Music Shops Silenced in Nangarhar

News and Press Release
Originally published

By Hejratullah Ekhtiyar - Afghanistan

ARR Issue 395, 4 Apr 11

Khalil Rahman's leg is encased in plaster and his face still bears the marks of recent injury. The 33-year-old, a CD seller in Nangarhar in southeast Afghanistan, was wounded together with his young nephew when his shop was bombed.

"We were sitting in the shop having tea," he recalled. "I heard a voice and turned around to see what it was. Suddenly, I heard a blast – a bomb exploded. My leg and face were injured, and other parts of my body were also hit by shrapnel."

The attack on Rahman's shop is just one in a series of bombings against businesses dealing in recorded music in in recent months. At least 15 other stores across Nangarhar province have been targeted in what some see as a campaign by insurgents who regard music as un-Islamic.

"My shop has been completely destroyed and everything inside it has been damaged," Rahman said.

He was unwilling to identify those he held responsible for attacking his shop, but said, "No one has threatened us before. What can I say? They are cruel people. They won't let us earn some bread for our children."

Although he plans to reopen his shop after he has recovered from his injuries, Rahman is certain that he will not return to his former trade.

"I haven't decided what I will sell in the shop, but I don't want to sell cassettes again," he said.

Abdul Ghani, who heads an association of music traders in Jalalabad, Nangarhar's main town, said business had been badly hit by a string of bombings over the last eight months.

"So far, some 15 music shops have been blown up by bombs in Jalalabad, and eight other shops have closed because their owners were afraid," he said.

Abdul Ghani said he did not know who the attackers were, but they were certainly "enemies of Pashtun music, language, poetry and literature".

Awrang Samim, head of the information and culture department in Nangarhar's provincial government, expressed concern at the targeting of shops. But he said the traders themselves were partly to blame for selling what he said was inappropriate material from abroad. This had provoked attacks by insurgent groups.

"Ours is an Islamic, traditional society," he said. "One must not view this society from a western perspective."

Abdul Ghani denied the allegation that merchants were selling "immoral" films on DVD.

"I held a meeting about this," he said. "I assembled all the vendors and told them they shouldn't sell immoral movies and CDs which will harm our future, the future of our young people and children; and that any shop which sold such items would be closed forever. I even received signed affidavits from them."

In any case, he said, "It isn't as if only music and movies are sold in these shops. If you go here, you'll also find CDs of Koranic recitation, religious songs, religious speeches, national songs, recordings on geographical and historical matters and so on. I do not know why the perpetrators see only the negative and pay no attention to the positive aspects."

Most observers have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Taleban, recalling the ban on music they instituted when they were in power in Afghanistan. In those years, Taleban radio broadcast only news and religious programmes, with no music allowed.

Despite the ban, Afghans still listened to other radio stations in secret and played tapes of music at home.

A traditional singer in Nangarhar, who asked to remain anonymous, said business had been good up until three years ago, when the music trade was badly affected by deteriorating security.

Singers no longer dared to travel remoter parts of Nangarhar province to perform at weddings and other celebrations, he said, adding that "even when we go to weddings within the city [Jalalabad], we're worried a bomb might go off any moment".

Without naming names, the artist said that "those who have killed human beings, looted the country and committed thousands of other crimes have always been the enemies of singers".

A Taleban spokesman, Zabiullah Mojahed, said his movement was not responsible for attacks on music shops.

"It is not our policy to prevent music through bloodshed. That might make people hostile towards us. It's much more effective to use propaganda to bring an end to music," he said.

Mojahed suggested that other groups might be carrying out such acts to harm the Taleban's reputation.

"We too are trying to detain these groups, because execution is not regarded as an appropriate penalty for minor sins [like listening to music] under Islamic law," Mojahed said.

While the attacks have deterred music-lovers from gathering in the shops as they used to do, socialising and discussing the latest releases, customers say nothing can diminish the Afghans' love of music.

Khodai Nur, 25, a resident of Khogyani district and a fan of the famous Pashtun singer, Naghma, was clearly on edge as he stood outside a music shop.

"This isn't a good time to talk," he said. "Let's move away from here, otherwise we might be victims of an explosion."

Once at a safe distance from the shop, he continued, "Even if they close the CD shops, I am sure people will still listen to music. Under the Taleban regime, we got cassettes from Pakistan. It's impossible to stop people listening to music."

Hejratullah Ekhtiyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.