Mashrou’ Leila Disrupts Narrative on Muslim Women


Mashrou’ Leila’s latest video, Roman, will offend many.

It features dozens of hijabi women who don’t appear to be oppressed. One of these mesmerising women dances her way through a dilapidated building without the faintest care in the world. There’s nothing exotic or erotic about her dancing: the choreography consists of an amalgam of moves that can only be described as beautifully erratic, and the woman is dressed in a flowy, figure-concealing ‘abaya.

Crucially, there’s no Western gaze on the women. They’re busy peering at themselves, and momentarily, at the (male) members of the Lebanese band. And while some of the women may appear passive, by the end of the video we learn that what they’re actually doing is mobilising (possibly against a deeply-entrenched patriarchy in the Arab world). The oppressive landscape, the band said in a Facebook post when it released the video on Tuesday, is actually a “fertile ground from which resistance can be weaponised.”

Stunningly directed by Jessy Moussallem (a name to watch), Roman crushes flimsy stereotypes on Arab, Muslim women at home and abroad by magnifying and reversing them. There’s an infectious sense of female empowerment and patriarchy-crushing in Roman that’s impossible to look away from. The women, both veiled and unveiled, are rejecting victimhood and self-actualising by telling their own story. Meanwhile, Hamed Sinno, the band’s openly queer frontman, hauntingly chants “Charge” (‘Aleihom) as he watches on.

Considering the current climate, both in the Middle East and in the West, this is a brave and potent political statement from Mashrou’ Leila, which is no stranger to pushing justice and equality through its music.

(Note that Sinno said in a Channel 4 video last week that the band members are “extremely vocal feminists,” and that women empowerment in the region and beyond must be addressed intersectionally).



In the band’s own words:

“The video self-consciously toys with the intersection of gender with race by celebrating and championing a coalition of Arab and Muslim women, styled to over-articulate their ethnic background, in a manner more typically employed by Western media to victimise them.

This seeks to disturb the dominant global narrative of hyper-secularised (white) feminism, which increasingly positions itself as incompatible with Islam and the Arab world, celebrating the various modalities of Middle-Eastern feminism.

The video purposefully attempts to revert the position of the (male) musicians as the heroes of the narrative, not only by subjecting them to the (female) gaze of the director, but also by representing them as individuals who (literally) take the backseat as the coalition moves forward.

So while the lyrics of the verses discuss betrayal, struggle, and conflict, the video revolves around the lyrical pivot in the chorus: ‘aleihum (charge!), treating oppression, not as a source of victimhood, but as the fertile ground from which resistance can be weaponised.”

I haven’t felt this strongly about a video since MIA’s Borders, which, incidentally, has a similar this-is-a-weighty-political-statement-not-just-a-song feel to it. (There are certainly parallels there — in her video, M.I.A. toys with the flawed narrative on refugees by presenting them as an all-male, unstoppable, ominous force which she ushers into Western society).

The release of Roman coincides with Mashrou’ Leila’s summer tour, which has taken them from Tunisia and Serbia to London and New York. The track is featured in the deluxe version of the band’s fourth album, Ibn el Leil, which I’ve gushed about before.

Homophobia, Islamophobia, Racism, Sexism: there isn’t a toxic phobia or -ism that Mashrou’ Leila won’t take on. In an environment that increasingly victimises or demonises Muslim and Arab women, Roman is a video that desperately needs to be watched.


Lyrics – Roman

I don’t intend to swallow your lies

The words would sting my throat

I won’t dissect your intentions

Leave your tongue in its cage

You can keep the time I gave you

Strangle what self I was for you

But before you lay me to rest

Tell me what cost I came at

Charge!

Charge!

Charge!

Charge!

Worms sculpt my body now

The earth cradles my skin

Why’d you sell me to the Romans?

Worms sculpt my body now

The earth cradles my skin

How’d I lose you to the Romans?

Worms sculpt my body now

The earth cradles my skin

Why’d you sell me to the Romans?

Worms sculpt my body now

The earth cradles my skin

How’d I lose you to the Romans?

Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!

Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!

Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!

Charge! Charge! Charge! Charge!

Why’d you sell me to the Romans?

How’d I lose you to the Romans?

Why’d you sell me to the Romans?

How’d I lose you to the Romans?

Why’d you sell me to the Romans?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *