BEIRUT: The gay rights group Helem has successfully petitioned to prevent Lebanese singer Mohamed Eskandar from performing songs they consider homophobic at a concert in Canada. Eskandar is due to perform in Montreal Saturday night, and in Ottawa the next evening.
A Lebanese-Canadian gay rights group, Helem (Dream), works toward the abolition of Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code which, in effect, outlaws homosexuality.
In an open letter condemning the invitation of Eskandar to perform in Canada, the group lobbied the owners of each venue – both of whom have promised in writing that the singer-songwriter would not perform two songs which the group deems offensive, “Dod al-Enef” and “Joumhoureyet Qalbi.”
“Dod al-Enef,” which literally translates to “Against Violence” is, according to Helem, “a slogan commonly used by the LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender] community in its advocacy against discrimination.
“The title was purposely used to ridicule the LGBT cause and advocacy efforts. The song starts by depicting two parents fighting because of their son’s sexual orientation and blaming the gay son for the disputes and separation of his parents.”
The song, and video, goes on to mock men who are not masculine. “Without jealousy and real masculinity, women are in trouble,” the lyrics read. “Ever since the military service stopped, half [the] men became plagued by the disease of femininity.”
In his “Joumhoureyet Qalbi” (“The Republic of My Heart”), the Baalbek native encourages women to stay at home, rather than find a job.
“We have no girls here that work with their degrees,” Eskandar sings. “Our girls are pampered. Everything she wants is at her service ...
“Assuming I agree that you work,” the song continues, “what would we do about your beauty? Your job is taking care of my heart ... it’s enough that you’re the republic of my heart.”
When “Joumhoureyet Qalbi” was released in 2010, a protest was held by women’s rights activists in Beirut.
In the open letter, Helem writes, “Mr. Eskandar has a long-standing record of homophobic slurs and behavior. Helem Montreal condemns in the strongest possible terms the invitation for Mr. Eskandar to sing at a concert in Canada. Mr. Eskandar’s offensive art contradicts Canadian values and amounts to hate speech.”
According to the Ottawa Citizen daily, Elie Abou Assi, the son of the owner of Ottawa’s El Mazaj Restaurant (where Eskandar is scheduled to perform), said he wasn’t familiar with “Dod al-Enef” before he was contacted by Helem. He added that when he had booked the act, he’d done so with an eye to the popularity of the performer.
“All we cared about was doing our business, and we know what our customers want and we know who they want to watch. So we just bring them, whoever they want,” he told the paper. But he said he understood Helem’s concern: “I can see their point of view.”
The Ottawa Citizen reported that Sam Khoury, president of Helem in Montreal, said that had the owners not agreed to request that Eskandar not perform the two songs, the group had planned to protest outside the venues.
“We just wanted to make sure these songs this guy was singing in particular would not be sung,” he said, calling the tunes and their accompanying videos “gross” and “beyond acceptable.”
The group would prefer to educate than to make enemies, Khoury said. “We demystify homosexuality within these groups and communities.”