Jordan Bans Popular Lebanese Band Because Its Songs 'Contradict Religion'

Mashrou' Leila's songs often tackle controversial subjects such as corruption, censorship, state violence and sexual freedom.

Hamed Sinno (C), the lead singer of Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou' Leila, performs with his band during a concert in Beirut, Lebanon, August 6, 2015.
Mohamed Azakir, Reuters

AP - Jordan has banned a performance by a popular Lebanese rock band on religious grounds, spurring criticism of the Western-allied kingdom, which portrays itself as an island of tolerance in a turbulent region.

The band Mashrou' Leila ("Leila's Project") is known internationally for violin-laced pop music with catchy Arabic lyrics. Songs often tackle controversial subjects such as corruption, censorship, state violence and sexual freedom.

Jordan's Antiquities Department initially said it would not permit a planned show at the Roman Theater in the capital Amman later this week because it would contradict the "authenticity" of the ancient venue.

However, Amman district governor Khalid Abu Zeid told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the band's material "contradicts" the beliefs of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Media analyst Hosni Ayesh said the decision to prevent Friday's performance at the last minute reflects a rise in religious fundamentalism in Jordan.

"The government wouldn't ban this band if the society was more open and tolerant," Ayesh said. "The government fears the society and some elements in the government are as conservative as the society."

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani was not immediately available for comment.

The band is on a global tour promoting their latest album "Ibn El-Leil" ("Son of the Night"), which boasts a cover image of a man with wings and a wolf mask.

Some local media in Jordan blasted the imagery as Satanic. Other Jordanians are organizing a protest over the cancelled concert.

Guitarist Firas Abou Fakher, 28, said Wednesday that the band was surprised to learn of the permit being denied. He said the band had played at the same site three times before, as well as across Jordan.

The current pressure will make it "very tough for us to ever play in Jordan again," he said.

A conservative backlash against the liberal ideas of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 has led to a "catastrophic" rise in suppression of the arts, he said.

The band's "fame or notoriety" has made them a target, he said.

"It's really a very sad thing what is going on in the Arab world these days," he added.