Instant Guide

Pakistan's war on hip-hop: A 'lesson in tolerance'?

What a ban on "vulgar" music says about a nation's evolving culture wars and its relationship to the West  

In Pakistan, a country increasingly under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism, a recent attempt by the government to ban hip-hop in schools seemed like just another concession to extremists. In a twist, however, a fierce backlash ensued: Liberal critics accused lawmakers of trampling free speech rights and the ban was overturned. Here, a concise guide to what could amount to a "lesson in tolerance":

Did the ban target hip-hop specifically? Not exactly. The law outlawed "objectionable" music concerts at private and public schools. It also called for "intense scrutiny" of those listening to music "deemed to be in poor taste." Punjab Assembly member Seemal Kamran, the conservative mother of four who first proposed the ban, told The Washington Post that Pakistan needs to ban hip-hop concerts and other "vulgar" music in order to preserve its traditional family values.

What sparked the ban? At least two incidents were catalysts. In January, three college girls were trampled to death at a concert by Pakistani pop singer Atif Aslam. Months earlier, the Chicago-based hip-hop group FEW Collective ran into trouble with the Pakistani military, which accused the group of taking photos of "sensitive installations" in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Who opposed the law? The Pakistani media took up the cause, reflecting a divide between Pakistan's internet-savvy youth and its staunchly conservative elements. Some members of Punjab Assembly itself also trashed the ban. "What's next?" one lawmaker reportedly said, "A resolution seeking a ban on wearing jeans in academic institutions?"

Will this have any effect on U.S.-Pakistani relations? It could. The U.S. State Department sponsored FEW Collective's Pakistani tour in an attempt at cultural outreach. Described as "hip-hop diplomacy," the effort is meant to counter the deep anti-American sentiment that runs through Pakistani society. A spokesman for the State Department said its cultural exchange programs would continue.

Sources: Fact Magazine, The Huffington Post, Reuters, The Washington Post

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