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Music Rights Advocate: 'It's Really Sad...What We Have Seen In Afghanistan'


An Afghan musician unearths his tabla from a hiding place beneath his house following the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2001.

An Afghan musician unearths his tabla from a hiding place beneath his house following the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2001.

Marie Korpe is the executive director of Freemuse, which advocates for freedom of expression for artists and against music censorship around the world. She recently spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique about the challenges facing musicians and other artists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

RFE/RL: Why are the Taliban interested in silencing music and silencing musicians?

Marie Korpe:
Well, it's a long story. But I think to some -- I would say very fundamentalist -- Islamists, they would quote the Koran and say that music is forbidden. It's harram. That would be their prime argument. Whereas in Afghanistan, when the Taliban ruled there, they were not only quoting the Koran, but also saying that Afghanistan is now at war, so there is no time for joy and music, et cetera.

Marie Korpe
RFE/RL: Do you think there might be other reasons, like a political or strategic reason, apart from this religious justification?

Korpe:
Well, I would not maybe differ politics from religion in Afghanistan or in the Northwest Frontier Province where the Taliban has settled and where they have very strong holds and they have been doing a lot of attacks on music shops and individual musicians. So I don't think you can really think you can separate the music from politics. It's a question of control and maybe also, in that sense, a question of trying to stop people from taking up another modern lifestyle. So it's not only religion. It's also a question of controlling people, as they think maybe music is something bad for humankind, you know?

RFE/RL: And what do you think should be the responsibility of local authorities? I mean the situation between Pakistan today and Afghanistan in the 1990s is different in the sense that in Pakistan you do have a legitimate government and the Taliban are in a sense rebels who control some part of the country, but they don't have exclusive control or legitimacy as they had in Afghanistan in 1990s.

Korpe:
But on the other hand, I mean, I know a little of the history of Pakistan, as I lived there many years ago and also lived in Afghanistan many, many years ago. I would say that the so-called tribal areas which I think are not ruled by the government except for the main roads...It's always been kind of a Wild West [or] Wild East or whatever -- a Wild West of Pakistan -- where the tribal groups have had their own rules and traditions with governors and their own police corps.

But I think that with the influx of refugees from Afghanistan, it has affected that region very, very much so, and I also remember even in the camps, you know, the refugee camps in the '80s, there were very conservative mujahedins who wanted to forbid poetry and music, and it seems that it has contaminated, in a sense, that area.

RFE/RL: What are the effects on the people of trying to ban what little entertainment is available, in the form of music, dancing, and those kind of things?

Korpe:
I think it's really sad because music and dancing is part of a culture, and a very important culture. Also for, I mean, for the cultural inheritance that you bring over from one cultural tradition to the next generation. I mean, it's really sad if what we have seen in Afghanistan -- where actually a whole generation grew up without music, entertainment, maybe even lullabies and, you know, working songs and whatever -- if that is taken [from] the people, I think it's -- I wouldn't say a catastrophe, but it's really sad for the people and for their rich culture of that area.

RFE/RL: How can the situation be improved? What can the West do, for example?

Korpe:
It's very difficult to say. I can't really see how the West -- or any other country -- can help in that sense. I think if the situation gets maybe much more severe, there might be people who are willing to come and record so that the old traditional songs don't disappear. And I would maybe suggest that some of the musicians will move out of the Northwest Frontier and maybe move to Lahore or Karachi. Like musicians did, you know, when they moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan during the war. I don't know.

A small organization like Freemuse cannot really play an important role in solving the problems, the political problems, in the region. And we are not really able to financially help the musicians. We don't have that kind of financial setup in our little office. But I hope that there are people, at least within Pakistan, who are able to support the musicians -- in the country at least.

RFE/RL: Over the past 30 years, one of the major victims of the war in Afghanistan has been the Afghan culture, and musicians are a part of that tradition. Do you think that the world needs to do more now that they are talking about reconstruction in Afghanistan?

Korpe:
I am sure you are right. There is so much money going into war. Just imagine what would happen if it went to culture instead. That would be wonderful. But I know that there are several projects, and we have been involved in supporting recording equipment to musician's house in Afghanistan.

Television and radio is now playing music again, so I think there has been quite a lot done, but surely not enough. And I'm the first person to say that, unfortunately, culture is not a top priority in any country in the world. It's often the musicians or artists of any kind who are less paid, and governments in the world put a very, very small percentage of their budgets into culture. Which is sad, I think. It would be good if much more money was put into culture in general, specifically in those war-struck countries.
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