Author: Katherine Butler Schofield
On Wednesday 29th September 2021 we launched the Campaign to Protect Afghanistan’s Musicians. As Lead Coordinator of the campaign, I chaired a virtual roundtable, hosted by Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon, Principal of Somerville College Oxford, with guest speaker Hasib Sayed, founder of Sherzaad Entertainment, and roundtable speakers Benafsha Yaqoobi, Commissioner, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mirwaiss Sidiqi, Director of the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Afghanistan, Justin Adams, musician and founder of Festival au Désert, and renowned author and historian William Dalrymple. Lawyer and policy strategist Zehra Zaidi of Action for Afghanistan live tweeted the event.
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.
Whether musicians must therefore 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.
The aims of the Campaign to Protect Afghanistan’s Musicians are simple.
1) To get the world’s governments to recognise that Afghanistan’s musicians are currently targeted by the Taliban because they are “members of a particular social group” under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention
2) To get the world’s governments to explicitly name musicians as a priority category for their humanitarian visa schemes, such as the UK’s Afghanistan Citizens Resettlement Scheme
Ideally it would not be necessary for Afghanistan’s musicians to leave a homeland that has for centuries been a crucible of some of the most exquisite of the world’s arts, including music. We want, more than anything, for musicians to be safe to stay in Afghanistan, and for there not to be a scattering of these highly skilled culture bearers. So we have a third aim:
3) To get the Taliban in Afghanistan to recognise the rights of musicians to pursue their profession unhindered, and of listeners to enjoy music without harrassment. These rights are enshrined in Article 27 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freemuse has an excellent summary of what this Article means for musicians and listeners.
4) Finally, we aim to support Afghanistan’s displaced and endangered musicians through fundraising via legally registered charities, with a focus on supporting hereditary and professional musicians, especially master musicians, music teachers, exposed women and girls, and those at additional risk because of their high media profile.