Jordan's decision to cancel Mashrou' Leila’s planned concert in Amman just three days before the event has left many people perplexed and confused, but it has left me deeply concerned.
I don’t think anyone in Arab society is under the illusion that there are absolute freedoms in any of our countries, but we do have the hope that cultural freedoms can be preserved when it comes to artistic expression. More importantly, we should hope that the personal freedoms of artists themselves do not become factors in deciding who gets a platform for artistic expression and who doesn’t.
If you are a Mashrou’ Leila follower, you will know that there is nothing "illegal" about its music, its lyrics or even its performance style. The band members may touch upon topics that are still sensitive in our society, but they primarily advocate for diversity, tolerance and acceptance, values that I would like to believe do not conflict with our customs and traditions.
Trying to preserve "decency" in public performances might be something that we are used to as part of wide practices of government censorship in a lot of Arab countries, and we tend to live with that, but trying to ban people from artistic expression because they are not ready to hide and oppress diversity is very telling about our ability to have meaningful social discussions.
Even if we do not want to embrace change, we need to understand that diversity does exist, even within our own societies, whether some accept it or not. The idea that we need to shield people from even hearing about controversial topics, even in an artistic form, is a very dangerous idea. Are we not even ready to allow conversation about tolerance? About being different? Not even in music?
We are reluctantly used to the "monitoring" and "filtering" done by authorities for the ideas we consume, and this is something that in some cases our society has come to terms with, but art and music are the heart and soul of our need for expression, and they are often what spark essential conversations that can not be ignored forever.
Maybe we should just refer back to a good old Arab proverb, “The Poet is allowed what others are not,” and let the artists be. Because today, it is only through them that we will be able to challenge our own social beliefs and pave the way for more tolerance and acceptance.