Afghanistan report launch: welcome speeches

The launch took place in cooperation with International PEN and attracted quite some interest from the media; several BBC units, Associated Press, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and others were present. Read more about the launch

Read welcome speeches by
Moris Farhi
Marie Korpe

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Read the report

Welcome speech by Mr. Moris Farhi, former Chair of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee    

“I am highly honoured to introduce this meeting. Those of you who know me might wonder why an old war-horse who, for many years, campaigned in the ranks of English PEN and International PEN, to preserve the rights of the world’s writers to freedom of thought and expression, should want to stand on a platform that campaigns for the same rights for music and musicians.

Moris Farhi – Photo by Jim Q. Holm/Freemuse

The answer, of course, is quite simple. Music and the Word are siblings – twins, one could say. They are the sequels to sound. And it is “sound” or rather images in sound that we, as foetuses, first become aware of the world around us.

Together with other arts, Music and the Word form that unique family, Culture, without which human existence would not only be meaningless, but a waste of Creation ‘s creativity.
Consequently, when one art is threatened, every art is threatened. Culture is threatened.
You may remember Heinrich Heine’s prophetic statement that has become part of our unconscious: “where they burn books, they will also burn people”.

The same adage is applicable to musical works, to paintings and sculptures and the myriad arts we engage in. And censorship, we all know, is a very effective way of burning art. I remember a very dear Lebanese friend – someone who had suffered much during the conflicts in that country – posed a question on this subject that still haunts me. Why are we, she asked, always more shocked at the sight of the destruction of art than of the destruction of life, be it massacres of people or the despoliation of the environment?

It took me a while to accept the truth that we are, indeed, less shocked about the destruction of human life than of art. It took me even longer to think of an explanation.
I offer it to you, for what it’s worth.

Art defines a people’s identity, its culture and its history, its national, racial, ethnic and religious consciousness. Therefore, it represents that people’s future. The destruction of this identity, of this vast heritage, can only be seen as a determined attempt to wipe that particular people off the face of the earth. In witnessing massacres and attempts at genocide, we cling to the hope that, given the almost unassailable drive for survival, which Nature has bestowed upon us, a people might somehow find the will and the resources to survive. (This is a naive hope, I grant you, when we all know that history is littered with exterminated peoples and species.) But, in witnessing the destruction of a people’s art, we become more realistically aware of the gossamer nature of national identities and cultures; and, consequently, we are unable to generate the hope that such a delicate heritage can survive a wholesale attack.

There is a Romany tradition whereby at every meaningful event, from an ordinary meal to a wedding or funeral, portions of drink are sprinkled on to the earth as libation. (Actually this is well nigh a universal tradition and is in practice from the Mediterranean to Africa to South America and the Pacific.)

The objective of this ritual is to offer, to gods and sacred spirits, a portion of the bounty the people have received. But this offering is not just thanksgiving; it is also that particular people’s declared wish to have the gods or sacred spirits in their midst as members of their family or tribe.
For me this ritual contains a wisdom that precedes our present well-argued, sophisticated monotheisms; a wisdom that respects the plurality in Nature and, of greater importance, its reflection on the affairs of humanity, on the infinite imagination that springs from the human mind. A wisdom, in effect, which foresaw the erosion of the divine in the great religions and the subsequent decline of these religions to totalitarianism; a wisdom that refused to accept God as the despot in whose name every atrocity was permissible.

Somewhere in a pagan part of my mind, I have come to associate those acts of libation with the dissemination of art. Of words and music and paintings and sculptures, of edifices and monuments, of countless decorative objects that stretch in an endless phalanx as far as history can see.
There are immensely powerful forces – religious, commercial and political – that are scheming to clip mankind’s creativity in order to establish an inviolate, monolithic world order that will serve exclusively their interests and their lust for power.

We can fight these forces only with our creativity. With our books and music, our works of art.
The fight, at present, is going against us. These days many countries are still under the yoke of tyrants. And these purveyors of terror simply murder and imprison the artists or destroy their works.
A society that refuses to fight such tyranny is a doomed society. Unnourished by art, it will soon starve to death. And unless we protect the eternity that art carries in its sinews, we will surrender this world to the men in armour who will then proceed to destroy it in no time at all.

I am a novice in the fight against music censorship. So I should like to leave the platform to the experts: Marie Korpe, the Director of Freemuse and Dr. John Baily, Reader in Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths College.

Thank you.”

Moris Farhi

Born in Ankara, Turkey, 1935. His novels include: The Last of Days (1983); Journey Through the Wilderness (1989); Children of the Rainbow (1999). His poems have appeared in many British, US and International publications and in the anthology of 2oth Century Jewish Poets, Voices Within the Ark (Avon). For many years, he has been an active campaigner on behalf of persecuted writers through P.E.N. and served as Chair of International P.E.N.’s Writers in Prison Committee during 1997-2000.

Welcome speech by Ms. Marie Korpe, Executive Director of Freemuse    

“I wish you a warm welcome to the Kufa Gallery and the presentation of the first Freemuse report on music censorship – the very first one which is dealing with Afghanistan – a country which I have followed ever since my stay there in 1972. At that time I was on a study tour to write about the media situation in the country. I spent some months with Kabul Times and Radio Kabul, enjoyed meeting with the old master musicians and listen to the recordings in the very unfashionable studios. Later in 1979 I worked for the UN in Islamabad dealing with the first Afghan refugees that had fled over the snowy mountains to the North Western Frontier Province.

Music was not part of their life; it was a fight for daily survival. In the early eighties I went back to report on the refugees, to meet with rebel leaders and report on the war for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, and still there was no time for music – but for jihad and surviving.

Since then not much music has been played in Afghanistan itself or in the camps. This is one of the reasons that Freemuse decided to put focus on Afghanistan – once so rich of musical culture.

But Afghanistan is not the only country where music censorship exists. Throughout history and in modern times there are many untold stories and the lack of research is striking. The only exception is the fairly well documented censorship on music during the Nazi period in Germany and in former Eastern Europe including former Soviet Union.

This was one of the reasons why The 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship was arranged in Copenhagen in 1998. On the very last day the participants agreed on a Declaration and I was given the mandate to investigate the possibilities of establishing a documentation centre in Copenhagen. The following months a Plan of Action and Charter for the organization took shape and this is the time when I turned to International PEN for guidance as we regard International PEN as a role model for our work. And today it is a pleasure to be here and present the Afghanistan report in collaboration with International PEN.

In October 1999 Freemuse was founded. Freemuse is an international organisation open to members. Last year Freemuse received core funding from the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and additional funding from the Roskilde Foundation, Pet Shop Boys, Oasis and Roskilde Festival. The Freemuse office was established in August 2000 and since then we have:

  • established a website
  • edited and published a report book from the 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship
  • initiated four surveys of music censorship, this very first one on Afghanistan, the next will be on musical censorship of gypsies in Romania, written by the journalist Garth Cartwright, the third report is on Zimbabwe written by an American guitarist and writer, Banning Eyre. The last report this year will be on music censorship and its effects in South Africa. Furthermore we are expecting a shorter report on Morocco

Last month Freemuse arranged and hosted a seminar on the effects of music censorship in Johannesburg and one of the results of the seminar was that a Freemuse working group was established. The group consists of musicians, researchers, archivists and representatives of the music industry. This summer Freemuse will take part at Roskilde Festival like we did last year where we had a couple of bands who have experienced different forms of censorship, performing on stage for Freemuse, amongst them Fundamental who faced problems when their video for the song Dog Tribe was released here in England.

Now back to Afghanistan – and I welcome Dr. John Baily, Reader in Ethnomusicology at Goldsmiths College, London, who has written the report ” Can you stop the birds singing?” – The censorship of music in Afghanistan.”

Thank you.

Marie Korpe

Director of Freemuse, organiser of the 1st World Conference on Music and Censorship, former reporter to the Swedish Broadcasting. Co-editor of ‘Smashed Hits – The Book of Banned Music’, Index on Censorship 6/98.

  Marie Korpe - photo by Robert Corwin
Marie Korpe, Executive Director of Freemuse


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