Christian extremist group 'Soldiers of God' attacks LGBTQ+ friendly bar in Beirut
The bar, a venue in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood of Beirut, reportedly hosted a drag show on Wednesday night when a group of men surrounded the bar and started assaulting some occupants.
Videos of the event show members of the Soldiers of God trapping people inside the bar while yelling that the bar was "satanic" and "promoting homosexuality."
The attack lasted more than an hour, with several people injured by militia members, according to Tarek Zeidan, the executive director of LGBTQ+ rights group Helem.
The Soldiers of God are a small Christian militia founded in the Achrafieh neighbourhood of Beirut. The group was nominally started as a neighbourhood patrol but quickly began attacking LGBTQ+ installations across Beirut, styling themselves as moral protectors of Lebanon.
Human rights activists said that Wednesday's attack was just the latest escalation in a rising wave of hate speech and violence directed towards the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon.
"This attack is a sad logical consequence of a campaign that started almost a year ago. It's fed by hate discourse from the highest level and, unfortunately, the religious community," Wadih al-Asmar, the co-founder of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), told The New Arab.
Religious groups and state officials alike have recently escalated anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in Lebanon.
In a July speech, the head of the pro-Iran group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, called for LGBT people to be killed.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Education, Abbas Halabi, banned the board game Snakes and Ladders from summer schools because its pieces resembled the rainbow Pride flag.
According to Zeidan, the targeting of the LGBTQ+ community is being scapegoated by Lebanese officials to distract from the country's worsening economic crisis and leaders' failure to fix it.
"There is this new enemy that they manufactured that is coming for your children and your families, and that's the bigger threat. So they can avoid talking about the fact that … they can't seem to govern in any way," Zeidan said.
Last night, the gang “Soldiers of God” attacked a bar in #MarMikhael where a #dragshow was being held, assaulting several participants and damaging some of the bar’s outdoor property. The gang threatened attendees, who left the bar after the ISF arrived. #GayRights #LGBTQ+ #Queer pic.twitter.com/84CHBjbSmK— Megaphone (@megaphone_news) August 24, 2023
Neighbouring countries have also begun to target the LGBTQ+ community, with Iraq banning the use of "homosexuality" in the media, instead mandating the use of the term "sexual deviance."
"We have to look at it as a global trend impacting Lebanon. When you analyse Nasrallah's speech, it's very similar to what the right wing in the US is saying, or what the Orthodox are saying in Israel," Ghassan Makarem, an independent activist, told TNA.
In Lebanon, competing militias and a state hamstrung by the ongoing economic crisis have allowed for an increase in lawlessness and the proliferation of vigilante groups like the Soldiers of God.
"The real problem is that the Soldiers of God are operating because the state is not doing its job. All the people who attacked the bar yesterday should be arrested. The fact that those people were not arrested is in itself a crime committed by the Lebanese government," al-Asmar said.
Several were injured after an extremist Christian militia attacked an LGBTQ-friendly bar in Beirut on Wed night.— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) August 25, 2023
Om Bar Room, in the Mar Mikhael district, was hosting a drag show when "Jnoud el Rab" ("Soldiers of God") surrounded it and intimidated patrons:
🎥: @alexander_durie pic.twitter.com/POMN1lLJTW
TNA contacted the Lebanese Internal Security Forces to ask if they arrested any Soldiers of God militia members in connection with Wednesday's attack but did not receive a response by publishing.
Similarly, the head of the Soldiers of God militia did not respond to TNA's request for comment.