Israel/Palestine: Taliban-like attempts to censor music in West Bank

17 August 2005
As a Hamas-led town council in the West Bank bans outdoor music and dance performances in order to prevent “the mingling of the sexes”, musicians fear that Palestine is liable to be turned into an Islamic-law state.  

Music causes controversies all over the muslim world where religious radicals wishes it banned and silenced. In Afghanistan, the Talibans enforced harsh religious laws against music and concerts during their rule of of the country. Now, Palestinian musicians fear the same thing is going to happen in Palestine where Islamic fundamentalists have become increasingly assertive since the militant Hamas group scored several victories and political gains in local elections in the beginning of 2005.

The summer of 2005 saw an example of this development as the outdoor music and dance performances which were planned as part of a one-day summertime Palestinian festival in Qalqiliya were suddenly banned by the municipality, for the reason that such an event would be “haram” – forbidden by Islam.

“The town council must protect the conservative values of the city, which includes not approving of men and women mixing,” explained a Qalqilya council spokesman, according to BBC News. The Qalqilyah municipality, which is headed by a member of Hamas, also ordered that music no longer be played in the city’s zoo, and mufti Akrameh Sabri issued a religious edict affirming the municipality decision.

The chief organiser of the event, Eman Hamouri, said the council’s decision was “not acceptable”.

Weak reaction

According to Zvi Bar’el from the newspaper Haaretz, the threats made by the radical religious advocates received barely any response from both the Palestinian Authority and the NGOs that promote culture:
“The only voice raised against these clergymen was that of the national poet Mahmoud Darwish, who in interviews to the Palestinian press warned against Palestine becoming a facsimile of Afghanistan under the Taliban,” tells Zvi Bar’el.

“We see signs of Talibanism and dangerous indications against which everyone should be protesting, particularly the educated classes and the artists,” declared Mahmoud Darwish.

In response, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia asked Local Government Minister Khaled al-Qawasmeh to instruct the mayor of Qalqilyah to change his decision, but this does not seem to have had any effect. Nor was any protest voiced in the local press, except for the newspaper Al-Ayyam, which carried Darwish’s statement.

According to Associated Press, a spokesman for the Qalqiliya municipality, Mustafa Sabri, said the festival ban was democratic because it reflected the wish of the majority:
“We are not like the Taliban,” he said. “But we respect them (the Taliban) because they chose something suitable for their people.”




Religious coercion in Palestine

Lines of cultural conflict are beginning to be redrawn between Hamas members and religious radicals on one side, and a majority of the population that is predominately secular (even though the vast majority are believers) on the other.

Compared to other Arab societies, the Palestinians were once largely secular and tolerant of Western customs, even with Islam as the majority religion. Many Palestinians have strong ties with the West, including relatives living abroad or years spent studying in foreign universities. However, more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting have led some Palestinians to seek solace in religion or return to tradition, also a reflection of a regional trend, explains Associated Press in the article ‘Palestinians Debate Whether Future State Will be Theocracy or Democracy ‘

The attempt by Hamas to dictate a cultural code of conduct in the 1980s and early 1990s led to a violent scuffle between different sectors of the public. Hamas members then burned down stores that stocked certain videos (claiming they were distributing porno films) and destroyed books described as “heretical.” Now Palestinian intellectuals fear this war has not only been renewed, but is liable to turn Palestine into an Islamic-law state.

The Palestinian newspaper columnist Mohammed Abd Al-Hamid, a resident of Ramallah, wrote in August 2005 that this religious coercion could cause the migration of artists, and a breakdown of national unity:

“And anyone who doesn’t think we are facing this danger should take another look at the Algerian experience. The religious fanatics in Algeria destroyed every cultural symbol, shattered statues and rare works of art and liquidated intellectuals and artists, reporters and authors, ballet dancers and singers. Are we going to imitate the Algerian and Afghani examples?,” he asks.


BBC News: ‘ Hamas council bans music festival’
Ha’ ‘Afghanistan in Palestine’ – by Zvi Bar’el
Al-Ahram: ‘Hamas’ heavy hand’ – by Samir Ghattas
Y-net News: ‘Barenboim needs a new tune’

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