Afghans Hide Books, Paintings as Crackdown on Culture Looms

Taliban says Islamic law will determine what kinds of art are allowed
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2021 4:10 PM CDT
Afghanistan's Artists Fear Taliban Crackdown
A woman walks past beauty salons with window decorations that have been defaced in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 12, 2021.   (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The bad old days are back in Afghanistan, where artists have hidden or destroyed paintings, musicians have stopped working, and residents are hiding books ahead of an expected Taliban crackdown on art and culture deemed un-Islamic. The group—which banned movies, television, and music during its rule from 1996 to 2001—has yet to announce its policy on culture, but artists who haven't already fled the country are self-censoring, the Washington Post reports. Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi says the new government is developing a "framework" for art and culture, and that what is allowed will be determined by Islamic law.

"The knowledgeable people will formulate the rules, keeping in view the religious, national, and historical traditions for art and cultural heritage," Karimi says. After the Taliban's fall in 2001, entertainment flourished in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, there were more than 50 TV channels broadcasting news, movies, soap operas, and music videos, along with more than 150 radio stations, but dozens of channels and stations closed as the Taliban closed in on Kabul, AFP reported last month. The country's pop music scene thrived along with traditional music over the last 20 years but musicians say they're now being harassed by Taliban fighters, and drivers silence their radios when they approach the group's checkpoints, reports the AP.

In the '90s, the Taliban banned paintings depicting people and animals, which were considered blasphemous. Such paintings are still hanging in Kabul's Fine Arts Institute, the Post reports, but director Safiullah Habibi says Taliban agents expressed disapproval when they visited the facility last week and saw a sculpture of one of the giant sixth-century Buddhas the group blew up in 2001. The Post notes that whatever form the crackdown takes, the Taliban is unlikely to reintroduce its ban on the internet: The group now runs social media campaigns, and many of its fighters have been spotted with smartphones. (In Helmand province, the Taliban has banned barbers from trimming beards.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.