In Lebanon, homosexuality is considered a crime under article 534 of the penal code and is punishable by up to a year in jail. On July 28, authorities raided a Beirut cinema frequented by gay men, arresting 36 men and reportedly performing what’s called the “test of shame” on the detainees — an invasive anal exam designed to detect the presence of sperm in the rectum. The men were held for several days. On Aug 17, two more men were arrested in Beirut while reportedly having sex in a private residence.
A Lebanese-Canadian gay rights group has this week successfully petitioned three live music venues in Quebec and Ontario, preventing a visiting Lebanese musician from performing songs that contain sexist and homophobic lyrics.
Mohamed Eskandar — whose songs “Joumhouriet Albeh” and “Dod el Enef” respectively urge women not to work outside the home for the sake of their children and urge fathers to be violent and macho with their sons to ensure they don’t turn out effeminate — will make stops in Windsor, Montreal and Ottawa this weekend (Aug 31-Sept 2).
The lyrics of “Dod el Enef” include, “Don’t be tender with your boy, and don’t treat him like a flower. When he makes a mistake, violence is a must. Let him become strong, violent and macho. Otherwise, he will only be a 50 percent man.”
The video for the song portrays a mother and father who are arguing about their son’s homosexuality. In the video, the son’s sexual orientation is blamed on their marital separation.
According to HELEM, an LGBT rights group with active chapters in Beirut, Paris and Montreal, the title of the song, which translates as “Against Violence,” is a sarcastic coopting of the slogan currently being used by gay advocacy groups in Lebanon.
Upon learning of Eskandar’s upcoming Canadian appearances, members of HELEM took action immediately, negotiating with the promoter of the three concerts to ensure that Eskandar would not perform the aforementioned songs.
“Last week, I was buying some sweets in one of the Lebanese stores on Bank St in Old Ottawa South, and I recognized [Eskandar’s] photo on a flyer,” says David, a member of HELEM and a Lebanese-born gay man who lives in Ottawa. He is withholding his last name for fear that he could face arrest if he visits Lebanon. “Of course, Eskandar is well known to us because of his longstanding record of homophobic and sexist songs.”
David immediately called HELEM’s president, Sam Khoury, and drafted a letter of protest in both official languages, which he sent to the media and to the venues hosting Eskandar’s concerts this weekend: Windsor’s Caboto Club, Montreal’s Place Vertu Mall and Ottawa’s El Mazaj Restaurant. The three venues have since agreed, in writing, that their shows will not include the discriminatory songs.
“We looked at our options and thought that, since the venues were cooperative and heard our concerns, there’s no need to push it further and go protest,” David says. “Once we got the confirmation that these two songs were removed from the program, we decided to leave it at that.
“We do worry about him coming to Canada — even if he doesn’t sing these songs. This person should not be allowed in Canada, but we found out about it really late in the process. There are agreements already in place; there are contracts. People have purchased tickets. And it might impact the other singer [Melhem Zein], who is not guilty of [sexism and homophobia in his songs]. So we agreed to lower our demands.”
This is Eskandar’s third visit to El Mazaj Restaurant, but it marks his first appearance since the release of “Dod el Enef.”
The Ottawa-based promoter of Eskandar’s concerts could not be reached for comment.