Somalia falls silent
Eleonora Drake: Somalia falls silent
22 Apr 10

We call on the local radio stations to stop broadcasting the songs and all music. We give them a 10-day deadline and any radio station found not complying with the orders… will face sharia action. Moalim Hashi Mohamed Farah, a senior Hizb al-Islam official, 3 April

Hizb al-Islam is one of Somalia’s two main insurgent forces. The Islamic rebels control large swathes of the war-torn Somalia, imposing strict Islamic law in those regions. Ten days after the ultimatum was pronounced, 14 of Mogadishu’s FM broadcaster fell dramatically silent. From 13 April onwards those hoping to hear music had only two options, Radio Bar-Kulan, a UN-funded channel broadcast from Kenya and the government-run Radio Mogadishu.

Music might be “unislamic” to the Islamic militias, but residents say music “is the only break from the shelling, the gunfire and the general insecurity”. Even before the latest ban, music was outlawed along with football, movies, beauty salons and bras, in other suburban Somali areas subject to Islamist control men have been forced to grow beards. Proscribing every single tune is a visible sign of a minority group’s ability to instil a real terror in the populace.

“Journalists working in the radio stations have in the past witnessed broad daylight assassination of their colleagues and have now been signaled that they would follow the same fate if they do not obey these oppressive orders,” said Omar Faruk Osman, secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists. Unsurprising then, that those who want to survive comply with the militia’s orders.

The Hizb al-Islam’s order echoes the Talibans’ strict rules imposed on the Afghani population, first, and later on parts of the Pakistani population. In 2009, John Bailey, a renowned British ethnomusicologist, was asked by Radio Liberty correspondent Abubakar Siddique to give his opinion about the Talibans’ music ban:

You know, the Taliban like to invoke the hadith, that, you know, the person who listens to music will, on the day of judgment, have molten lead poured into their ears and you can read the rest of it for yourself …The Taliban were not against all forms of music, and they certainly permitted religious singing without musical instruments. This isn’t just the banning of music but it is a competition between different kinds of music.”

In an interview with a UN news service, Ali Sheikh Yassin, the deputy chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organidation said “We are talking about music as a sin against Islam, yet the biggest sin of all, killing humans, is being committed every hour of every day. What is more anti-Islam than killing innocent people?”

On 20 April, the situation for station workers worsened. The Somali Transitional Federal Government warned all the radio stations that heeded the Islamists’ ban they will be punished with a shutdown.Somali journalists can’t believe at what they are hearing. “Each group are issuing orders against us and we are the sole victims,” Abukar Hassan Kadaf, the director of Somaliweyn radio told the New York Times.

Update: Keeping its word, the government had closed Tusmo Radio and Somaliweyn. But it has now decided to repeal its order. According to Somalia’s Information Minister, Dahir Mohamud Gelle, “The Somali government is not happy with the oppression of the media and will always work toward creating an enabling environment where it can operate freely.”