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Ana Maria Luca

Hunting “Satanists”

Elia Mssawir was on vacation in Istanbul on September 12 when his phone and e-mail were suddenly flooded by messages from his family in Beirut telling him the military police were looking for him.  Mssawir, a Beirut-based rock concert organizer and agent managing several Lebanese heavy metal bands, found out that 15 soldiers had knocked on his parents’ door and searched the house while others had surrounded the building.

“My parents thought it was an act of terrorism at first,” he told NOW Lebanon. “I was shocked and worried. My mother fainted when she saw all those armed forces at her door. She asked why they were looking for me, and one of the soldiers told her I had got into a fight with a military officer, which is hilarious, because this had never happened.” Mssawir stayed for a week in Turkey after the incident, trying to figure out why the police were after him.

“I finally realized why they were looking for me when a friend of mine sent me a link to a news story last Friday called ‘8 Satanists Arrested’,” he said.

Mssawir was able to come back to Lebanon, and all the charges were dropped in his case, according to his lawyer. But the eight people who were arrested last Friday were not so lucky. They were taken from Mount Lebanon by the military police, who characterized them as “a group of Satanists” and accused them of “insulting religious rites.” They were charged with blasphemy and drug consumption by Government Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr.

“They belong to an organization that promotes insulting religious rites, which is against the law, and of course there are rituals which they practice. I am not aware of them—they are,” Judge Saqr Saqr told NOW Lebanon. “All are in their 20s; among them are two girls and two soldiers. There is evidence, but it is part of the investigation, so we cannot discuss it, but there are even confessions.” The investigation is ongoing, the judge added, noting that the military police are looking for 12 other people.

According to lawyer and human rights activist Nizar Saghieh, devil worship, or “Satanism,” is not a crime in Lebanon. However, blasphemy or insulting religious symbols in public is and is punishable by up to three years in prison. “If you worship Satan in private, it cannot be considered a crime,” he told NOW Lebanon.  “It is early to say—only eight people have been arrested—but when the authorities hunt for ‘Satanists,’ they are usually trying to either divert attention away from something or are trying to show that they are enforcing the law and keeping society safe. It is still soon, but we have to ask ourselves,” he added. 

Mssawir explained that his involvement in the heavy metal music business, his long hair and his piercings were probably what got him into trouble. Many heavy metal musicians in Lebanon have become accustomed to the authorities raiding their homes and the clubs where they hang out every few years and arresting them for “Satanism” because of their tattoos, their lifestyle and their music.

“It’s the third wave [of arrests] already,” 34-year-old Bassem Deaibess, the front man of Lebanese metal band Blaakyum, told NOW Lebanon. He says he was arrested twice by the Lebanese authorities because of the music he plays, his long hair and his wardrobe.

“In the 80s metal was big in Lebanon. We had radio stations and TV shows broadcasting Metallica, Iron Maiden, even Morbid Angel, which is very heavy,” Deaibess said.

The authorities’ hunt for “Satanists” started in 1996 when a high-ranking military officer’s son, a fan of heavy metal, shot himself with his father’s gun. “Slowly reports in some newspapers started to accuse hard rock and metal music of making young people commit suicide.”  This was the trigger for the first “Satanist” hunt in Lebanon.

“[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,” Deaibess said. “The government benefitted 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,” he said.

By 1998 the wave of arrests ended, but metal music was already blacklisted, and authorities would confiscate certain CDs at the airport. “It was almost funny. We had death metal and black metal CDs, and they would look at them and they would ask, ‘Are these hard rock or Nirvana?’ We said, ‘No, no, this is death metal!’ And they would let us in with our CDs. ‘It’s ok, as long as it’s not Nirvana!’” Deaibess laughed. 

However, by 2002, a second wave of arrests started. “This time it was definitely political,” Deaibess said. “Nobody noticed that the gas prices went up because they were all so scared of ‘Satanists’ and ‘devil worshippers’ to the extent that if they saw you with long hair and wearing black on the street, they would move away from you.”

Many of the musicians and artists arrested in 2002 left Lebanon, which affected the music scene in the country, Deaibess said. “While we were busy ridiculously hunting so-called ‘Satanists’ around Lebanon, Dubai became the center of metal music in the region.”

According to Mssawir, organizing a metal music concert in Lebanon is still difficult in 2011, and many fans of famous international bands such as Metallica will never get to see their favorite artists playing in Lebanon because the authorities would never grant them the visas.

Both the Deaibess and Mssawir say there is no real practice of Satanism in Lebanon, though some young people who want to rebel stage strange rituals that catch authorities’ attention. “They have to understand that metal music has nothing to do with Satanism. The way they link having long hair and a piercing and our music to bashing religion is just not logical,” Mssawir said.

“Those recently arrested are emos. If these children hurt themselves, they should be sent to a therapist, not to jail,” Deaibess said.

  • Alyson

    wtf? eno really what you guys did at 5 am in the mornin 15 army man with guns to pick up 1 damn girl and for what? cz i love metal music? wtf? that means i worship satan? and the rest of the guys that were arrested 1 of them was 14 i mean wtf? how stupid can you guys be? and bi 2ouda ifrade for 19 days wa kicking our ass? when you can see one of us even has a cross as a tattoo.. tfeh ...

    October 12, 2011

  • 232

    Most of this stuff about being arrested and banned for dressing or looking “metal or gothic” is Lebanon is almost a myth. teens and adults who dressed gothic or metal who could or would tend to face more awkwardness, comments or dirty looks was really a circa late 90's to mid 2007 in Lebanon. With the population of emos and hipster fashion, which carry a lot of similar “weird” looks, from 2008-now these things have become more of a norm and are no longer perceived as scary, weird or threatening as before. Also as we have become more globalized we have become more accepting of such things as well. People talk about harassment in the metal scene for their look part. But this tends to be superficial, at most its fights, dirty looks, verbal harassment. Very Very few cases have ever occurred where someone is tried or randomly for dressing in a dark way. In most cases it’s related to drugs or disorderly conduct and linked through other people.

    October 1, 2011

  • cofking

    i m brazilian... i m christian... i like and play rock to praise myt God!

    September 30, 2011

  • Thabet youness

    ummmm.......that's really sick !! ...........:/ i love metal music and such stuff tho im not a satanist !! ....thats really odd and came out of no were .....cause i do some researches bout satanism ! .....INSTEAD OFF HUNTING METALHEADS AND/OR AS U CALL EM SATANISTS .....GO FIX OUR COUNTRY !

    September 29, 2011

  • rim eljurdi

    i think this is stupid they shuld worry about fixing all (...) in lebanon then stopping us from listening to great music !! they shuld hunt pple who sell weapons and drugs on the road not pple dressed in black ... this is sooo silly to be honest !! talking about music did they ever listen to metal ?? since when music was a reason to divide people from each other ??!! infact i believe music shuld unite us... BLEKH.. WAKE UP LEBANON

    September 26, 2011

  • Charles G. Bedran

    Little over two thousand years ago a long haired man that rocked the boat was arrested and executed by the authorities for his free thinking and blasphemies.,, ,

    September 26, 2011

  • Bas

    Some of the metal "music" has good sound and deserves to be called music, but a lot of it, is just plain ole crappy noise. I do however dare those drunks and stoned guys who party all nite to that noise to just and try to listen to loud metal as loud as the nite before when they are suffering from the horrible hang-over the next morning. I am not defending the "ta2ish-fa2ish" lousy music here, this kind does however serve a lot of other idiots who think they have a good ear for music. In the end It all comes down to this, NOT all can make good music and Lebanon is infected with crappy noise..

    September 25, 2011

  • إياد

    Tfeh 3a hek balad ...

    September 25, 2011

  • Bassem deaibess

    For all who are showing support thank you. For Michel B. Del Camp, I respect your own taste in music, which in my opinion lack the capacity of appreciating real arts. But that got nothing to do with the topic, when you Cannot see except one good song for Metallica, then I suggest you take few music and harmony lessons and then recheck your own opinion (not taste but pure musical opinion) Metal music is a classical music genre just like Jazz. Blues, Rock n Roll and definitely Classical music, it is high arts, and accusing it of Satanism, drug abuse or even un-talented lifestyle shows how ignorant and uneducated and a fool one can be.

    September 25, 2011

  • Maya

    this is just another way for them to prove to us how low they can get!! such (...) must go to schools to learn about morals!! and u can still call it the lebanese government!! they will never make us proud lol

    September 25, 2011

  • thery

    seriously? if this music is a way to worship satan for you, i recommend you think twice about your everyday speeches on TV. The way you show your hatred and rage toward other parties, the way you separate us, the way you steal from us, it's so obvious. this is satanism, this is hate ... now seriously, go fix our real problems, people are dying out there and all you're trying to do is fighting a kind of music, and the lebanese metal scene, which is the only united 'party' in Lebanon! Lebanese metalheads are always there for eachothers, and at least this kind of music is uniting them..us! Look at Dubai and Istanbul..two islamic cities AND the center on the metal music in the region. THIS IS PATHETIC PEOPLE.

    September 25, 2011

  • Samir G. Saliby

    An answer to those who accused ELIA MSSAWIR: I remember I was 16 years old when they showed a report on TV telling that "Guns N' Roses" are a band that encourages people to do drugs and mostly teenagers; BUT what also remember, that I used to go to church every Sunday wearing my headphones, hearing "Sweet Child O'Mine" and "November Rain" on my way back home from church. Deep Purple (The Loudest Band on EARTH) was banned in the early 80s, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Nirvana... ALL these bands have their SHOW to do... Something TIRASHRASH Doesn't have... With all due respect, Music is a lifestyle... Satanism is NOT a lifestyle its an offence to Humanity and Religion... AND FOR THE RECORD, ELIA MSSAWIR STRUGGLED HARD ENOUGH TO REACH WHAT LITTLE HE HAS NOW... HIS DAD IS NOT A PAPI AND HIS MOM IS NOT A MAMI WHO BOUGHT HIM AN X6 JUST CAUSE HE TURNED 18... NOTE: First of, the 8 EMOS who accused ELIA with Satanism should be sent to a Therapist and then do their time in Rehab or whateve

    September 25, 2011

  • Michael B. Del Camp

    While we ought not to have more arrests of people for their bad taste, we can always hope that better taste in music and in lifestyles can be found by young people, before they grow too old to change for the better. Metallica in my own opinion, only made one good song in their long and noisy career. As for Nirvana, and grunge music more generally, I think they are immensely overrated, like Rap Music which, like bad girls, seems to go everywhere.

    September 25, 2011

  • Anthony Abdo

    I was arrested in my own village back in 2002, because I was wearing a BLACK Lacoste polo and had long hair... as mentioned above, Hunting satanism in 2011 is just another cover for some "political events" that are happening now, hope the authority will stop this DUMB act soon!

    September 25, 2011

  • Jad

    Lol seriously banning Kurt cobain's music in the 1990s cuz he killed himseld, he was like the most inoffensive man to walk the earth next to Gandhi and Jesus haha Why not ban Dalida's music she killed herself as well, (...) lol

    September 25, 2011

  • Steve

    Yeah because the government doesn't have better things to do... like fixing the electricity or the water or even the internet ... They will take out those so called "satanist" first maybe that will make the electricity work 24\7 or even solve the party issues ... Wake up you ... leaders !! you just make this country not worth living in anymore ..

    September 24, 2011

  • A.K

    most of those lebanese metal heads are either drug addicted people or 24/7 drunk kids who don't understand much about the metal music (they are posers, seeking for nothing but attention), so I give the military army full credit for whatever they are doing! cheers.

    September 24, 2011

  • Osiris

    Actually,from a religious point of view, one can argue that such music is indeed "devil worship", although it isn't preached outwardly and directly as such through the lyrics. Some theists argue that any piece of secular music which does not preach righteous values are not of God and hence from the devil.

    September 24, 2011

  • nareg

    I LOVE JESUS

    September 24, 2011

  • Rhea Dagher

    It is time people realize that politics is but a dirty game, aiming at nothing but PERSONAL profit and power. Metal music is NOT evil music, Metal is a way of life that supports open-mindedness and critical thinking, something needed in our society. Political and religious authorities have long been against what they call "satanic" music just because they know that is has the power of getting people together, of getting people beyond the imaginary political/sectarian lines they have drawn for us. These lines they have drawn in people's mind to keep us busy from knowing the truth, from becoming aware of the game they are playing. It is time to ACT. I don't know how and when, but LONG LIVE METAL MUSIC AND FREE-THINKING PEOPLE

    September 24, 2011

  • A Foreigner

    this article opens many closed and hidden doors!! it is amazing how the government can distract people in stupid accusations,terrorises them ans still say we are here to protect you!! the metal heads are peaceful people,all they want is just to enjoy their music,live it and have fun so let them be!!!

    September 24, 2011

  • Lebaese

    Ive had the privilege of watching Metallica in the UK and its a shame that the lebanese government is preventing people from experiencing their concerts.Shame that as we move forwards, our government and mentality goes backwards in this country

    September 24, 2011

  • joe

    i'm leaving this country the minute i get the chance to.

    September 24, 2011

  • Ray

    I still remember the "authorities"' fascination with banning Nirvana and other bands back when I was in Lebanon in the 90's. Ignorance kills, music heals.

    September 24, 2011

  • Lucas

    Such actions initiated by the Government / Competent Authority are in a conflict with the policies established to protect an individual from various racial inequalities, to detain any person for more than necessary time period requires potential proof against him, arrests/detentions cannot be made based on the perceptions of the society. The above practice is "Violation of fundamental rights", the government should adopt to a non-hostile resolve, their transgressions will help no one. I think the Authority should apologise for their behaviour not only to Elia but also all those who were "supposedly" practicing witchcraft/satanic rituals/non-sense, etc., the authority should also learn that truth is more important than facts, their discretion is under question from majority of the population. We, friends of Elia and others, who do not practice satanism, who do not grow long hair, with no evident piercings strongly condemn. (Thousand more pages to follow if required).

    September 24, 2011

  • Boudy

    hahahhahaha! la2 no way! like nader said, I really recommend an IQ test for the govermental leaders!!!! ...

    September 24, 2011

  • June

    بهنّي هيك مسؤولين ع العقليّة المحدودة و الافعال المستهترة .

    September 24, 2011

  • MAROUN

    Oh gosh, they're all a bunch of ... . Plus, they think satanists worship the devil, which is a misconception, and they even arrest people because of it. Damn, really pathetic. I remember that about 7/8 years ago, there was a huge Satanist Propaganda. We were at school and about 9 years old, and the teachers and other students used to terrify us with stupid stories. Once, someone found something in a girl's backpack which he identified as a satanic sign. I remember how everyone was horrified of that poor girl.

    September 24, 2011

  • Malak Mucharrafieh

    The government has no right to do that. Instead of seeking for virutal issues that indanger Lebanon & attempt to solve it; they'r as usual spending time on stories that are based on rumors .. Metal is not an act of satanism !! Why is that too hard for them to understand

    September 24, 2011

  • Ludwig Chelala

    It cannot be denied that a lot of metal bands are anti-religious, anti-christian and pro satanic in a very offensive way. On the other hand, there are religious bands that counter them. This does not mean that people who listen to this music are by any means following their believes, we just enjoy hard music, like others who enjoy soft music. There are things that slip their attention, that pop, rap, electronic music, and more, are the adtual ones which negatively influence listeners, those genres are drug music, and not metal. Heck there are even more satanic classical composers! Hope those douches open their eyes :)

    September 24, 2011

  • Tracy

    This is a shocker. I had no idea Lebanon had stuff like this going on. Maybe if the government put in half as much time trying to understand what metal is about rather than just arresting people, they'd save themselves and everyone involved a whole lot of time and trouble and maybe focus their efforts onto more important issues. They need to understand that metal is just a way of expressing yourself. Metalheads aren't hurting anyone, are they?

    September 24, 2011

  • Nader Kawar

    I recommend IQ tests for all governmental leader.. This country is only going down in flames because of their stupidity and retardation

    September 24, 2011

  • Mona

    This is utterly ridiculous. The article was well written and the quotes pertinent, I hope the authorities read it and take it into consideration.

    September 24, 2011

  • Good Dude

    its funny what i just read , arresting people for being Satanist. Can't believe we are in the year 2011 and still our dear governement is after young,innocent people somehow ( i dont know anything/or anyone related to this case , i just read it randomly and my comment is based on what i just read above) , but i guess evryone has the right to do whatever he feel right under one condition : not harming/attacking/annoying anyone. Funny fact : murders,thiefs and terrorist are outside jail , exercing crimes evryday in Lebanon and there is no attempt or real efficient effort to catch them. Thats whats wrong in Lebanon , there is no Justice , we apply the law on people under these laws but we turn our faces on out-law people. Hope someday , our lovely country can escape these infantile actions and find the true meaning of respect,love and peace by following the ray of lights not chaos and disorder. Respectfully submitted, Suffering Lebanese Citizen

    September 24, 2011

  • Jad

    Elia Msawwir is like the coolest, most polite man I've ever met. Can't believe we have neandethals in charge of our military, police, and judicial authorities

    September 24, 2011

  • ralph

    Is it still worth defending this ... country?

    September 23, 2011