First published on BIKYAMASR
A controversy started on August 20 when the Montreal chapter of Lebanese-Canadian LGBT-rights organization HELEM condemned in an open letter the scheduled performances of Lebanese singer Mohamed Eskander in Canada, to take place on Saturday and Sunday this week, in Montreal and Ottawa respectively. Mr. Eskander has a long-standing record of homophobic and sexist slurs and whose lyrics reinforce discrimination and stereotypes – already strong enough on their own – against women and homosexuals.
His songs from recent years, “Jomhouryet Albi” (Republic of the Heart) and “Dod El 3enf” (Against Violence) glorify violence against women and homosexuals, are charged with a plethora of insulting remarks that mock both the cause of women and gay rights, not to mention that the video clips contain explicitly derogatory imagery: “Jomhouryet Albi” features a man defending his daughter from sexual harassment with a gun and “Dod El 3enf” portrays negative stereotypes against homosexuals, such as cross-dressing and sex in washrooms.
Already in 2010 a protest took place in Beirut condemning his encouragement of violations against women rights and Arabs also protested in Denmark against him performing in the country. While the content of his music is nothing short of outrageous, it is something of a commonplace in the scene of Arab pop, and unsurprisingly, in a country – Lebanon – subject to strict and rather aimless and inconsistent censorship laws, Mr. Eskander releases his songs unmolested and is not subject to any type of political, social or religious censorship.
The question for HELEM, however, is that in Canada his offensive and rather derogatory art, contradicts Canadian values and could be considered hate speech. In their view, his performance and lyrics contradict the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and numerous provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code. It was against this background that Canadian-Lebanese gay rights advocates campaigned against the performances.
HELEM’s condemnation was reported by Bikyamasr.com on August 22 and that same day, Lebanese channel LBC reported the incident in the evening news bulletin, followed by a host of media publications and blogs in Canada. The two venues in Canada, after mounting pressure, released written statements confirming that Eskander will not be allowed to perform any of the two songs above mentioned. Furthermore a third venue in Windsor, Ontario, where the singer will perform today, also notified that the two songs will not be included in the program.
While the omission of the songs was an achievement for HELEM with the collaboration of LGBT-organizations and friendly media, the success is only partial since Mr. Eskander is still profiting from performances in Canada in order to keep producing more homophobic and sexist songs. The fact that this offensive art is still allowed in Canada shows a certain proclivity on the part of the Canadian authorities – and cultural promoters – to encourage this kind of provocations against rights in Canada, Lebanon and elsewhere.
The singer obviously remains unrepentant and unapologetic for his scandalous art: Yesterday his son Fares Eskander – producer of the singer and the person behind the lyrics of his songs – spoke to Lebanese daily An-Nahar saying that he is ashamed that his father’s audience has homosexuals. On Tuesday, Ottawa Citizen reported that “Lebanese-Canadian gay rights advocates in Ottawa and Montreal have succeeded in preventing a visiting Lebanese singer from performing songs they consider homophobic and misogynistic.”
A deal was brokered between the venues and the activists, and demonstrations have been called off, nevertheless it remains to be seen whether the commitments will be kept. The recent crackdown on homosexuals in Lebanon, encouraged by media and gladly followed through by the authorities, based in a legislation that precedes the creation of the Lebanese republic, is yet another reason why Lebanese activists in Canada call for the solidarity and support of their Canadian friends in their efforts to fight censorship, intimidation and abuse.
For many Lebanese, it is rather embarrassing that in a country well-known throughout the Middle East for its rich and thriving artistic scene, with many outstanding bands and singers, it is precisely a figure like Mohamed Eskander who represents Lebanese culture in Canada, given the fact that he is also resented at home for his encouragement of violence; in a country that hardly needs to be encouraged more, in one of the world’s most violent regions and with the unabated support of the authorities.