The Taliban have set fire to musical instruments in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat, saying that music leads to “misguidance of the youth and the destruction of society”. The bonfire, which took place on Saturday, destroyed thousands of dollars worth of musical equipment, including guitars, harmoniums, tables, and speakers.
The militant group, which seized power in August 2021 after the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, has imposed strict restrictions on music and other forms of cultural expression. They have banned music from public places, TV, and radio, and have targeted musicians and singers for harassment and violence. Many musicians have fled the country to escape the Taliban’s crackdown.
Afghanistan has a rich musical heritage, influenced by Iranian and Indian classical music, as well as a modern pop music scene that emerged in the past two decades. Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which was once renowned for its inclusiveness and diversity, condemned the burning of musical instruments as “cultural genocide and musical vandalism”.
The Taliban have also curtailed the rights of women and girls, barring them from education, work, and public life. They have ordered women to wear burqas that cover their entire bodies and faces and to be accompanied by a male relative when traveling. They have also shut down beauty salons, saying they offer services forbidden by Islam.
The Taliban have claimed to be more moderate than their previous regime in the 1990s when they also banned music and other forms of entertainment. They have promised to respect human rights and allow some degree of freedom for women and minorities. However, their actions have contradicted their words, sparking protests and resistance from many Afghans who fear a return to the dark days of oppression and violence.