Taliban music ban said destroying Afghan heritage
By Karen Matusic
LONDON (Reuters) - Music is high on the list of activities banned by the Taliban, the movement that rules most of Afghanistan with a religious zeal that has led it to declare that dancing, singing and television are also anti-Islamic.
British musicologist John Baily gave details Monday of a report on music censorship in Afghanistan and said the assault on music was a tragedy that the world should condemn.
Baily, who has spent almost 30 years studying Afghan music, said the only musical activity now permitted in the impoverished Asian land is singing religious songs and Taliban "chants."
"To most people, music means with musical instruments and the Taliban has banned musical instruments. Those caught in possession of musical instruments are imprisoned, fined or even beaten and their instruments are destroyed. They often have bonfires of confiscated instruments," Baily told Reuters.
"The lives of professional musicians have been completely disrupted, and most have had to go into exile for their economic survival. The continuation of these rich musical traditions is also under threat."
The crackdown on music long preceded the fundamentalist Islamic movement's destruction last month of centuries-old Buddhist statues, which provoked world outrage.
In a report for Freemuse, the world forum on music and censorship, Baily warns that the country's rich musical traditions are threatened by the increasingly harsh rule of the Taliban, which also exerts its authority among refugees in neighboring countries like Pakistan.
"Most professional musicians have fled, so they keep the traditions alive in neighboring countries for now. But we note a crackdown by Taliban inside countries like Pakistan," he said.
"We need to bring world attention to monitor these neighboring countries."
COMMUNISTS BEGAN MUSIC CENSORSHIP
Baily, a professor at London University's Goldsmith College, says the censorship of music began in 1978, when the communist government of Nur Ahmad Taraki came to power in a violent coup.
During 14 years of communist rule in the poor, mountainous country, music was heavily controlled by the Information and Culture Ministry, while in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran all music was prohibited in order to maintain a continual state of mourning.
"The roots of the Taliban ban on music lie in the way these camps were run," Baily said.
The Taliban, which seized Kabul in 1996 and now rules more than 90 percent of Afghanistan, has faced severe criticism from the West and from many Islamic countries.
Its harsh policies include banning women from education and most work, and forcing them to wear the all-enveloping burqa robe whenever they venture outside their homes.
Reflecting on the harsh regime, Baily said: "Being a great believer in the power of music, I believe that it is very unfortunate that the people of Afghanistan cannot enjoy the simple pleasures to make their days a little more enjoyable."
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