We are queer Arabs and we exist: Mashrou’ Leila speak after Orlando attacks

Published June 14th, 2016 - 12:54 GMT
Mashrou' Leila are one of the biggest bands in the Middle East (Facebook)
Mashrou' Leila are one of the biggest bands in the Middle East (Facebook)

Mashrou' Leila are no strangers to politics. But in the aftermath of Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub shooting, the Lebanese rock band  have found themselves at an especially troubling intersection of heartache and tension. 

With an openly gay frontman, Mashrou' Leila, who are currently touring in the US, are known as advocates for LGBTQ issues in the Middle East. They’re also Arabs from Muslim families. For those seeking to frame the Orlando massacre as a confrontation between western sexual freedom and Islamic repression, theirs is a combination that might prove challenging.

And in a show in Boston on Monday night, the band subverted the polarising narrative that's been emerging.

"There are a bunch of us who are queer, who feel assaulted by that attack who can't mourn because we're also from Muslim families, and we exist," frontman Hamed Sinno told the crowd. The band opened with a prayer for the victims of the Pulse shooting and played a set that featured songs about issues ranging from coming out and transgender struggles to political apathy in the Middle East.

Mashrou’ Leila have long been vocal about LGBTQ existence in the Middle East – and the way it’s complicated by simplistic, reductive or destructive words and actions from the West.

The fact that their US tour would be impossible under a Donald Trump presidency wasn’t lost on them, and Sinno has pointed out that rampant homophobia in the USA is hardly a phenomenon with roots in Muslim communities. Like many activists, he highlighted that the struggle against homophobia is prejudice is happening in different ways all over the world – and that Muslim and Arab LGBTQ people often face oppression on multiple levels. 

"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,” Sinno said in an interview Monday. "So many of us are at the intersection of these two communities. Suddenly I felt excluded, I felt I wasn't allowed to mourn."

The band aren’t the only people to have spoken against reductive narratives that pit Muslim and LGBTQ communities against each other.

In the UK, a long thread by activist Noorulann Shahid, who explored the challenges they faced as a queer trans* Muslim, was widely shared.

Writer Saleem Haddad shared a photograph, taken with friends in London the night before the shooting, which quickly went viral. Haddad’s debut novel, Guapa, tells the story of a young gay man in an unnamed Arab city.

Mashrou’ Leila are continuing their tour around the United States, before heading to Europe in August. Some venues have reportedly decided to up their security in the wake of the Orlando shooting.


Bethan Staton

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