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Published with The Friday Times on January 9, 2010
‘Tuning’ Out Reality

Jehan Naseem speaks out against ill-informed musicians speaking for the nation through politically charged lyrics based on contrived ‘realities’ where the West is blamed for all the problems that Pakistan faces today

“Gonna tell the government, to inform the President, he’s been watching CNN, foreign officials have arrived.” Coven, an underground band belts out anti-American lyrics to the tune of alternative rock. The words embody the new trend of music based on current issues faced by Pakistan in its war against terror.

The song, among others, appears in ‘Tuning out the Taliban,’ the controversially named video report by New York Times’ journalist, Adam B. Ellick. It focuses on anti-Western sentiments being spread among the masses by influential musicians in Pakistan. The musicians seem to be out of tune with other Pakistani think tanks, critics, journalists and even moderate Islamic groups.

The clip starts with Ali Azmat crooning to a dead lady love, but then cuts abruptly to him chanting amidst flashing images of terror and destruction in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

“The Pakistani public who are audience of pop music are not really interested in those love songs any more,” explains Ali. He claims that these days if music does not reflect the times people are living in, they tell you to “take a hike” (in a style ironically reminiscent of Americans). Being one of the most popular rock stars in the country, Ali Azmat has always been known for his outspoken behaviour. His motto being, “Be yourself, for that is the hardest thing to be.”

In his new album ‘Klashinfolk’, he, like many other musicians, blames the West for the chaos in Pakistan. He blatantly accuses the West for funding the Taliban in a bid to “de Islamise” Pakistan by creating chaos. Without a shred of evidence to support his views, he believes that ‘Religion must be killed’ is the main motive behind the attacks on Pakistan.

Ellick points out in his report that the musicians talk about everything from corruption to poverty, but remain conspicuously mum when it comes to condemning the Taliban openly. When he asks Ali if he would ever sing about the attacks on the International Islamic University, he evades the question by saying, “You know you can’t blame them for these bombings! Because who funds the Taliban? The West!”

The shock of these blatant accusations is compounded further when Ali Noor, front man for another influential band, ‘Noori’ says, “We are not going to get up and say we are going to talk against the Taliban, simply because they are probably one of the smallest problems this country has.” According to him it’s the “West that is against the Taliban, because they are very heavily affected by it – we (Pakistan) are not.”

Admittedly, the West has meddled Pakistan’s affairs from time to time; supporting military dictatorships, placing sanctions in the aftermath of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, declaring Pakistan a failed state; which have all had a negative impact on our economy and social condition. But to say something as thoughtless as the Taliban are not to blame for the hundreds of innocent lives that have been lost in the numerous attacks is an abomination; especially, when that terror has seeped from the streets of Pakistan, into academic institutions.

But then Ali Hamza, the second band member of Noori steps up and voices the real reason behind this denial – Fear.

“If we start talking about the Taliban, it’s very easy for them to get rid of us,” he admits. One cannot blame them for fearing for their safety. However, one has to wonder if it has not crossed their minds that the religious extremist group probably already hates them for the fact they play rock music. In the Taliban’s view “the devil’s music” that has been adopted from the West is haram and not at all permissible, so why the hesitation to speak the truth?

The only people who seemed to have anything sensible to say in the interviews were writers, Fasi Zaka and Nadeem Farooq Paracha (aka NFP), and pop star, Shehzad Roy.

Nadeem Paracha clearly dismissed the pop stars’ ranting as clichéd rhetorical garbage, and expressed outrage at their silence when it comes to the Taliban. America or Zionism has nothing to do with the destruction of educational institutions, he explains. Music has a big role to play in Pakistan, says Fasi Zaka, and can certainly make a difference if these people had concrete things to say. The fact that music is enforcing such delusions is detrimental to the public welfare.

In any case, the Taliban have means to fund their activities that are much closer to home. They restored the production of opium in Afghanistan in 2001, of which they take a percentage to finance their plans.

The emerald mines in the Swat valley have been taken over by the Taliban. While the government did not react to the move, the Taliban have acquired an agreement with the mining labour of the region wherein they claim one-third of the miners’ yield. The costs are shared equally by both, even though the Taliban do not take part in the mining operations.

Before these “rockers” take to the mike, they should try to do a little more research, keeping in mind a sense of social responsibility. The words they communicate can have a major impact on the youth and general public. It is unwise and irresponsible to talk without sufficient proof for your assertions. “If you talk about the walk, you have to walk the talk.” So don’t just strum your guitar and bang your head to the music, especially when you are completely out of tune with reality.

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