New York Times : A Rock Star’s Struggle Where Militant Islam Rulesjeudi 17 juillet 2003 / par Dom
By JON PARELES
Source : New York Times
he confrontations shown in "Junoon : The Rock Star and the Mullahs" are mild ones : conversations between Salman Ahmad, the leader and guitarist of the Pakistani rock band Junoon, and militant Islamic mullahs and students who believe music should be banned. But this documentary, which is being broadcast tonight on PBS stations as part of the "Wide Angle" series of international news reports, sees portents of greater repression.
In Pakistan Mr. Ahmad has become a figure like Bono of U2 : a positive-thinking, hugely popular rock musician whose songs address both spiritual and social questions. He spent most of his teens in the United States, where he learned rock guitar, before returning to Pakistan to study medicine. But rock prevailed. After winning a nationwide patriotic songwriting contest, he started Junoon in 1990.
Although the documentary doesn’t mention it, Junoon was banned from Pakistani television and radio from 1996 to 1999 after recording a song called "Accountability," which criticized government corruption. The band’s music, heard only briefly in the documentary, can sound like blues-rock, Santana, U2 or an electrified version of the vigorous devotional songs of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. His faith, Mr. Ahmad says in the documentary, gives him "the confidence to try and form a modern Pakistani identity."
But the more restrictive Islam associated with the Taliban in Afghanistan has spread to parts of Pakistan. Anti-Americanism stirred up by the war in Afghanistan helped a coalition of militant Islamic parties win elections last year in the Peshawar region of northern Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is rumored to be hiding in the mountains. In June legislators voted to impose Taliban-like rules, requiring all women over 12 to wear veils and banning music on public transportation.
A Peshawar musician, Gulzar Alam, who carries on a long tradition of historical songs, tells the most ominous story. While singing at a wedding, he said, police officers arrived and stopped him, saying, "Don’t you know that the government has banned music ?" They insulted him, then arrested him when he slapped one in response. Police officers later searched his home and arrested his children. Mr. Alam, who is shown performing despite government pressure, says a 150-year-old bazaar in Peshawar, where musicians have long shared songs, has been shut down. Mr. Ahmad also visits a Peshawar record store with empty shelves and owners who have been told to find other work.
In Karachi Mr. Ahmad goes to one of the Islamic schools called madrasas. A student offers chilling justification for suicide bombings : "The more body parts of infidels that explode, the calmer the martyr’s soul will be," he says calmly.
Mr. Ahmad sits with students who tell him, "The Koran absolutely forbids music." He replies, "If you have good intentions and bring peace to people’s hearts, what’s the harm in that ?" And with the guitar he brought to the madrasa, he sings them a verse of the Koran set to his own melody. They listen politely, and grumble after he leaves that he has not respected their feelings.
Later Mr. Ahmad talks to an older mullah, asking him whether the 52 Islamic countries that do not ban music are all heathens. The mullah says, "They are all sons of pigs," and adds, "The whole world is America’s stooge." The documentary shows anti-American rallies, flag burnings and defaced billboards ; at one point, Pakistanis throw things at the camera crew. Militant Islam, the documentary suggests, is both a religious movement and a reaction to the power, commercial impact and perceived vulgarity of the West, particularly the United States, and the war with Iraq heightened anti-Americanism. Mullahs repeatedly denounce the obscenity of imported films and music, sounding a lot like American fundamentalists. Mullah Hafiz Akhtar Ali, Peshawar’s minister of minority affairs, describes music as "the mixing of boys and girls and making obscene movements." (Junoon is shown performing, however, at a concert where male and female fans are in separate sections.)
"Junoon : The Rock Star and the Mullahs" would be more effective without some manipulative images. As Junoon’s music is heard, a bird flies skyward. Young men are shown hurling things that turn out not to be weapons but cricket balls. Mullahs and madrasa students are shown fidgeting, wiping their faces and crouching at communal meals and baths ; other Pakistanis get more flattering shots. An ecstatic Sufi celebration, with dancers in brightly colored robes twirling to kinetic drums, is followed immediately by a shot of white-clad madrasa students lined up along a rope. The image is one of conformity and restriction, but they’re like schoolchildren on outings everywhere. The documentary also seems to equate billboards touting Coca-Cola and KFC with a purely benign modernity.
At the moment, pluralism is national policy in Pakistan. The country’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, gives a speech in Peshawar where he tells his audience, "Don’t tell them not to listen to songs and enjoy themselves ; it’s not an issue," and insists, "Let’s be tolerant of each other." As the narration warns that in a population alienated from the West, "the radical mullahs will always have a real hold on believers," the camera shows a preacher being ignored on a busy city street. It’s too soon to tell whether "The Rock Star and the Mullahs" is alarmism or an early warning.