Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum, has been arrested twice for his appearance and musical taste amid nationwide accusations of blasphemy and Satanism.
In Lebanon, a headhunt is on. In recent weeks, at least eight Lebanese residents have been arrested on charges of blasphemy. This is the third time since 1996 that so-called “Satanists” have been rounded up by Lebanese authorities. Most of the accused were heavy metal fans, known for their long hair, black clothing, and, occasionally, their menacing demeanor.
Technically speaking, Satanism itself is not illegal in Lebanon. Practicing Satanism in private won’t land you in jail. According to Nizar Saghieh, a Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist, blasphemy, insulting of religious symbols and rites in public is punishable by up to three years in prison. How many heavy metal bands use such imagery in their songs, stage performances, album art, and t-shirts? Bassem Deaibess, singer for the Lebanese metal band Blaakyum (pictured above), says he has been arrested twice by the authorities, though he escaped this time. Elia Mssawir, a Beirut-based rock concert organizer and agent for several Lebanese heavy metal bands, was nearly arrested earlier this month, but charges against him were dropped before he was taken into custody.
The moral panic began 15 years ago, as all good moral panics do, with a young person’s suicide. The son of a high-ranking military officer shot himself, leading officials to blame heavy metal and “Satanism.” According to Deaibess:
[Hard rock and metal music] were depicted as an epidemic, as the new pest. ‘If this music gets to your child’s ears, he/she will commit suicide.’ This was the message…The government benefited at the time, because Lebanon was under Syrian occupation, and by creating this ‘Satanism’ scare they diverted people’s attention from the real, important problems.
A second wave followed in 2002/2003, when some 50 people were arrested. Most were eventually let go.
There is some debate over whether young people actually practice Satanism in Lebanon. While Deaibess and Mssawir both cast doubt on the idea, the Lebanese Daily Star spoke with a former “devil worshipper,” who told them:
“Around 40 people used to gather in the underground church that I attended,” he said, adding that it was in the Kesrouan town of Bouar. “There were inverted pentagrams and other satanic signs,” he added, referring to the five- pointed star encircling the face of a goat, which is said to represent carnality…
“Sometimes [we listened to] gothic and classic music and at other times it was heavy metal or death metal,” the former worshipper said. “People also took drugs as they tried to boost their moods during the mass.” …
“It is a temporary phase someone passes through … many of today’s teenagers are wearing emo clothes, which has become the new phenomenon in the country,” he said, referring to a popular style of music and dress.
Whether it’s legitimate religious practice or the kind of symbolism that goes along with heavy-metal culture, these pursuits have come under attack in nations around the globe, from Catholics taking Polish metal singers to court to misfit teens in Arkansas blamed for crimes they didn’t commit. The Satanic Panic is always alive somewhere, it seems.
And the result, for those who love this music and who need to explore their spirituality freely, can be frightening and devastating. Acrassicauda, the Iraqi thrash-metal band, eventually fled their home country because their devotion to music attracted too many death threats — again, over their alleged “Satanism.” Likewise, an Afghani band, D.U., must hide their identities because of the numerous death threats they’ve received.
Prohibiting such music, or the “Satanism” and “blasphemy” that goes with it, doesn’t make it any less necessary to those who live in embattled nations. Many in the Middle East risk their lives to listen to heavy metal. And for them, as for any listener, metal is a lifeline. Take Hazem Abu Zeid, a 29-year-old rebel fighter in Libya, who recently told Al Jazeera about his love of Metallica and heavy metal:
“I mix war with music. Death metal gives the real part of humanity; most music talks about love, beaches, cars, but this talks about real things, brutality, poverty, the soul.” His Iron Maiden T-shirt denoting the slogan ‘matters of life and death’ made for the perfect war gear.
“I have to stay on the front line, I can’t go back to my home and wait for Gaddafi to come and kill my family. We win or we die.”