The musicians of Afghanistan and their extraordinarily rich musical heritage face an unprecedented time of crisis right now. The Taliban are ideologically opposed to all music, and to all those who perform and teach music, visual arts & dance. On 26th August 2021 they announced their intention to ban music again, as they did in 1996–2001, and to prevent musicians from pursuing their professions.
Campaign to Protect Afghan musicians are a group of academics, musicians, lawyers, and human rights professionals who believe passionately that “music is food for the soul”, as the Chishti Sufis of South Asia say — موسیقی غذا روح است — and that in accordance with Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the musicians and listeners of Afghanistan should be free to draw upon this precious spiritual and cultural resource without fear.
The aim of the Campaign is to support and to secure humanitarian protection for all of Afghanistan’s endangered musicians, from master rabab players to the latest pop stars, with a particular focus on hereditary and professional musicians, especially master musicians, music teachers, exposed women and girls, and those at additional risk because of their high media profile.
On Wednesday 29th September 2021 we launched the Campaign to Protect Afghanistan’s Musicians. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan on 15th August 2021, Afghanistan’s musicians have faced imminent and extreme threat. On 26th August the Taliban announced that music will be banned again, as it was last time they were in power (1996–2001), and musicians have been instructed to change professions. Hopes have been expressed that the Taliban might have modified their approach from the violent opposition to music of their last regime. But the summary execution of traditional musician Fawad Andarabi, and the destruction of musical instruments at the RTA studios, which both happened around 27th August, suggest the direction of travel will not be benign. These headline events have been accompanied by the closing of music schools and departments, a silencing of music on radio and television, and widespread threats and harassment. Musicians/Artists houses and studios have been visited and ransacked, and musicians have responded with mass self-censorship, burying and destroying their own beloved instruments and going into hiding, in fear for their lives. There is anxious uncertainty about the extent of the restrictions — live musicians are definitely forbidden, though recorded music in some places seems a bit of a grey zone. But listeners have also already been subjected to harsh punishments and beatings.
We argue that under the 1951 Refugee Convention, Afghanistan’s musicians right now clearly constitute members of a particular social group who are under wholesale and immediate threat simply on account of being musicians. Yet, so far, our governments have not prioritised them for humanitarian protection.
This deprioritisation, we believe, is due to a misunderstanding of the nature of the Taliban’s opposition to music. The Taliban do not discriminate: it doesn’t matter whether a musician is playing Western or traditional styles, or whether their lyrics are political or there are no lyrics at all. Whether musicians must leave their beloved homeland for their survival, or whether they choose to stay, we are here to campaign for the protection of all of Afghanistan’s musicians, and the preservation of the unique musical traditions they have carried on for centuries. https://afghanmusicians.wordpress.com/
Facilitate access to ACRS scheme
The NI Executive’s commitment to resettle citizens under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (ARAP) and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme (ACRS) is welcome. We note that a TEO strategic planning group is working to determine final numbers to be resettled and to make preparations to support arrivals as soon as possible.
Under this option, the NI Executive would request the UK Government to include these 30 musicians and artists within the ACRS. In effect, the 30 Afghans would be assigned to NI for resettlement.
At present, musicians and artists are not explicitly referred to in the Home Office Afghanistan Resettlement and Immigration Policy Statement in September 2021.
“The ACRS will provide those put at risk by recent events in Afghanistan with a route to safety. The scheme will prioritise those who have assisted the UK efforts in Afghanistan and stood up for values such as democracy, women’s rights and freedom of speech, rule of law (for example, judges, women’s rights activists, academics, journalists); and … vulnerable people, including women and girls at risk, and members of minority groups at risk (including ethnic and religious minorities and LGBT).” Annex 1 contains a number of reports that detail the current harms / risks to musicians and artists in Afghanistan including recent executions.
MARRS Phase one core objectives
• To resettle musicians/artists and immediate families in Northern Ireland.
• All musicians/artists will be given placements in the creative sector (community & business). This can be the form of apprenticeship, scholarship, internship, job vacancy.
• On arrival musicians/artists we be housed immediately by host families/individuals who will play a key role in assisting with the integration process. These offers of accommodation are for a minimum 3-month period. When the initial host offer is due to end, families will either apply to NIHE for social housing, likely in the areas they have been hosted in, or secure private rental thus reducing pressure on social housing stock.
Other options for host community
• Community sponsorship: A group of individuals offer to raise funds and continually support the needs of an individual
• Home Office sponsorship license assisting employment/placement of a skilled worker.
All those working directly as part of consortiums to help people at risk in Afghanistan have centralized a database of biometrics and skills assets. As you would expect the people, we are trying to help have many skills in additional to their main artform that covers all aspects of a creative business. Examples: digital production, accountancy, event management, marketing. History has shown us how beneficial diversity and new communities are to enriching society with the skills they bring. Introducing Afghan musicians/artists/ into our communities is an amazing opportunity for everyone.
Consortiums and Connections
• Since the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban Beyond Skin staff and other individuals across the world have been working to assist musicians/artists & their families at risk
• Those assisting have either friends, families, students or partner organsations in Afghanistan
• Beyond Skin’s primary partner is Afghanistan National Institute of Music (Kabul) a faculty of 280 www.beyondskin.net/afghanistan
• Through the crisis the ICFAM (International Coordination for Afghan Musicians) has been set up
• The ICFAM are coordinating efforts to get musicians out of Afghanistan with Northern Ireland as one of the viable host countries
• On the ground in Afghanistan is the Consortium for Afghan Refugee Displacement (CARP) - a consortium set up by Beyond Skin and Trillion Impact/Fundsurfer.
• Campaign to Protect Afghan Musicians launched https://afghanmusicians.wordpress.com/
• With hundreds of people reaching out for help CARP is coordinating efforts and communication defining two specific areas. Helping musicians/artists (ICFAM) and helping “non-musicians/artists” (Trillion & partners)
• Currently we are assisting over 800 people. There are many music units in schools/universities in Afghanistan and a wealth of solo musicians/artists and groups.
• A specially designed high-security encrypted cloud database is being used to house all biometrics data and skills assets register of all those we are trying to help.
Northern Ireland fundraising link https://localgiving.org/charity/beyondskin/project/afghanistan
Northern Ireland Contact: email@example.com
17 August 2021 – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Afghanistan: UN expert warns of “cultural disaster”, urges visas for the vulnerable
26 August 2021 - NPR
Afghanistan's Music School Falls Silent, Its Future Is Uncertain Under The Taliban
26 August 2021 - The Telegraph
Taliban to forbid music in public because it is ‘un-Islamic’
29 August 2021 – Business Insider
The Taliban killed a popular Afghan folk singer just days after the group said it hoped to ban music from being played in public in Afghanistan. https://www.businessinsider.com/afghanistan-taliban-kills-popular-folk-singer-days-after-music-ban-2021-8?r=US&IR=T
31 August 2021 - Reuters
Taliban authorities in Kandahar, the birthplace of the movement, issued a formal order against radio stations playing music and female announcers
2 September 2021 - Newsweek
The Taliban has been breaking instruments and ordering customers to leave karaoke parlors
28 December 2020 - Forbes
Taliban Music Ban May Befall Afghans After U.S. Troop Withdrawal
Young Women in Afghanistan & Northern Ireland ‘Choose To Challenge’ Through Music
26 May 2016
Afghanistan: Kandahar authorities ban broadcast of songs by women
27 August 2012
Afghanistan: 17 civilians killed, allegedly for listening to music