Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and the seat of the American-backed government, lies in the east portion of the state courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Musician rights trump religion

After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, many feel that the arts are threatened.

At the end of the Afghan Civil war in the 1990s, the Taliban managed to seize control of Afghanistan. During this time, the Taliban placed a ban on music, leading many musicians to flee the country or face exile. Many went to Pakistan where they continued to succeed with their talents. While Afghan music traditions and culture managed to survive and thrive outside the land of its roots, in the country itself punishments were set for both getting caught with music or musical instruments, as well as playing music. Some punishments were simply confiscation, but many were beaten and imprisoned as well. After the U.S. Intervention, the structure of the Afghan government transformed to an interim system leading to a democratically elected succession of presidents in the country, during which the music scene began to rejuvenate within Afghanistan itself. Although not perfect and the American intervention in the country has caused many other issues for the Afghan people, this time was incredibly important for a renewal of their cultural traditions which were oppressed under Taliban rule, but it seems that all of this progress may be set back for a long time now.

This year, shortly after their insurgence against the U.S.-backed government of the capital city Kabul which was under President Ghani’s administration, the Islamic fundamentalist group once again achieved governing power. This has raised serious concerns for the music culture of Afghanistan and those who participate in it, and these fears do not appear to be unfounded, given the context of the Taliban’s previous policies. Across Kabul, the Taliban have smashed at least two pianos and many more instruments at different music studios. At Taliban checkpoints, people are afraid to play their radios. Since the takeover, weddings have limited the amount of music played and many talented Afghan performers are scared to continue playing music publicly since the takeover.

According to current reports there are no outright bans on music in Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan only gave support to the Taliban in agreement that they would not violate cultural and human rights, including music. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has outspokenly criticized colonial systems and governments for historically doing the very same thing, and believes that the Taliban must do better.

So where are these issues coming from? Well, individual Taliban members are enforcing such “rules” on their own. When the original ban on music came about in the late 90s, the Taliban as a whole cited religion as the reason they banned apparently sinful music. Now, to understand the entirety of the issue, we must approach the Taliban from their religious worldview.

The Taliban subscribe to Sharia Islamic law, a philosophy based on fundamentalist practices of Deobandism, which considers music and dance as irreconcilable with the teachings of Islam, which combines with a very militant devotion to their faith that leads to such harsh punishments. It is within their religious right to not listen or perform music themselves, however, utilizing violence to force others to legally subscribe to your beliefs is never excusable, as it is a violation of both cultural and human rights.

This example illustrates the problem of extreme fundamentalism in any world religion. Historically, when a group takes the most literal and strict interpretation of a religion’s doctrine—without a consideration of context, audience, way it changed over time, medium or style intended by the creator—the outcome is always full of bitterness, violence, hatred and heartbreak. The worst part is, it always leaves traumatized victims in its wake.

The issue is not inherently with Islam. It is not about devout Muslims peacefully seeking out the god they believe in. The problem is the military extremism at the root of the Taliban’s faith, and their enforcement of such extreme beliefs upon other people, as well as the environment that provokes individuals to take matters into their own hands. No musician should have to live in fear of performing. No person should face jail time for enjoying a song. Music, dance and other artistic expression bring beauty to the world, so to strip people of their human rights to express these aspects of themselves and their unique cultures is really the true sin, and in that way the individual Taliban fighters who do so may be the very thing that they attempt to prevent.

Post Author: Logan Guthrie