Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Scribblings: ISIS's Hatred of Music

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Tzvi Fleischer

 

In the Paris terror attack on November 13, why did ISIS target a concert by the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal at the Bataclan concert hall, where most of the 130 victims died? Was it just an easy target?

ISIS itself gave us little clue in its claim of responsibility, saying the venue was attacked because it was packed with hundreds of "polytheists" at a party of "fornication and debauchery." Was that because it was a concert involving intermingled sexes, women in Western dress, alcohol, etc?

Maybe, but there is likely another reason - one that has featured in hardly any of the commentary on ISIS's crimes. ISIS hates music, regards it as forbidden, and has tried hard to stamp out all music in the areas it rules.

This dates back at least to January 2014, when ISIS reportedly issued a proclamation stating, "Songs and music are forbidden in Islam, as they prevent one from the remembrance of God and the Koran and are a temptation and corruption of the heart" and threatening punishment of anyone breaking this commandment.

There is no space here to go until all the details, but Steven Stalinsky of the Middle East Media Research Institute has put together mountains of evidence of ISIS's anti-music campaign which you can see at tinyurl.com/ISISmusic . This includes images of signs in ISIS-controlled towns forbidding music, of public floggings of musicians, of public burning of piles of confiscated musical instruments, and of social media posts from ISIS operatives insisting listening to music is a sin comparable to using drugs or alcohol.

On the absolute scale of evil, this effort to wipe out all music does not even remotely compare to the genocide of Yazidis, Shi'ites and others, or the terrorism, or the enslavement of women for sex, or the execution of gays, or the many other repulsive things ISIS publicly revels in doing. Yet one of the things we remember about the evil of the Nazis is the book-burnings - another ugly barbarism which actually pales in significance compared to their other crimes.

I can't help wondering if the creative classes in Australia and other Western nations - our musicians, our rock idols, our pop princesses and rap artists, as well as others involved in artistic creation - could not and would not speak out against ISIS more if they knew about the group's public instrument burnings, reminiscent of Nazi book-burnings, and general suppression of music. The only one I am aware of who has called attention to this issue is Bono, front man of U2, who performed in Paris the night after the terror attacks and told USA Today, "They hate music. They hate women. They hate all the things that we love. This is an illness in the world and we just can't give into it." We need more music stars to follow his example.

Policymaking in the bizarro world of Mideast conspiracy theories

It is clear that the US Obama Administration has long been determined to minimise Washington's involvement in the Middle East - a policy stance that most serious observers of US foreign policy agree has not worked well. It is also clear that one justification for the Administration's retreat from the region was a belief that it would make the US more popular, or at least less hated, by residents of it.

This has not worked - polls show the US regional reputation has if anything declined on Obama's watch.

Why? Well, believe it or not, reduced US intervention in the region has apparently allowed the conspiratorially-minded residents of the region to blame the US for even more of the things going wrong there.

A good example is beliefs about where the US stands in the great Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian war that has become the defining strategic reality of the region over recent years.

Iranian media and political leaders routinely insist that ISIS is in fact a creation of the West as a plot against Iran - and this is widely believed among ordinary Iranians. This has been reported in major media outlets, including The New York Times (Sept. 10, 2014), and Time magazine (July 19, 2014). Indeed, the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the Paris terror attacks by releasing a video on Nov. 17 alleging the US and Israel were behind ISIS and the attacks.

There is new evidence as well from a Washington Post report by Liz Sly (Dec. 1) that Iran and its Iraqi allies have successfully spread this conspiracy theory to Iraq. Sly found numerous ordinary Iraqis convinced that they had seen video or knew people who witnessed US aircraft directly supplying weapons to ISIS, and a widespread belief that, in her words "the United States is supporting the Islamic State for a variety of pernicious reasons that have to do with asserting US control over Iraq, the wider Middle East and, perhaps, its oil."

But on the other side of the divide, a powerful recruitment tool for ISIS is the reality that large segments of the Sunni Middle East population - especially in Syria and Iraq - believe that the US has secretly joined with Russia and Iran to deliberately back the Assad regime's ruthless and genocidal war against Sunni Muslims generally.

So the US policy of non-intervention - which later turned into some reluctant and half-hearted military measures against ISIS - has allowed both the Shi'ites and Sunnis to insist the US is secretly victimising them by backing their enemies. In such an environment of rampant conspiracy theories, widely believed and impossible to disprove, the idea that the West can win friends and influence people in the region through changing its policies looks like a fool's errand.