Beirut, Lebanon - Boxfuls of Lady Gaga's newest album "Born this Way" were intercepted and impounded at Beirut's international airport by Lebanese authorities late last week as potentially offensive to the country's Christian population.
Despite having sold millions of copies worldwide, Lady Gaga's album isn't for sale in Lebanese music stores for now. Instead, cartons of the new release are stacked in police offices. But officials cautioned that no final decision had been made on whether Lady Gaga's sizzling hot second studio release would be formally banned.
"We collected the CDs on the grounds that the music was offensive to religion," said one official from the office of censorship, which is part of the country's notorious General Security, a powerful branch of the Ministry of Interior. "They are still in our offices. We are still deciding what to do with them."
He refused to give his name without citing any reason for insisting on anonymity.
Lady Gaga's latest album is filled with Christian imagery. Having received a traditional Catholic upbringing, the singer is infamous for her provocative music, drawing on themes of religion and sexuality.
The video above is for one of the album's songs, "Judas," which was banned from Lebanese radio stations earlier last April.
The music video presents the 12 disciples of Christ as rugged bikers in leather jackets dancing around the singer who is part of a love triangle with the handsome and enticing depictions of Judas and Jesus, the latter adorned with the crown of thorns.
"In the most biblical sense, I am beyond repentance," she sings.
Shaky Lebanon's 17 offically recognized religious groups include Muslims, Druze and various Christian denominations. They're all pretty thin-skinned when it comes to religious references -- and the law errs on the side of banning anything potentially inflammatory. Music that refers to religious figures or Israel is directly censored by the Lebanese General Security in a joint effort with the Ministry of Information.
Any decision to ban the album would be in accordance with Article 75 of the 1962 Lebanese Law for distribution of print media, which states that, “Distributors are prohibited from circulating media that diverges from public decency and morality, or is at odds with nationalistic or religious beliefs."
Music fans are hoping for a compromise.Occasionally the office of censorship at Lebanon's General Security headquarters edits offensive material without issuing a complete ban.
Fady Masoud, senior music supervisor at Virgin Megastore's main branch in Lebanon, is hoping that the censorship office will black out song titles such as "Judas" and "Bloody Mary" on the CD case and then allow the album to circulate in the market instead of completely banning it.
“We care that this CD be released because it will produce great revenue," he said. "Lady Gaga has a huge fan base in Lebanon."
Because of Lady Gaga's super-high profile, the case has already attracted the attention of some powerful figures. The office of the information minister in Lebanon’s caretaker government, Tarek Mitri, issued a statement on Monday that "they were awaiting decisions about the album to be taken but that the Minister is, and always has been, against all forms of censorship and has worked on ending censorship in Lebanon."
In the past, Mitri was successful in calling for the ban on the film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to be lifted. The animated movie was initially prohibited from Lebanese theaters for being "offensive to Iran and Islam."
But Mitri is kind of powerless. The decision to either ban or allow the album was neither that of the General Security nor the Ministry of Information, but that of the Catholic Information Center, a spokesman at his office said.
Christian elders say they'll weigh in on the album soon.
“If they are going to offend us we are going to cancel the album," said Father Abdo Abu Kassm, director of the Catholic Information Center. "We will not accept that anyone insult the Virgin Mary or Jesus or Christianity. We have dignity. Call us traditional, call us backward, call us whatever you want. We will not accept it."
The case has already stirred outrage among Lebanese who think the country would be better served if officials spent their time forming a government or fixing the country's dilapidated electricity network than poring over Lady Gaga's lyrics in search of racy innuendos.
“Lebanese authorities cannot form a functional government but manage to ban Lady Gaga's album, due to religious sensitivities," said Lebanese university graduate Dyala Badran. "I think they need to get their priorities straight.”
As the fate of the album remains unknown, Lebanese work their way around the system to get their hands on the international hit. Some are trying to download it off the internet. Others are trying to use a more traditional Lebanese method: wasta, or inside connections.
"They come here and swear that they will get the CD by using their family ties to pressure officials in the government,” said Masoud, of the Virgin record store.