Within Temptation cancel Lebanon show to protest religious campaign against gay singer

Cancellation is in solidarity with Mashrou’ Leila, a local group axed from the festival line-up

Dutch metallers Within Temptation have cancelled their upcoming performance at the Byblos International Festival in Lebanon in support of local indie band Mashrou’ Leila, whose singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay.

In a Facebook statement, Within Temptation explained their decision to withdraw from Byblos came after the festival struck Mashrou’ Leila from its line-up. The band were set to perform on Wednesday (August 7), followed by Mashrou’ Leila on Friday (August 9).

According to Within Temptation’s statement, Mashrou’ Leila were pulled from the bill by concert organisers due to “security reasons, after religious fanatics demanded their performance to be cancelled followed by violent threats.

“Apart from the fact that Lebanese authorities at this moment are not able to provide artists the security to perform in peace, we have decided to cancel our show in Byblos in solidarity with Mashrou’ Leila and in support of tolerance, freedom of speech and expression,” the band wrote. Read their full statement below:

According to The Guardian, the Byblos Festival committee were pressured by local religious groups and church leaders to strike Mashrou’ Leila from the bill, and organisers feared “bloodshed” after critics threatened to stop their show by force.

The office of the town’s archbishop have condemned the group, saying they “undermine religious and human values [and] attack sacred symbols of Christianity”. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Catholic Information Centre have described Mashrou’ Leila as a “danger to society”. 

The popular Lebanese band, whose frontman Hamed Sinno is openly gay, have been a target of religious critics for some time. Their songs ‘Idol’ and ‘Djin’ have been accused of violating “religious values”, Reuters reports.

In a statement issued by Mashrou’ Leila on Twitter, the band spoke out against their detractors, claiming that they don’t “try to actually offend anyone” with their music. They also explained that their songs have been “twisted” and “taken out of context”.

“Our goal is and has always been to grow as artists, and use the spaces given to us ty try to shed light on the problems in the world around us, while trying to make our people proud. No more; no less,” Mashrou’ Leila wrote.

Following the announcement of Mashrou’ Leila and Within Temptation’s departure, Byblos released their own statement that calls for support for their local community. “We continuously call upon our supportive community to stand with us in our aim to keep freedom of expression, arts and music as well as the security of our artists and public as our paramount priorities,” they wrote. 

However, human rights activists have criticised the festival for failing to protect its artists. Lama Fakih, the acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said that Mashrou’ Leila’s cancellation “reflects [the Lebanese government’s] increased reliance on overbroad and abusive laws to stifle and censor activists, journalists, and artists”.

Byblos International Festival kicked off last month on July 12 with French singer-actor Marc Lavoine, while Martin Garrix headlined a show on Saturday (August 3). The music festival concludes on August 24 with a performance by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.