AS the Western world awakens from its Covid slumber, Afghanistan is descending into hell on earth. Daily reports of death, destruction, escalating violence, impending retaliation and female sexual servitude are so horrific they go beyond words.

I’m bereft at the thought that such inhumanity exists in my lifetime. For the wretched souls left behind – cast aside like used toys by the West – the struggle to conform as they live in fear will be relentless. A trip to the shops, where they risk rape or murder, must feel like tightrope-walking across a lava-spewing inferno.

When freedom is crushed in the physical sense, it is left to the mind and spirit to find liberation in other ways. History has shown that the arts can offer light in times of darkness – escapism for thoughts, expressions and emotions that transcend the harsh reality.

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So, when I read that the Taliban were banning music on the grounds of it being a corrupting influence, it stopped me short. To break a population with bullets and bombs is one thing, to silence its inner voice is quite another.

Of course, the regime is correct in one sense – music can corrupt, or rather disrupt, the established order. The Taliban understand the power of music to stir rebellion and its relation to cultural heritage and identity, so it’s no surprise it has been targeted.

But so shocking is the concept that it made me consider what a world without music would feel like. In my house, music is everywhere. There are CD players, radios and speakers streaming music dotted about all over the place. In fact, not having some form of music playing when I walk into a room puts me slightly on edge.

I’ve always regarded music as a psychological comforter. As the lyrics and notes intertwine they can transport you from the mundane to another plane. It’s a source of both celebration and commiseration. It’s happiness, excitement, joy, pain and anger. Humanity at its most potent and wonderful. To be starved of music would be unthinkable. Young Afghans whose eyes have been opened to all types of musical genres will now have it snatched away from them in the name of Islam.

But for those musicians in Afghanistan who risk their lives if they play, say, a piano or a sitar or a drum, the ban must feel like death by a thousand cuts. Creating songs is an extension of their very being. It’s who they are as people. Driven by some inner yearning to learn an instrument or sing and express themselves, their art enriches all our lives. Now they will be held prisoner in their own mind, their true nature strait-jacketed. It’s heartbreaking.

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As I sit here as background classical music drifts over me in the background, a pang of guilt gnaws inside as I consider how fortunate I am. And while the West’s leaders turn their backs on a failed nation-building experiment, the rest of us can only look on helplessly. Perhaps it is with the young people who have experienced another world over the past 20 years that hope lies. But, for now, the music has died in Afghanistan. God help them.

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