JURIST EXCLUSIVE – Law students in Afghanistan are filing reports with JURIST on the situation there after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Here, a law student in Kabul offers his latest observations and perspective. For privacy and security reasons we are withholding his name and institutional affiliation. The text has been only lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.
“Medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
- Walt Whitman as quoted by John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets’ Society (1989)
In the last couple of weeks, the radio stations, TV channels and the very streets of Kabul have been deprived of the sound of music by order of the Taliban, negating the historical fact that Afghans are deeply rooted in music and other art. Even in the furthest parts of the country people embrace these things in their own way. Folk music is widely favored; Afghan people also have a taste for Bollywood songs and, more recently, western music as well.
But now the Taliban have killed a folk musician from Parwan province, have torn down a couple of drawing workshops, and have made every renowned singer flee the country. When the Taliban spokesperson was asked “what should actors and musicians do?” he answered “change their professions.” This sort of animosity to art is derived from an extreme and strict interpretation of a couple of Islamic hadiths. Still, there is a rich culture of Islamic music. In particular Sufis have played various forms of music and have used music to pray. The West is familiar with the Sufi whirling “Sama dance” which was performed for the first time by the 13th century Persian poet and Islamic scholar Mawlana Jalaludin Muhammad Balkhi, commonly known as Rumi.
Extremists have always held unreasonably illogical views on the world, ignoring the cultural roots and even social needs of human beings in the twenty-first century. The fact that there is not a single country in the world that has banned music – Muslim countries included – has no effect whatsoever on the Taliban’s illogical beliefs.
One thing I have learned from interacting with people of extreme beliefs is that all of them believe in the greater good and a healthy society. But if music is banned and so is dancing, won’t that lead to other illicit behaviors which in their view would threaten social well-being? It is not that asking for the greater good is bad, but one must distinguish between doing something for the greater good and being delusional. In this case, the extremists are delusional.
If a survey were done asking the question—would you push a button, and by doing so a murderer would be executed, and if you don’t he would be freed? — a normal citizen would reflect on the question and probably ask follow-up questions to avoid the moral dilemma. The extremist, however, is spontaneously ready to serve justice and safeguard his community no matter the price, no matter the cost of getting it wrong. In reality, he simply wants to assert authority and dominance. The scariest thing for the common people is that an extremist regime encourages narcissistic behavior and gives its soldiers a sense of entitlement to “correct” whatever they deem wrong, so not a single aspect of one’s life is safe from being interfered with.
Living in a place where people are pistol-whipped or poked with rifles for wearing jeans and beaten for listening to music by a young man of similar age to themselves makes one wonder if that young man with a gun ever felt for someone, if he ever understood music and art in their purest forms, if he ever walked in an autumn afternoon with the sound of a song drowning him in the memories of a loved one?