Freedom of musical expression in the Middle East – report

Marie Korpe (ed.)
’All that is Banned is Desired’
Conference on Freedom of Expression in Music, Beirut 2005
Freemuse, Copenhagen, 2006
ISSN: 1601-2127
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There is an Arab saying ‘Kul Mamnou’ Marghoub.’
‘All that is banned is desired.’
And there is a Qur’anic command:
‘Never forbid what God has allowed.
Never allow what God has forbidden.’

Having this in mind it is easy to understand why discussions on freedom of musical expression in the Middle East and North Africa are vibrant.

Very little printed material is available, but recent developments in the MENA region prove that not only do Islamic scholars disagree on the application of the above Qur’anic command, state apparatus and societies also generate different interpretations of political, religious and social limits on freedom of expression.

This report differs from our previous reports being a report based on a regional conference.

The Freemuse regional conference ‘Freedom of Expression in Music’ was held in Beirut from 7-8 October 2005, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Middle East Office and the Irab-Arabic Association for Music.

The report does not give a full picture of music censorship in the Middle East and North Africa. It does, however, give a picture of a region that – like many other regions of the world – experiences both traditionalist and modernist tendencies, civil and religious trends as well as struggles for self-determination and cultural diversity against cultural domination.

The report includes strong statements from international artists such as Marcel Khalife, Salman Ahmad, Clotaire K & Mahsa Vahdat, who all took part in the conference, and analytical perspectives from leading Islamic Scholars on the ever controversial issue “Music & Islam”.

The report even sheds new light on the controversial case of so called Heavy rock “Devil-worshippers” in Morocco 2003 in a fascinating session including historian Mark LeVine and two of the musicians involved in the case.

“Even worse than obvious censorship from the top is invisible censorship…”
Mai Ghoussoub

Mai Ghoussoub died on 17. February 2007. May she rest peacefully.

Related reading:

Pakistan: Manifestations of tolerance and acceptance of music, art and cultureOn Music Freedom Day 2013 at a local hotel in Peshawar, music lovers put their voices together to ensure the freedom of artistic and musical expressions. 04 March 2013

Pakistan: The undeclared ban on playing music lingers onSher Alam Shinwari set out to investigate what the situation is like in Peshawar on Music Freedom Day 2013. He found stifling sounds of Pashto music amid militancy and hostility01 March 2013

Turkey: Pianist Fazıl Say in court for the second timeThe Turkish pianist Fazıl Say will be appearing in court for the second time on Monday 18 February 2013 on charges of insulting religious values14 February 2013

Somalia: Poet, playwright and songwriter killed by unknown gunmenSomali poet, playwright and songwriter Warsame Shire Awale was killed in the country’s capital, Mogadishu, on 29 October 2012 in the evening, reported BBC World31 October 2012

Mali: The day the music stoppedReport from Northern Mali, including an interview with the Malian music festival director Manny Ansar who remains confident that no one can kill Malian music25 October 2012

Iran: Exiled Iranian musician responds upright to death threatsThis interview with Shahin Najafi and Günter Wallraff took place five months after a death sentence was issued against the singer Shahin Najafi24 October 2012

Music & Islam – what’s the big fuss?In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to attack musicians and music shops, but what is the position on music in Islam?04 September 2012

Afghanistan: Religious leaders stopped ‘immoral’ eid celebration concertAn eid celebration concert by Shafiq Mureed was cancelled after local mullahs had labelled his music ‘immoral’22 August 2012

Mali: Rose Skelton reports from Bamako: Can musical Mali play on?Islamism is on the march and threatening to wipe out the country’s cultural heritage, wrote freelance journalist Rose Skelton in British newspaper The Independent21 August 2012

Iraq: Black Metal’s anti-religious message meets Islam28-year-old Anahita is the voice behind the black metal solo project Janaza. She is probably Iraq’s first female black metal singer – and possibly the only one13 August 2012

Turkey: Acclaimed pianist charged for blasphemyComposer and pianist Fazil Say faces trial on 18 October 2012 on charges of insulting religious values, with a possible 18-month prison sentence13 June 2012

Mali: Music banned from the radio in TimbuktuRebels in northern Mali are now aggressively promoting their hard-edged brand of Islamic law, Shariah, which means music has been banned from the radio06 June 2012

Iran: Death sentence against Iranian rapper in GermanyA cleric issued a death sentence against Iranian rapper and rock guitarist Shahin Najafi for having produced a song which is believed to be offensive to Imam Naqi10 May 2012

Mali: Islamists have banned music in northern regionIn Kidal, heartland of the Islamist Ansar Dine group, music has been replaced by prayer readings on the local radio. The group wants to impose strict sharia law across Mali11 April 2012

Somalia: Bomb blast at concert in newly opened national theatre “The blast happened as musicians were singing and spectators were clapping for them,” told Salah Jimale to The Guardian. Ten people are reported to have been killed04 April 2012

Pakistan: We want to defeat terrorism through music, says culture ministerInterview with Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Khyber Pakthunkhwa’s culture minister, who wants to reverse the policies of the former MMA government which banned musical concerts19 March 2012

Pakistan: Four CD shops destroyed in explosionFour music CD shops were completely destroyed after an explosion in a market in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhuwa province12 March 2012 

Pakistan: Punjab Assembly bans concerts in educational institutionsOn 24 January 2012 Punjab Assembly passed a resolution that bans holding of ‘objectionable’ musical concerts in educational institutions25 January 2012

Somalia: Religious extremists storm music radio stationThe militant extremist group Al-Shabaab carried out an illegal takeover of Radio Afgoye, the only radio station in the lower Shabelle region, because it broadcasted music21 January 2012

Pakistan: Music returns to some of Pakistan’s tribal areasIn parts of Pakistan’s tribal areas, music is starting to return, reported Free Speech Radio News in a well-produced radio report on 16 January 2012.18 January 2012

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