Mashrou’ Leila’s Cancelation: We’re all Losing Here

I wasn’t supposed to be here this weekend. I was planning to spend this Passover holiday in Amman – Jordan, just a couple of hours drive from Tel Aviv – Israel. Me and my friends were going to watch Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese band live on stage for our first time ever. We were super excited. We were equally disappointed when we read on the band’s facebook page that the show got cancelled.

As frustrating as it is, shows get cancelled all the time around here. Sometimes it’s the political pressure on artists not to perform in Israel as long as it occupies the Palestinians, sometimes it’s the actual fear for one’s safety when there’s a war going on (the government usually calls them military operations, but they are dangerous none the less), sometimes it’s plain technical problems.

This cancelation is different. Its meaning is upsetting enough for it to be covered all over the web – from BBC to NPR to Buzzfeed.

The official reason the band was banned from performing in Jordan, at the Roman amphitheatre was that “the performance would have been at odds with what the Ministry of Tourism viewed as the “authenticity” of the site”, the band wrote in their statement. This is odd, since they have preformed there before, three times no less.

Informally, the story gets its sad twist, as they continued to write in their statement: “We have been unofficially informed that the reason behind this sudden change of heart, few days before the concert day, is the intervention of some authorities. Our understanding is that said authorities have pressured certain political figures and triggered a chain of events that ultimately ended with our authorization being withdrawn.

“We also have been unofficially informed that we will never be allowed to play again anywhere in Jordan due to our political and religious beliefs and endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom”.

These are not merely rumors. According to the BBC: “Amman governor Khalid Abu Zeid told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the group had been banned because its songs “contradicted” religious beliefs, and not because its music went against the amphitheatre’s historic ambience”.

And it gets worse. NPR wrote that governor Abu Zeid had said that the band’s songs “contradict” Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

How dare we not know to speak Arabic

Well, maybe they do. And yeah, their lead singer is openly gay. Their lyrics are known to be pro freedom of religion, love and sexual attraction and gender equality. Besides creating awesome music, they’re not afraid to be political whilst being entertainers, and tackle matters of social importance. At least that’s what I was told by a co-worker who was more than happy to loosely translate some of their lyrics for me one afternoon at the office.

My other co-workers reacted with amusement mixed with bafflement to our musical taste. As an Israeli Jew, I don’t speak Arabic, you see. I mean, there are Arabic classes in high schools, but they’re not mandatory. I for instance had the choice between them and French lessons.

This way we grow up not understanding the mother tongue of not only our neighbors, but the millions of Arab-Israelis and Palestinians with whom we live side by side. Arab-Israelis on the other hand, should know how to speak Hebrew if they want to be able to work and study in Israel.

That is why when we played a Mashrou’ Leila’s song that has the words “Tik tik tik boom” in it, everyone around me joked nervously that I’m listening to a song about suicide bombings, because it’s all about us, sure.

That’s not what the song’s about. It’s more general, and uses the concept of martyrs as a metaphor for religion and politics boiling up to the point of no return. You can read English translations of some of their lyrics here.

Mashrou’ Leila wrote on their Facebook page that a lot of Palestinians were planning to come and see them at Amman, and apologized, knowing this was these people’s only relatively simple way to see them live. The band would find it hard and maybe impossible to arrive in Gaza for instance to perform. And even if they would have wanted, and managed, to get into Israel – the Palestinian audience couldn’t have gotten in to see them.
You usually need a better excuse to be permitted to cross to the Israeli side.

As Israelis, we would have gotten a Jordanian stamp on our passport, and probably would have had to answer a question or two about it at the airport the next time we’d leave the country. Arab-Israelis may get full body examination and even get detained. Security procedures demand it.

My Arab-Israeli friend resigned about six months ago. She didn’t like the job. She also didn’t like the comments and jokes she heard at the kitchen and read on the office’s Whatsapp group every time one of those military “operations” were going on – conversations about how “they deserve it for bombing us” and how the IDF is the most humanitarian army of them all. They didn’t understand why she wasn’t simply grateful for having this job, for being “accepted”, and for living in the Israeli side of the map.

When the show got cancelled, I reached out to the band on their Facebook page, naively hoping they might give me a short interview for this piece. I got a comment from a Jordanian citizen, telling me off saying: “Really ,how cute, while u actively occupy other people”. Another Israeli who wrote about his disappointment was told to shut up by Arab fans, being privileged and part of the people who are at a long bloody conflict with the Palestinians.

I didn’t argue with the one who commented on my post, how could I? I took a quick look at his or hers facebook profile – a Metallica and Alien fan, some posts about woman’s rights. We could have had a great chat about horror films, feminism and music had we met accidently at the show. Maybe I could say something about the situation here, about how some of us do want it to change. And it would have been nice, standing there cheering with people from Palestine, Jordan and Israel.

It is too bad for us, for all of us, that this maybe a bit pathetic dream bubble just exploded by being silenced. Ironically, another friend of mine is still going to see Mashrou’ Leila as part of their world tour. He’s an Israeli Jew living in Berlin. It’s easier there, so he says.

Update: The band has posted another statement on its facebook page regarding the cancelation. Mashrou’ Leila responded to the allegations about their music, and noted that the Governor if Amman has sent them a letter of approval. However the approval arrived too late for it to allow them to preform.

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