Qatar Foundation rejects U.S. university’s reason for scrapping event after anti-gay backlash

By Alexander Cornwell

DOHA (Reuters) – An American university’s partner in Qatar has rejected the university’s explanation for cancelling an event in Doha that would have featured a prominent Middle East band whose singer is openly gay.

Members of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila had been scheduled to take part in a discussion at Northwestern University’s Qatar campus on Tuesday, but the university moved the event to its U.S. campus after hostile online comments against Mashrou’ Leila’s appearance.

Northwestern cited “safety concerns” for the band its community, among other, unspecified factors.

But Qatar Foundation, a state-linked non-profit body in the conservative Gulf Arab state, challenged the reasons given by Northwestern.

Asked about Northwestern’s comments, a Qatar Foundation spokesman told Reuters: “We place the utmost importance on the safety of our community and currently do not have any safety or security concerns.”

“We also place the very highest value on academic freedom and the open exchange of knowledge, ideas and points of view in the context of Qatari laws as well as the country’s cultural and social customs. This particular event was canceled due to the fact that it patently did not correlate with this context.”

Northwestern has not detailed its safety concerns.

Critics of the event demanded on social media that it be canceled. Some accused Mashrou’ Leila and the university of spreading views that are against Qatari and Islamic values. Others said they opposed same-sex relationships.

Gay sex is punishable by jail in Qatar, as in many Muslim-majority countries.

Mashrou’ Leila has garnered international acclaim with lyrics tackling issues of sectarianism, gender equality and homophobia.

A vocal supporter of equal rights for marginalized groups, the band has also had other events canceled in the Middle East following pressure by conservative groups.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)