The Heartbreaking Persecution of Musicians Under Taliban Rule

Since the Taliban seized power as a US-led coalition of foreign military forces left Afghanistan in August 2021, they imposed wide-sweeping restrictions against women based on their strict interpretation of Islam and Sharia law.

After the Taliban took over the country, they passed legislation aimed at suppressing women’s rights and limiting the participation of women in both public and private life. Women were barred from entering places such as gyms and bathhouses and have prohibited them from receiving university education.

But it wasn’t just Afghan women who were victims of the Taliban’s repression in Afghanistan. Afghan musicians were also at the receiving end of their campaign to eradicate anything they deemed unIslamic. The Taliban attacked musicians regularly and even forced them to destroy their musical instruments, depriving them of the livelihood they once had before the takeover.

Such is the case of many musicians like Jawid Shawqi, an Afghan musician who once played music on television and at weddings for a living. When the Taliban took over and banned music, Shawqi found himself sitting on the side of a road, working as a shoe polisher from day until night.

"The Taliban are enemies of happiness and music, and life has become hell for the people," Shawqi lamented.

But Shawqi is not alone. Another professional folk musician, Abdul Qadeer, opened a roadside electric repair shack in Kabul after being forced to abandon his music career due to the Taliban’s laws against music.

"I am a vocalist, and I used to earn by singing at different functions," Qadeer said in an interview with Anadolu Agency.

Many other musicians found their life directionless after being forced to leave their music careers. 25-year-old Ahmad Gholami, who dedicated most of his life to playing the tanbur, felt “like a dead fish out of the water” after he and fellow musicians in the province of Bamiyan were silenced by Taliban’s prohibition of music.

Because of this persecution by the Taliban, Afghan musicians fled Kabul to other, more remote areas in the country or abroad for their safety, while others simply went into hiding or complied with their laws against music and abandoned it altogether. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music and Sadai Banowan, the country’s only radio station run by women, were all closed down, making the future uncertain for music teachers and students, along with the female staff of the closed radio station.

The irony seems to be lost on the Taliban as well. While they banned all kinds of music, they produce their music, which features male voices and honors their leaders, jihad, and the Taliban. They play this music on their phones, cars, and other places. The Taliban also failed to realize the potential of using music to heal the wounds of a country torn apart by decades of war and invasions.

The International Music Council (IMC) showed their "grave concern" for Afghan musicians and people, who were "denied their music rights, just as Afghan girls and women have been deprived of their basic human rights."

"Today, as during the first reign [1996-2001] of the Taliban, the group has once again turned Afghanistan into a silent nation and denied the Afghan people, children, and adults the right to enjoy access to music, to learn, experience, create, perform, and express themselves through music freely," the council said.

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