Obama, listen up!

As the Taliban silence music in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, musician Salman Ahmad, founder of Pakistani rock group Junoon, denounces the Pakistani peace accord with the Taliban.

from Freemuse

American president Barack Obama has promised to listen to the Muslim world. He can start by listening to Pakistani artists who embody peace, modernity and pluralism, suggests Freemuse Ambassador Salman Ahmad in an article in the US newspaper Washinton Post.

Salman Ahmad, the founder of Pakistani rock group Junoon, says that artists in Pakistan take their inspiration from Sufism, the tolerant and inclusive strain of Islam that is the antithesis of the beliefs of the Taliban.

Commenting on the Pakistani government ´‘peace agreement’ with Taliban troops and acceptance of Sharia law in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, Ahmad says:

“The killing off of arts and culture in Swat is an ominous sign. It is the first step in the potential Talibanization of more of the country. If you give the Taliban an inch – as Zardari has done – they will take a mile.”

Alien form of Islam

In the article Salman Ahmad writes that in its 60-plus turbulent years as an independent country, Pakistan has been held together by its music, poetry, films, literature and sports. Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but culture – not religion – is the glue that binds people in this critical US-allied country.

Ahmad adds: “But now the Taliban are grafting an alien form of Islam onto Pakistan, with dire consequences for Pakistanis, the region and possibly the world. Earlier this month the Pakistani government and army made a deal with the Taliban and gave them control of the Swat valley. The government ceded this region near the Afghan border after countless pitched battles with the militants. Many military and civilian lives have been lost to an enemy that loves death more than life."

Ahmad and his band Junoon suffered political censorship in Pakistan during the rule of Benazir Bhutto, partly due to a song denouncing political corruption. Bhutto’s husband is now president of Pakistan and Salman Ahmad suggests that:

“President Asif Ali Zardari’s ill-conceived appeasement will only embolden the Taliban and may squelch more of Pakistan’s voices of peace just when Pakistanis and the world need to hear them most.”

Eerie silence in Swat

In Swat and elsewhere in the North-West Frontier Province, Pakistan’s cultural soul is under attack. Swat – 100 miles from Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad – used to be a haven for arts, music and tourism. There is now eerie silence.

“The Taliban have shut down girls’ schools, imposed an extreme interpretation of sharia law and destroyed music shops. Cinemas are being locked down. The fanatics’ idea is simple: to asphyxiate Pakistan’s rich and vibrant culture and replace it with their own ‘distorted interpretation’ of Islam,” says Salman Ahmad.

In 2004 in the BBC4 programme ‘The Rock Star and the Mullah’, Salman Ahmad confronted mullahs in the North-West Frontier Province on their ban on music.

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