The Lebanese state (which literally cannot keep the streetlights on at night where hundreds die in highway collisions every year) opened an “Investigation of Blasphemy” over a picture shared on Facebook by the lead singer of the band مشروع ليلى Mashrou’ Leila because it contained an altered image of the Virgin Mary as pop star Madonna. Blasphempy can carry a whopping three year prison sentence. Meanwhile the Catholic church of Byblos says the band’s songs are opposed to “religious values and human morals.”

Here is a legal question: Has the state prosecutor or the church ever raised a claim against the use of the crucifix by militias involved in the death of tens of thousands of people during the civil war?

Christian tanks were retired after the war, yet theses items can be found on memorabilia sites (above) The branded crucifix is still celebrated, frequently appearing on flags at party rallies. Image sources: left, center, right

In fact, the image of the Holy Crucifix has been altered to appear as a sharp edge while painted in party colors. And what about the continued use of Christian and Muslim religious symbols by Lebanese political parties today, frequently using references to religion in advertisements and political messages, even at risk to public safety:

Lebanese political parties routinely brand religious figures with their logos, often poses a threat to public safety with their advertisements blocking highway signs.

Or does the church see the commodification of holy symbols by political parties as being in line with “Christian values”?

Interestingly, supporters Christian political parties seen above have been the chief critics of the band, Mashrou’ Leila, and these parties are reportedly involved in mediating an apology for the band on behalf of the Church.

Perhaps most illustrative of this entire affair is the speed in which band members were called in for questioning by Lebanon’s public prosecutor, just days after a complaint was filed by a lawyer this week. On the other hand, it has been four long years since toxic garbage began piling up on Lebanon’s streets, causing dangerous levels of air and water pollutants and a spike in hospitalizations and cancer cases. Why has the public prosecutor not investigated Lebanese members of parliament for environmental negligence and crimes that are not limited to a post on Facebook, but actually harming the health of citizens and their children on a daily basis?

Lebanese members of parliament have not faced any legal challenges for use of religious symbols or national symbols

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com. Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.

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