1031 CL Amsterdam
Laura Hassler, Director Musicians Without Borders
29 August 2021
Musicians Without Borders has never worked in Afghanistan, but we do have experience in many different conflict regions and have recently been approached to comment on the current crisis. I return to an old theme: how does fear fuel war? And how can musicians help strengthen empathy, reduce fear, and support those displaced and victimised by war?
War forced its ugly face on us last week, with the sudden fall of the Afghan regime, the departure of US occupying troops, the rapid takeover by the Taliban, and the horrifying chaos of frightened people trying to escape.
No one could be unmoved by the reports that have dominated our screens, no one of conscience could not want to help the people desperate to escape. Many will share a concern for the safety, not only of Afghans who worked for western powers or NGOs, but also of girls and women in general, and of artists, writers, teachers, journalists and so many others.
At the same time, the mainstream narrative is portraying the western occupation as dedicated to ‘nation-building’, human rights and democracy, while the Taliban is primitive, repressive, and violent. Not included in most reporting are other aspects of the history of this war: the aim of geo-political dominance, control of mineral and fossil fuel resources; the CIA’s ‘dirty war’ financed by the heroin trade; the massive corruption and resulting lack of systemic improvements for most Afghans; the use by ‘the coalition’ of torture, random executions, drone strikes and bombings of civilian targets; the 250,000 to 2 million deaths.
So, in Afghanistan, who wins? The arms industry, its CEOs and shareholders. The military and spy agencies that operate without accountability. The privatized mercenary corporations. The politicians and mainstream media that serve them.
And who loses? Everyone else. Especially, the Afghan people.
Those who lead us into war always de-humanize ‘the enemy’ for the home front, persuading citizens that we need to be protected by military action. For decades, western populations have been fed a steady diet of fear– from ‘the communists’ to ‘radical Islam’– to keep protest to a minimum and build support for policies of military conquest and global domination.
We who work for global social justice and peace must find ways to reduce fear, strengthen empathy and create understanding at the grass roots, so that fear can no longer be used to control us. Musicians and other artists have unique possibilities to contribute, from community-based arts projects to performance to bold artistic interventions that challenge official narratives.
What can we do now? Some suggestions:
1.Resist the good guy- bad guy narrative: seek independent news sources; below are a few links with other viewpoints than the western mainstream media’s reporting;
2.Press governments and NGOs to open borders to all Afghan refugees, to facilitate rescue and humanitarian aid, both within the country and for those fleeing, and to shift from military force to diplomacy and negotiation;
3.Help to lift the voices of Afghan artists, lawyers, academics and human rights advocates above the cacophony of the western press;
4.Urge our local and regional authorities to welcome refugees and support them in seeking new opportunities to live in dignity;
5.Work in our own communities to counter the fear that has been sown for decades and welcome new neighbors.
Musicians can play a modest but valuable role in host societies—a few suggestions:
1.bring music activities to emergency centers, especially where children are housed, to help relieve stress and bring moments of connection and joy;
2.identify musicians who have lost their instruments in their flight, and help to replace them;
3.introduce newcomer musicians to performing, teaching and social networks;
4.use our stages and platforms to communicate with our audiences about social inclusion and opposition to war. Use our music to express connection and solidarity with refugees.
The war in Afghanistan is not an isolated disaster, but one of the many faces of a global system that prioritizes power and profit above people and planet. Yes, we must respond to the enormous suffering and urgent needs of Afghans: those who flee in fear for their lives, and the vast majority who remain to face internal displacement, food, shelter and health insecurity, and continued civil unrest.
But this crisis is also a reminder of how urgent it is– wherever people suffer from war and armed conflict—to stand in solidarity and work together across the globe for peaceful, just societies. For this, we need activists, artists, musicians, human rights defenders, organizers, humanitarians —everywhere.
Some alternative sources and opinions: