There are growing concerns about the control that militant groups are wielding over citizens and media outlets after music was banned from Somali radio on Tuesday and school bells were outlawed from a Somali town on Thursday.
Today’s New York Times reports that, “Insurgent groups in Somalia have increasingly alienated the population by imposing a harsh interpretation of Islam, stoning people to death and amputating the hands and feet of thieves. They have also issued strict edicts controlling the more mundane aspects of daily life, banning things like bras and soccer games in their territory.”
According to another story in the New York Times, music is one of the most recent areas of focus:
“At least 14 radio stations here in the capital [of Mogadishu] stopped broadcasting music on Tuesday, heeding an ultimatum by an Islamist insurgent group to stop playing songs or face ‘serious consequences.'”
In some cases stations have replaced musical interludes with the sounds of animals, bullets, sirens, and nature in order to comply with the ban. The article explains that militant Islamist groups believe that music is “un-Islamic.” Reports have suggested that station owners and DJs complied with the ban out of fear for their lives and safety.
In addition to the ban on music, Islamists have taken control of some radio stations in Somalia and have outlawed programs (such as BBC and Voice of America) from foreign countries. Yet, there are some stations fighting back against the ban. The article points out that,
“At least two radio stations did not heed the ban. The government-owned Radio Mogadishu and another station, Radio Bar-Kulan, which is mostly produced in Kenya, continued playing music.”
It’s frightening to see radio stations changing their programming due to threats and is a strong reminder about the consequences of war on freedom of the press. Radio can be used as such a powerful force to inform and empower citizenry, particularly during times of war. The work by Interactive Radio for Justice in Central Africa has demonstrated how vital free airwaves and community radio are, making this news about the situation in Somalia even more troubling. According to a Voice of America article today,
“The National Union of Somali Journalists says Somalia’s once-thriving independent media will cease to exist, if the current crackdown on media organizations continues unchecked.”
The bans on both music and bell-ringing also point out debates about the definition of music. Stations have gotten around the music ban by playing the sounds of roosters and engines, yet there are people who find both sounds to be musical. A few years ago I attended the Experience Music Project’s annual Pop Conference in Seattle and one of the most fascinating panel discussions that I saw was focused entirely on the relationship between music and war and how music can be used to both escape from the horrific sounds of violence and can also be used as a recruitment tool for soldiers.
Somalia is said to be a musical culture, so this ban is going to have a huge impact on its citizens who will no doubt find ways to rebel and play music undetected.
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