Our Aims

Image: Bahram Gur in the Turquoise Palace on Wednesday; Khamsa of Nizami, Herat 1524-5 (Gift of Alexander Smith Cochran, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 13.228.710, f. 216). Public Domain. All written content licensed CC-BY-NC 4.0

Author: Katherine Butler Schofield

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 helping hereditary and professional musicians, especially master musicians, music teachers, exposed women and girls, and those at additional risk because of their high media profile.

NOTE: We are not involved in evacuation or resettlement efforts and cannot assist any Afghan seeking to leave the country or find asylum elsewhere.

Our Rationale

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 harrassment. Musicians’ 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 (CW: photograph).

We argue that under the 1951 Refugee Convention, Afghanistan’s musicians right now clearly constitute “members of a particular social group” who have a well-founded fear of persecution by the Taliban regime, simply on account of being musicians. Yet, so far, our governments have not prioritised musicians collectively 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. The Taliban are ideologically opposed to the sound of music itself as morally corrupting. They regard and treat all musicians as a morally “degenerate” group that needs to be silenced. Their harshest correction is reserved for hereditary musicians, music professors and master-teachers (ustāds), and women and girls who perform in public.

We believe our governments have misunderstood that the threat to musicians is wholesale and indiscriminate; and that because of this, so far, almost no musicians have been offered humanitarian protection outside Afghanistan. They are nearly all still there, under immediate threat to their survival.

Whether Afghanistan’s musicians are therefore forced to leave their beloved homeland for their survival, or whether they choose to stay, we are here to advocate for all of Afghanistan’s musicians, and the preservation of the unique musical traditions they have carried on for centuries.

We’ve moved! As of 3 December 2021, join us over at icfam.info