December 23, 2006

Music Censorship

In America, music is protected by the First Amendment, but sadly not every country is so lucky. I believe that one of the major factors in the recent Iranian election was the ban on Western Music, or more specifically that the people of Iran rejected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decree that they should not listen to Western Music. Although the ban did not happen recently, it did occur during his tenure and I'm sure it has been on the forefront of everyone's minds as just another example of why they don't like him.

Before we look at why Iran banned music, let's start with some history. Oh stop the groaning, you know you want it. We are talking about the censorship of music by radical Islam in the Middle East, not worldwide. That would, sadly, be a really long history. Our current history starts about thirty years ago. In his breakthrough report entitled, "Can you stop the birds singing? The censorship of music in Afghanistan," Dr. John Baily writes:

Music censorship has been gradually imposed on Afghanistan since Nur Ahmad Taraki's communist government came to power in a violent coup d'etat in 1978. During fourteen years of communist rule, and during the Rabbani period (1992-1996), music was heavily controlled, while in the refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran all music was prohibited in order to maintain a continual state of mourning. The roots of the extreme Taliban ban on music lie in the way these camps were run.

Another reason to hate the communists. Not that killing 600 million people wasn't enough to hate a form of political thought, but for those who still like it remember the lack of music.

Under Taliban rule the people of Afghanistan are subjected to almost total music censorship, under which the only musical activity permitted is the singing of certain types of religious song and Taliban "chants" - panegyrics to Taliban principles and commemorations of those who have died on the field of battle.

You'd think that they would have stopped after we blew up in 2001. However:

On 30 June 2005, ten shops mostly selling movie and music tapes were damaged in a bomb explosion in Miramshah. The blast took place in the Gharhay Mandi bazaar following a warning by tribal militants against the sale and purchase of VCRs, CDs and music tapes on the audio and video. Four of the shops were badly damaged.

What would drive anyone to ban music? For starters the World Court ruled that forcing people to listen to Britney Spears constitutes torture. (Anyone forced to listen to her or most pop music will agree that it is definitely hard on the ears.) Johnny Clegg has said: "Censorship is based on fear." But that begs the question, why fear music?

Music can be a threat to power. Music is expression, music is creativity, music is critical thinking, music is free and can not be shackled by laws. Music expresses tradition, dreams, joys and aspirations. It brings ideas that might be outside the general public's knowledge or thought process and shoves them in their faces. Music gives a voice to emotions and feelings and allows those who can not formulate their ideas into proper sentences to articulate what they want. Music allows different cultures and people to share information.

Iran has been afraid of the power of music, but the ban has not stopped music. The people of Iran still buy music, just now through the black market. People still listen to Afghani music, while as for music by the Taliban it is no more. Music should not be stopped because it offends some people. Music should not be censored so life can be more pleasant. Music is freedom.

Actually, music probably wasn't on as many people's mind as I would like to think it was. A good parable would be the ban by the 109th congress on online gambling. The ban riled a lot more people then it appeased and it was a shining example of what was wrong with Republicans, but was not a major reason why people voted against the Republicans. I am sure there were people who voted against the Republicans because of the ban on gambling but I'm sure that it wasn't a major factor. I am sure that the censorship of music in Iran was just another reason for the people to vote against Ahmadinejad.

I think Apollo Forty Four said it the best, "You can't stop the rock." So you should just stop trying.

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