Prejudice leads to US university in Qatar canceling Lebanese rock band talk

Lebanese alternative rock band Mashrou’ Leila performs during the Ehdeniyat International Festival in Ehden, Lebanon. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 04 February 2020

Prejudice leads to US university in Qatar canceling Lebanese rock band talk

  • Critics questioned level of openness in the country that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup
  • Northwestern said it had agreed with the band to move the event to its US campus

DOHA: An American university canceled an event at its Qatar campus featuring a prominent Middle East band whose singer is openly gay, after an online backlash sparked safety concerns.
Members of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila were scheduled to take part in a discussion about “media revolutions in the Middle East” at Northwestern University’s Qatar campus on Tuesday.
But after hostile online comments against Mashrou’ Leila’s appearance, Northwestern said it had mutually agreed with the band to move the event to its US campus.
On social media, some criticized 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.
“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 canceled elsewhere in the region following pressure from conservative groups. The band is a vocal supporter of equal rights for marginalized groups.
Critics used an Arabic hashtag on Twitter to demand the event be canceled, 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.


Israel strikes Hamas positions in Gaza over fire balloons

Updated 31 min 27 sec ago

Israel strikes Hamas positions in Gaza over fire balloons

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said Wednesday it carried out overnight strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip after incendiary balloons were launched across the border from the Palestinian enclave.
The army said the strikes were “retaliation” for the launching of multiple balloons from the Hamas-run enclave in recent days.
Jets, attack helicopters and tanks struck a number of Hamas targets including “underground infrastructure and observation posts,” a statement said.
Fire services in southern Israel said the balloons caused 60 fires on Tuesday alone but reported no casualties.
Explosives tied to balloons and kites first emerged as a weapon in Gaza during intense protests in 2018, when the makeshift devices drifted across the border daily, causing thousands of fires in Israeli farms and communities.
Israel has closed its Kerem Shalom goods crossing with the Gaza Strip in response to the recent balloon launches.
Hamas denounced the closure as an “aggressive” move that showed Israel’s “insistence on laying siege” to Gaza, and warned it could cause further worsening of the humanitarian situation in the territory.
As the Kerem Shalom crossing closed, the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened Tuesday for the first time since April.
Traffic in both directions was to be permitted for three days, allowing Gazans to leave the enclave for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The Rafah crossing provides Gaza’s sole access to the outside world not controlled by Israel.
The Palestinian territory has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.
Despite a truce last year, backed by the UN, Egypt and Qatar, the two sides clash sporadically with rockets, mortar fire or incendiary balloons.
Palestinian analysts say cross-border fire from Gaza is often used as a bargaining tool to secure Israel’s green light for the entry of Qatari financial aid into the territory.