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Lebanese artists taking head-on approach to political issues

Censorship can take a number of different forms – from direct government action to societal pressures – but artists in the country of Lebanon are addressing these issues in a bravely direct way.

Many artists navigate a fine line between societal participant and critic. They ways in which they can address these issues can come in a number of forms. While some tend to shy away from controversy, others look to embrace it. Among the countries in which this kind of artistic criticism is taking place is in Lebanon.

Lebanon has an interesting and complex history, with a variety of political groups looking to leave their stamp on the country's culture. From 1975 to 1990 the country was embroiled in a long and violent civil war in which a number of groups vied for power over the country. These past conflicts still echo through in the political spectrum of today as many of the issues that the civil war brought about are very much a part of the country's societal fabric.

Given the country's geographic location, these issues can become quite complex as it shares borders with both Syria, a country that is currently involved in its own political struggles, and Israel where tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have also been going on for years. Because of the vast amount of conflict in the area, the government has tried to control the artistic and social commentaries within the country.

Playwright addresses censorship board
One problem that many artists and writers in the region face is the censorship board. Because of the nature of some of the content that could be produced, the government censors certain statements so as to control how the government is portrayed in these works. When one of these people looks to publish, perform, or display such a work, they are often plagued by a question that is essential to the life of the work itself, "will it pass?"

The Index on Censorship explains that it is this issue that the playwright, Lucuien Bourjeily looked to address in one of his most recent plays. Entitled, "Will it Pass or Not?," the play explores the artist's plight of working in a country where controversial statements are controlled to limit civilian tensions.

The source explains that Bourjeily has had numerous encounters with censorship officers as a result of the play. In one instance, they said his play was not realistic, despite him explaining that it was a fictional account, giving the entire situation a heavy sense of irony, considering these actions were the ones being addressed in the work. In another account, it was discredited by anonymous critics who said it lacked any artistic merit.

Band tackles societal issues
While the government itself can act as a censor, so can society. One band in the country, known as Mashrou' Leila, is tackling some of the most taboo topics facing the Lebanese public, including homosexuality, according to the Guardian. The band's lead singer is openly gay, and some of the content of their songs directly addresses this issue through their song lyrics.

Despite their fearlessness in talking about such subjects, the band has been able to generate a rather large following with over 106,000 likes on Facebook. Because of their controversial subject matter, they needed to crowd source the production of their most recent album as no major record labels would take them on. Even with these challenges, the band has been able to see some success, and will be performing its first London show later in October.

Be it the challenges presented by a government or society itself, the artist role as a critic can sometimes be daunting, but in places like Lebanon where progress could be made from such criticism, the work that these artists are doing is extremely important.

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