On Sunday, August 26, 2012, Taliban soldiers in southern Afghanistan beheaded 17 of their own country’s men and women who had the temerity to listen to music and dance together. Even if the music had been good, which, if my experience with Afghani music is any indication, it probably wasn’t, these keepers of Allah’s flame would have lopped off those 17 heads anyway. While beheading does seem just a smidgen excessive, there are, written in their sacred book, the Koran, a.k.a Quran, a.k.a Qu’ran and, my personal favorite, Mohammad’s Book of Fevered Dreams, lines indicating that music, musicians and dancers are frowned upon to the point of beheading.
Certainly not all Muslims take this extreme view of music and dancing. The Sufi Muslims are dedicated dancers of the whirling kind, a.k.a. whirling dervishes. Pashtun men cut a mean rug doing the attan. The Yemenis dance the shabwani, which is where the term “Yumpin’ Yemeni” was coined. Some female Muslims do a dance called the maradah which involves lots of stamping, resembling nothing so much as a Jewish American Princess in a fit of pique. It is at the extreme conservative end of the Muslim bell curve where music and dancing are capital offenses.
Even among certain Christian communities, dancing is forbidden. Many of America’s Jehovah’s Witnesses harbor this view, which frees up their Saturday nights and gives them more time to annoy homeowners at inconvenient times. Rarely, probably never, do they resort to beheadings as the “tough love” solution to this particular blasphemy.
The Koran promises that Allah will turn musicians into “monkeys and pigs”. The book doesn’t indicate whether these monkeys and pigs would be allowed to keep their heads or would just have to endure the shame of morphing into another and lesser species, although, in the case of the Taliban, that negative comparison is arguable.
Having been around musicians of various sorts most of my life, I can attest that some are quite similar to monkeys and pigs. I suspect, however, that music didn’t cause them to adopt these characteristics. Nay, just the reverse. A poorly behaved and disheveled lout often has no alternative, career wise, but to take up the bongos, harmonica or guitar. Allah plays no role.
Elsewhere in the Koran, however, it is revealed that Mohammed enjoyed a bit of music at special occasions, probably those festive beheadings where really loud music could drown out the screaming. Suffice to say, Mohammed wasn’t crystal clear on the music-as- blasphemy front. In fact, Mohammed wasn’t crystal clear on many topics in his Fevered Dream book. As in the Torah and its offspring, the Bible, there are many contradictions in the Koran. The more conservative of the Muslims, and this certainly includes our friends in the Taliban but also the Salafis and Wahhabis, prefer to cherry pick those parts of the Koran that allow them to practice religious enforcement that results in someone else’s copious bleeding. “We’ll have fun, fun, fun when daddy slices your right hand awaaaaay.”
The Taliban’s prohibition against the sexes dancing together is based on the belief that music and dancing will lead to “un-Islamic behavior”, specifically sex. Ya think? How do they suppose that the world got all of these Muslims running around in the first place? Their views toward dancing and its dangers would make a lot more sense if it prohibited dancing with attractive livestock. Even so, I’m not sure that sheep would actually pick up on suggestive pelvic dancing moves anyway and if they did, it would just cause anxiety among the ewes.
I recall attending grade school and junior high dances at my hometown YMCA. Indeed, in my case, slow dancing with a real live actual girl was usually the trigger for embarrassing physiologic changes. The threat of imminent beheading would have, no doubt, blunted that reaction. Well, maybe. At that age, simply jostling along on public transportation could prompt a similar response. For pubescent boys, the nature of sexual stimulus has a very broad range of options and girls are just one; and often the least available. In any event, I can attest that dancing can lead to “un-Islamic thoughts” as well as “un-Baptist thoughts”, “un-Presbyterian thoughts” and, perhaps, “un-Catholic thoughts”. But with the Catholics there is always the succor of Confession, which gives rise to guilt-free carnal thought offenses at the next dance. Lucky bastards.
I can understand a negative and visceral reaction to certain music. I’ve been to venues where some performers are so bad as to incite strangulation, an attack that is slow enough that audience members can intervene, thus avoiding death. This response is particularly true of “spoken word” perpetrators where the greater danger is that all audience members will join the mayhem against the artist, and I use this term unwillingly. But, beheadings? It’s so 13th century.
Oh, wait! We’re talking about southern Afghanistan where the 13th century is still all the rage. However, according to the U.S. State Department and our military brass, it should only be a matter of months, several billion more U.S. taxpayer dollars and dozens more U.S. military deaths before the Taliban and their ilk have an intellectually-driven religious enlightenment, stop the beheading nonsense, don powdered wigs and write a constitution separating church and state and giving full democratic franchise to women and infidels.
There will be dancing in the streets of Kabul then. Women on one street, men on another. They wouldn’t want any “un-Islamic erections” spoiling the mood.
Observoid of the Day: When any sacred text contradicts itself, remember, God didn’t write it.