, Sawt El Chaab, Voix Du Liban, and Mix FM) will blast the band's music.
If it was a paid concert for fans - a private event all those who got upset over would've never attended to begin with - now it's a national issue for everyone to follow and participate in ... and a free concert for all.
A brief reminder of what went down: A number of fundamentalist Christian groups threatened and warned the band against performing in Jbeil. These groups claimed the band's music insults Jesus and the Bible. Mashrou' Leila was also accused of "blasphemy" from the Catholic Church and various social media groups (one of which has been blocked on Facebook) with regards to two songs, Djin and Asnam. The band ultimately removed the songs from their Facebook and Youtube accounts. Byblos International Festival canceled their concert to avoid "bloodshed."
The organizers of Lil Watan, the campaign behind the uproar you're seeing on your feeds, believe freedom is not a luxury one enjoys "once they achieve other priorities in life." To them, and in response to those criticizing the fuss over this "trivial" issue instead of focusing on more important ones, freedom of expression is a main and fundamental human right, and "is what makes Lebanon unique and different in its environment."
"We are fighting for a rule of law-governed country. Accepting that a group, motivated by religion, ideology or personal interests, can threaten and blackmail people, outside any legal process, to obtain what they want, opens the door for a very dark future where the most powerful and conservative can shut down any form of expression they don't like while state authorities stay idle and powerless," the campaign's organizers told StepFeed.
Pressuring artists and festivals can negatively impact the image of Lebanon and its attractiveness for arts, culture, and entertainment, according to them, "which are key components of our economic model."
In addition to TV channels and radio stations, a number of restaurants, pubs, and other nightlife venues will be blessing everyone with Mashrou' Leila's songs on Friday night (which is tomorrow, by the way.)
We reached out to the band for comment.
Another effective gesture done in solidarity with the Lebanese band came from a fellow musical group scheduled to perform at the same festival. Dutch metal band Within Temptation, who's performed in Lebanon before, decided to cancel its concert at Byblos "in support of tolerance, freedom of speech and expression."
Lil Watan is an extension of the foreign band's decision, an extension that is local and utterly needed.
"The cancellation of Mashrou' Leila's concert is a natural consequence of years of inaction against censorship," the organizers said.
"When movies, books and theater plays were banned, public opinion didn't show the needed outrage, and condemnation only came from small groups of concerned NGOs and individuals," they explained in regards of why this issue feels more urgent than, for example, when The Post was banned from cinemas in the country.
"Even official censorship authorities today admit that they consult with religious groups before deciding whether or not to authorize a movie or a play, granting these religious groups powers that were not provided for in our laws," they continued.
"Unfortunately, public opinion didn't mobilize enough to fight back. What happened with Mashrou' Leila shows the danger of letting fanatic groups resort to threats and call for violence while public authorities, including the judiciary and security services, fail to protect those who are threatened," they added.
Hundreds of people are supporting the campaign on social media, including celebrities and journalists, and are promising a night filled with music and freedom.
If the Byblos International Festival committee canceled the concert in fear of "bloodshed," let's just say they had no idea what was coming.