University in Qatar cancels appearance from rock band after fierce homophobic backlash and grave safety concerns

Mashrou’ Leila cancelled by Qatar University

The Qatar campus of an American university has cancelled has an appearance by a Lebanese rock band after homophobic backlash over the lead singer’s sexuality.

The indie rock back Mashrou’ Leila were scheduled to take part in a panel on “media revolutions in the Middle East” at the Qatar campus of Northwestern University, Illinois, on Tuesday February 4.

But after online backlash against the band’s lead singer, who is openly gay, the university has said it will move the event to its main campus in the US.

The hugely popular band, based in Beirut, have been outspoken on issues like homophobia and gender equality, and anti-LGBT+ people in Qatar lashed out on social media to demand the event be cancelled.

According to Reutersthe band was accused of promoting same-sex relationships, which many said were against Qatari and Islamic values.

Northwestern’s director of media relations Jon Yates said: “The decision to relocate was made out of abundance of caution due to several factors, including safety concerns for the band and our community.”

He added that the university was committed to academic freedom, but that moving the talk would ensure that Mashrou’ Leila’s “ideas and art could be heard”.

Qatar punishes homosexuality with up to seven years in prison and LGBT+ people can also be put to death under Sharia law, although there are no known cases where the death penalty has been enforced.

This is not the first time that an appearance by Mashrou’ Leila has been cancelled because of homophobic backlash.

In 2016, a performance was blocked by the interior ministry of Jordan and the band’s lyrics deemed “contradictory” to religious beliefs in the country.

The band wrote on Facebook at the time: “What we see here is superficial cultural criticism, simple, reductive, and basing itself on the extraction of certain words from their structural context within their songs, and then from their figurative framework as metaphors.

“The critic then offers a simplistic analysis of the song, stripping the writer from his freedom to use metaphor within the texts, to conclude that the writer is a satanist.”

The ban was later lifted, but not in time for Mashrou’ Leila to make the performance.