Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Iranians Shrug Off Ban on Western Music

Iranians Shrug Off Ban on Western Music

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press WriterTue Dec 20, 9:52 AM ET

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's ban on Western music fell on deaf ears Tuesday, as shop owners and music enthusiasts in the Iranian capital continued selling, buying and listening to everything from hip-hop to country rock.

The official IRAN Persian daily reported Monday that Ahmadinejad, as head of the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council, ordered the enactment of an October ruling by the council to ban all Western music, including classical music, on state broadcast outlets.

"This president speaks as if he is living in the Stone Age. This man has to understand that he can't tell the people what to listen to and what not to listen to," said Mohammed Reza Hosseinpour as he browsed through a Tehran music shop.

The shop's owner said he did not expect the president's ban to be implemented.

"Clerics and officials speak about imposing restrictions every other day. I don't think it's going to be enforced," said Reza Sadeghi as he counted some bills he received from the sale of an Eric Clapton tape.

The order was an eerie reminder of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when popular music was outlawed as "un-Islamic" under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In the revolution's early years, police stopped cars to search for Western music tapes, destroying any they found and sometimes arresting those caught listening to them.

But little seems to have changed in Tehran since Monday's ruling.

State radio and TV stations sometimes play Western music — without lyrics — in the background of newscasts and other programs, but more often they play Iranian pop or traditional music. On Tuesday, there was only Iranian music, but it was not immediately clear if that was because of the ban.

The ban applies only to state-run radio and television. Tehran residents, accustomed to the relaxed rules and rare enforcement of such restrictions in the past 10 years, seemed unconcerned that it might signal a return to the wider restrictions imposed during the revolution.

"Don't take this man (Ahmadinejad) seriously," said Pari Mahmoudi, a teen driving in the capital, as the Eagles' "Hotel California" blared from the car speakers.

The expectation among many was that the new ban would fall by the wayside as others have recently. Iran's government has banned the sale of music by female singers in the past and has forbidden women from wearing heavy makeup. Neither order has been enforced.

As the revolutionary fervor started to fade, some light classical music was allowed on Iranian radio and television, and some public concerts reappeared in the late 1980s. Since Khomeini's death, pop music has been creeping into Iranian shops.

In the 1990s, particularly during the presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami, authorities began relaxing restrictions further. These days in Iran, Western music, films and clothing are widely available. Bootleg videos and DVDs of films banned by the state can be found on the black market.

Also, Iranians with satellite dishes can get broadcasts originating outside the country. Satellite dishes are banned but the government currently does not harass citizens whose equipment can be seen on the rooftops.

Ahmadinejad's ban required the "blocking of indecent and Western music from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting," according to a statement on the Web site hard-line Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council. The council's members are hand-picked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to rule on cultural issues.

The ban also includes censorship of content of films.

"Supervision of content from films, TV series and their voice-overs is emphasized in order to support spiritual cinema and to eliminate triteness and violence," the council said on its Web site.

Ahmadinejad's latest order means the state broadcasting authority must execute the decree and prepare a report on its implementation within six months, according to the government-owned IRAN daily newspaper.

Ahmadinejad was elected in August on a platform of reverting to ultraconservative principles, following the eight years of reformist-led rule under intellectual Khatami.

During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad promised to confront what he called the Western cultural invasion of Iran and promote Islamic values.

Since then, he has jettisoned Iran's moderation in foreign policy and pursued a purge in the government, replacing pragmatic veterans with former military commanders and inexperienced religious hard-liners.

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