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Opinion: Censorship drives Afghan talent into exile

The story of popular singer Shakib Mosadeq, forced into exile after receiving threats, proves that freedom of speech doesn't exist in Afghanistan.

Afghan men buy compact disks at a market in Kabul. Despite the Afghan government's claims to uphold freedom of speech, the famous singer Shakib Mosadeq was forced into exile following threats to his family after he performed a politically subversive song. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

LOS ANGELES — In March 2001, when the Taliban blew up the Buddha statues of Bamian, the world became acutely aware of the threat to arts and culture in Afghanistan.

The Taliban were sharply criticized by the international press for their intellectual poverty. Hostility toward literature, visual arts and music had deprived the nation of much-needed spiritual consolation, reports said.

Nearly a decade later, little has changed. Censorship is still rampant, and Afghan talent would rather flee than suffer its oppression.

The most recent and illustrative example is Shakib Mosadeq, an Afghan singer who dared sing songs of political protest, and who was subsequently forced to leave the country. He fled to Iran in early May, and his uncertain future there is evidence of the Afghan government's empty promise to protect freedom of speech.

Mosadeq launched his songs on YouTube as a way to bypass local media that refused to air his politically subversive music. He became an immediate hit, both in Afghanistan and abroad among diaspora communities.

His popularity revealed the Afghans’ thirst for meaningful music, for songs that address the social and cultural taboos that have stifled political progress, leading to disenchantment and violence.

Just like the country’s politics, Mosadeq’s songs are anything but loving and uplifting. They are brutally honest and tell about violence, corruption and political fraud in an elegant poetic language.

In his most popular song, "Lamenting the Dead," Mosadeq reflects the disillusionment of an entire generation in these lines:

Homeland, your gardens have no flowers,
You are nothing but murder and explosions,
Homeland, what happened to your glory?
Your mountains have collapsed; your rocks have deserted us

Mosadeq’s songs struck a cord with the young generation, and he was asked to perform at universities in the urban centers of Afghanistan. As is customary in Afghanistan, local officials were invited to these concerts, and they sat front and center.

The students’ enthusiasm failed to move the authorities, who recognized the subversive quality of Mosadeq’s songs, and disliked his open attack on the blind patriotism so widely encouraged in Afghanistan.

They took Mosadeq aside to gently recommend that he sing more patriotic songs. They warned him that the situation was delicate and the country needed songs of praise and optimism. Mosadeq's songs, the singer was told, were counterproductive and encouraged despair.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/100511/afghanistan-culture-music-kabul-news