Lebanese alt-rock band confronts post-Orlando divisions during U.S. tour

Tue Jun 14, 2016 2:57am EDT
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By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Accustomed to generating controversy in their native Middle East with lyrics tackling love, sex and political apathy, members of Lebanese alt-rock band Mashrou' Leila thought a summer U.S. tour would bring them a welcome respite.

Instead, as news spread on Sunday that an American man claiming allegiance to Islamic State had killed 49 people in a packed gay nightclub in Florida, the band found itself at the crossroads of tensions between the gay and Muslim communities, spilling out on social media and in online commentary.

Mashrou' Leila has broken ground in the Arab world with an openly gay lead singer and stances espousing gender equality and sexual freedom. In doing so, the band embodies the two communities most shaken by Sunday's shooting - lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people targeted by the Orlando gunman, and Muslims who feel unfairly blamed for the violence perpetrated in the name of their religion.

"We come from a part of the world where I've always felt not accepted because of my sexuality," Hamed Sinno, Mashrou' Leila's lead singer, said in an interview on Monday.

Seeking out information in the hours after the attack, Sinno said he came across comments on social media that he felt sought to pit Muslims and gays against each other.

"By the time they even started getting the names of the victims out, the media had already spun it as this whole LGBT community versus Muslim community" phenomenon, he said. "So many of us are at the intersection of these two communities. Suddenly I felt excluded, I felt I wasn't allowed to mourn."

Sinno said the band had already experienced several brushes with anti-Muslim bias in its two weeks in the United States. An airport security guard told them that if Donald Trump won the presidency, "all of this is gonna change," apparently referring to the Republican presidential candidate's pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country if he is elected.

The band's danceable tunes have earned them an avid global following but also condemnations from Arab leaders who say their lyrics go against the region's traditional values. In April, Jordanian authorities banned the group from the country, band members said, though they later relented after an international outcry.   Continued...

Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila with the band's lead singer Hamed Sinno (2nd R), performs in Washington, DC, U.S. June 13, 2016.   REUTERS/Yeganeh Torbati