Lebanese band cancels Qatar concert following anti-gay backlash


Due to safety concerns after an online backlash, an American university in Qatar has cancelled an event which would have featured a Lebanese rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

Northwestern University’s Qatar campus was scheduled host a discussion about “media revolutions in the Middle East” on Tuesday (Feb 04) with members of the Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, but after hostile comments against the band appeared online, the university said it had mutually agreed with the band to move the event to its U.S. campus.

“The decision to relocate was made out of abundance of caution due to several factors, including safety concerns for the band and our community,” Northwestern’s Director of Media Relations Jon Yates told Reuters by email.

Yates said the university is committed to academic freedom both in Qatar and the United States, and that moving the event would ensure Mashrou’ Leila’s “ideas and art could be heard.”

The band’s management did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Mashrou’ Leila, which has garnered international acclaim for lyrics tackling sectarianism, gender equality and homophobia, has seen its events cancelled elsewhere in the region following pressure from conservative groups. The band is a vocal supporter of equal rights for marginalised groups.

Critics used an Arabic hashtag on Twitter to demand the event be cancelled, with some accusing Mashrou’ Leila and Northwestern of spreading views that are against Qatari and Islamic values. Others said they opposed same-sex relationships.

“This is against our cultural standards and societal norms,” one Twitter account posted.

Gay sex is punishable by jail in Qatar, which is the same in many Muslim-majority countries.

Though conservative, Qatar, a tiny gas-rich state ruled by a one-family absolute monarchy, is perceived as progressive by Gulf standards.

On social media, some criticised the decision to cancel the event as self-censorship and denying free speech. Others questioned the level of openness in the country that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)