Last week, pro-Hezbollah members of the Student Council at the Lebanese University (LU) forcefully prohibited their fellow students from playing Fairouz songs on campus.
Social media exploded. A flurry of angry Lebanese denounced Hezbollah’s bullying at LU, as media organizations reported that “Hezbollah banned Fairouz’s songs on LU campus.” But there is a catch.
To my knowledge, there has been no statement from the Hezbollah party apparatus on the issue. Hezbollah’s media arms, such as Al-Ahed and Al-Manar websites, remained silent. Outside of the social media sphere, nothing suggests that Hezbollah was involved in the LU censorship incident.
Media organizations that reported on Hezbollah’s censorship could have contacted the party’s communication officials to inquire about the incident, something these media organizations failed to do, leaving many of us with the feeling that what happened at LU could have just been some childish behavior on part of the Student Council.
Hezbollah’s LU censorship incident was not the first of its kind. There have been reports of pro-Hezbollah mayors in south Lebanon issuing warnings against Internet cafes, and other mayors forcing illegal ban on alcohol sale.
While all such acts, including the censorship of music, harassment of Internet cafes and banning alcohol sales, match Hezbollah’s taste and ideology, we cannot ascribe enforcing them to the party, especially when Hezbollah remains silent on these incidents.
Hezbollah has the strongest intelligence network in Lebanon, and should it plan to harass music listeners or alcohol consumers, the list of night clubs to-be-harassed in the country will keep the party busy for a few years. Hezbollah can do serious damage to Lebanon’s night life, the pride of many Lebanese, had the party really intended to do so.
Yet apparently, Lebanon’s night life is flourishing, and there are even reports of night life joints opening shop in the Beirut’s southern suburb, Hezbollah’s stronghold, to the extent that the party’s leadership has publicly asked police to crack down on drug sales and consumption in Hezbollah’s neighborhoods.
So who censored Fairouz songs at LU? What we know is that the members of the Student Council have an open affiliation with Hezbollah. What we do not know is to what extent were these students acting independently, or under instructions from a central Hezbollah authority. For us to believe that Hezbollah has decreed to censor music on university campuses, we would have expected pro-Hezbollah students at other universities to show similar behavior, which is not the case.
This leaves us with one remaining possibility. Hezbollah does grant its student leaders autonomy on campuses, provided that these students stick to the party’s guidelines and ideology. It is in the party’s creed that “non-anthem” music is prohibited. The LU Hezbollah students did bully their colleagues to stop playing Fairouz's songs, and perhaps Hezbollah is not happy with the attention that its LU students have brought its way. Yet the party, in line with its ideology, cannot instruct its loyalist students who censor music on their campuses to behave otherwise.
The best way to deal with Hezbollah students at LU was to pursue the issue through legal channels: Raise the issue with the dean, and if nothing comes out of him, take it up with the LU president. If all else fails, go to the local police, and even to courts.
The best way to call the bluff of Hezbollah’s students is to take up the issue with higher authorities in a way that will force the leadership of the party to react. Hezbollah will most probably distance itself from its bully students. If the party does not, and rather supports their position, then it will be interesting to debate the issue on a national level.
Exchanges over social media and trying to score a quick victory against Hezbollah by accusing it of censorship may not be the best course of action. There is no firm evidence that censorship came from the party, apart from speculation.
Freedom of expression is a serious matter, and dealing with any infringements should be similarly serious, mature and smart.