Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why Dictators Hate to See Us Moved by Music

by Eric Felten

Wall Street Journal
August 6, 2010

Iran's ultimate supremo, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a remarkable endorsement to music this week, declaring it "not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic." He didn't exactly mean to praise song, but if music is a threat to the sort of murderous theocracy over which Mr. Khamenei presides, well then here's to music.

The ayatollah didn't just denounce Western music (which he has done before) but music-making of any and every sort. Instead of wasting time practicing scales, he declared, "It's better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills." The kind of enrichment he's interested in isn't the sort you get in a concert hall.

Though the lament is framed as a concern about youngsters frittering away their precious time, I suspect Mr. Khamenei's real complaint is rooted in the same disquiet authoritarians have long felt about music—that it affects people profoundly and can't be controlled.