fear of music

Syria: Idlib between jihadis and imperial air-raids

Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in ‪‎the Idlib town of Kafranbel‬, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."

UN protests sentencing of artists in Iran

The UN experts on cultural rights and on freedom of expression, Karima Bennoune and David Kaye called June 24 for the release of artists imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran. In particular, they called upon Iran to release two musicians, Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and a filmmaker, Hossein Rajabian, charged with "insulting Islamic sanctities," "propoganda against the State," and "conducting illegal activities in the audiovisual affaires including through producing prohibited audiovisual material and performing an illegal and underground music site." The three artists, after appeal, were sentenced to three years in prison and fined 50 million Rial ($1,658) each. While they acknowledged that their prison sentences had been reduced from six years, the experts called the sentences "unacceptable and in complete violation of international human rights law binding on Iran."

Revered Sufi singer assassinated in Pakistan

Thousands of people attended the funeral of slain qawwali singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi on June 23, the day after he was shot dead in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction. The 40-year-old Sabri, son of qawwali master Ghulam Farid Sabri, was heading to a TV station for a special Ramadan performance when two gunmen fired on his car. Qawwali is the traditional devotional music of Pakistan's Sufis, who are considered heretical by the Taliban. The Sabri family are members of the Chishti Sufi order. While the musical family has been revered since the Mughal empire, their tradition has come under growing attack in the increasingly conservative atmosphere of Pakistan. A blasphemy case was filed against Sabri last year after he mentioned members of the Prophet Muhammad's family in a song. The assassination was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban. There have been no arrests.

Is Obama really helping Cuban dissidents?

Just hours before Obama arrived in Cuba March 20 for the historic first visit by a US president since the 1959 revolution, a pro-democracy march was broken up in Havana, with over 50 detained. (Havana Times) Among those arrested was the famous activist graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, nicknamed "El Sexto," who according to the New York Times had increased pressure on the regime to open democratic space in the preceding days by streaming live broadcasts from the newly unveiled wifi spots around Havana. Activists whose hopes had been raised both by reconciliation with the US and the regime's recent moves to allow greater Internet access were disappointed by the repression. "We thought there would be a truce, but it wasn't to be," Elizardo Sánchez, who heads the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told the NY Times.

Iran sentences filmmaker for 'insulting sanctities'

An Iranian appeals court sentenced filmmaker Keywan Karimi to one year in prison for "insulting sanctities" on Jan. 22, reducing his initial sentence of six years. The sentence resulted from Karimi's film focusing on political graffiti in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. Iran has recently cracked down on freedom of expression, harshly punishing journalists and artists. Citizens have been forced to flee the country in order to avoid unjust prison sentences. In June, one artist was sentenced to nearly 13 years for depicting Iranian parliament members as animals to criticize a draft law. Karimi plans to remain in the country and serve his sentence.

Kurdish diva wages culture war on ISIS

Kurdish-American pop singer Helly Luv travelled to northern Iraq where she donned a Peshmerga uniform and visited the frontline against ISIS to gyrate before the cameras in a video for a song dubbed "Revolution," offering encouragement to the Kurdish fighters: "Stand up, we are united; together we can survive it... Brothers and sisters we all come from one; Different religions we share the same blood." This has of course won her death threats from ISIS—we can imagine how upset the jihadists must be by a video combining Luv's unabashed sexuality with glorification of the anti-ISIS fighters. She also issued an appeal to President Obama to directly arm the Peshmerga—something he still hasn't done, although various European leaders have. "If we can give the Peshmerga the weapons, they can destroy the enemy. Even right now, they don't have strong weapons, but they're still winning," Helly said.

Women's freedom icon rocks Kabul peace concert

Aryana Sayeed, a popular singer and TV personality known as the "Adele of Afghanistan," was among the performers at a Kabul "Peace Concert," organized by a network of youth groups and held at the city's Babur Garden venue Oct. 19. In August, she performed at a similar concert held in front of the ruins of the Bamiyan Buddhas that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Sayeed remains unbowed in the face of hate mail and death threats over her refusal to wear the hijab in her performances and TV appearances, becoming an icon of women's freedom in Afghanistan. In a typical statement, parliament member Abdul Satar Khawasi said her show "brings shame to our community and ruins our Islamic and Afghan dignity and culture." Satar has called for a jihad against the reality-style talent showcase program, dubbed "The Voice," in which Sayeed is a judge. In response to the threats, Sayeed said: ""I'm here to make a difference for women. I want women to have rights, to talk freely, to walk freely... I'm not saying that they have to take their clothes off, or even remove their head scarfs. Freedom is being able to live as a human being.'' In one of her music videos, Sayeed sings "Because I am a woman, I am a slave''—against a background of images of women in burqas. (Dawn, Pakistan, Oct. 21; The Nation, Pakistan, Oct. 20; TeleCinco, Spain, Oct. 14; NBC, Oct. 12; DPA, Aug. 17; AFP, Aug. 16; Khaama Press, Afghanistan, July 22)

Greece: anti-fascist activist on trial

Savvas Michael-Matsas, leader of a small radical-left party, went on trial in Greece Sept. 3, charged with "libellous defamation," "incitement to violence and civil discord" and "disturbing the public peace" in a case brought by members of the far-right Golden Dawn party. Michael-Matsas' Revolutionary Workers' Party (EEK) has a slogan of "The people don't forget, they hang fascists." Michael-Matsas himself had publicly boasted: "I'm the embodiment of every fascist's fantasy. I'm a Jew, a communist—and a heretical communist, a Trotskyist, at that. I don't fit anywhere. The only thing I happen not to be is homosexual." Co-defendant Konstantinos Moutzouris, a former rector of Athens Polytechnic, stands accused of allowing progressive news website Athens Indymedia to use the university's server.

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