Music making comeback in Afghanistan

Music making comeback in Afghanistan
Updated 27 January 2013

Music making comeback in Afghanistan

Music making comeback in Afghanistan

Music that Afghans were made to stay away from or risk being targeted by the Taleban militants are once again ringing loud. That trepidation no longer exists as strongly as it once was.
This privilege, which was very much at the core of Afghanistan’s heritage, remained shut out for years. Nobody dared to think of listening to music when it was banned by the Taleban regime in the 1990s.
Its strong comeback is a testament to Afghan people’s readiness to change the status quo of their country.
Credit for this turnaround, even when the scenario still seems incongruous and far from perfect, goes to the 50-year-old trained musicologist Ahmad Naser Sarmast — the only Afghan who came forward despite numerous challenges standing in his way to save Afghanistan’s crippling musical legacy. He let every Afghan experience it through the only one of its kind music center known as Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), a part of the Ministry of Education.
Sarmast already had a plan drawn up to help his countrymen. But the stakes involved were too big to let go as violence was still a major concern. Nevertheless, these incidents couldn’t shake up his steely determination.
He was fully convinced that the bloodstained soil of Afghanistan would one day be wrapped up in colors of a new musical era.
“I am an optimist,” Sarmast told Arab News. “I didn’t face any hurdles in the establishment of this school because I had full support of my people behind me.”
Like his late father Ustad Sarmast — a composer, conductor and musician — he carved out a career for himself in music.
“My home was full of music and moments. We often had musical gatherings organized, so I was surrounded by different types of music from an early age,” Sarmast said.
But the bloody civil war of 1992 forced him to flee the country, taking him to Russia from where he finished his MA in musicology and ethnomusicology. In 1994, he gained asylum in Australia. Then, he was admitted to Monash University, one of Australia’s best institutions from where he received his Ph.D. in music in 2005.
Living away from home for almost 15 years, he realized he should return to his country. And he did in 2008 so that Afghanistan’s future doesn’t go down the same battered path ever again.
“Each of us should come forward when it comes to contributing to social and humanitarian work. And I felt compelled to go back not only because it was my civil responsibility but also my vision and commitment to bring back the musical rights of Afghan children,” he said. “Its other purpose was to be playing a crucial role in bridging the gap between countries in the region as well as create a platform for inter-cultural dialogue through music.”
However, he flits between Kabul and Melbourne where his wife and two children still live. Two years later, he laid the stone of this first-ever music school amid the high expectation that it will open doors to a new world for Afghan children.
“I was heart-broken by what I saw through the faces of children. They were looking for ways to escape. I knew it was music that could heal their hearts and souls,” Ahmad said.
“No civil society can exist or for that matter imagine living without music even for a second,” he said. “I believe music can turn anything into positive because it has a tremendous healing power. Afghans have been through lots of terrible and mind-numbing circumstances.” It’s not just this. Today, the school is emerging as a role model for Afghanistan to make the most of in the best way possible and emulate it in its day-to-day affairs.
Afghan-born vocalist and flautist Mashal Arman, who teaches at the academy, is proud that her country is entering a new phase. “Their eyes say everything. Their thirst for music is highly insatiable keeping in mind what these little souls have had to go through,” she said. “It’s also a great role model to showcase Afghanistan’s changing face to the outside world.”
The massive funding from the World Bank, foreign ministries of Denmark and Finland, the US, India, Germany and Britain is allowing Sarmast to run this music school in an effective way. “We are getting a large assortment of musical instruments from manufacturers. They can’t be found anywhere else, “he says.
Shabeer, 22, is from Kabul and he plays oboe. “Music is part of our culture which died in the last wars. I want to show my country that music is not a bad thing and I want to show to the world that Afghans don’t want war. We want peace. I chose this instrument because I heard it played once and loved the sound. When I hear it, it touches my emotions and I love it,” he said.
n Exclusive to Arab News


Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
Updated 31 July 2021

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe

Bangladeshi garment factories plead for vaccines as lockdown delays deliveries to Europe
  • Clothing manufacturers export nearly 40 percent of their annual output during July and August, as the West prepares for winter collections
  • Authorities in the country ordered all business activity to shut down between July 23 and Aug. 5 in an attempt to halt a surge in COVID-19 cases

DHAKA: Clothing manufacturers in Bangladesh are calling on the government to accelerate vaccination programs for factory workers to save the country’s textile sector. It is suffering because a COVID-19 lockdown has halted production during the peak season for orders from Western countries.

A recent surge in cases of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus forced the government to impose strict health precautions, including a halt to all business activity between July 23 and Aug. 5. As a result, thousands of garment factories had to close — and the timing could not be worse.

This is the time of year when the factories are working on multimillion-dollar orders from major Western clothing brands such as H&M, Inditex and Marks and Spencer for their upcoming winter collections. July and August are the peak months for the Bangladeshi garment sector, during which it exports nearly 40 percent of its annual production.

Industry representatives met Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam on Thursday to appeal to the government to lift the restrictions on garment factories during this crucial period. They also called on authorities speed up the vaccination of factory workers.

Last week, nearly 30,000 workers from factories that supply H&M and Marks and Spencer received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. But they represent less than 1 percent of the total industry workforce, and the country’s vaccination effort is one of the slowest in the world; only 4.3 million of the country’s 170 million population have been fully vaccinated.

“Once the factories open, we can vaccinate the workers in bulk,” Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Arab News on Friday. “And it’s very easy, as we noticed during a pilot program that saw the successful inoculation of about 30,000 factory workers in two days.”

Garment manufacturers fear that if they fail to deliver, big brands might turn to factories in other countries. This would deal a major blow to an industry that is the largest in Bangladesh. It employs more than 4 million people, contributes more than 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and accounts for 80 percent of its exports.

“Our industry is completely export-oriented and we produce time-bound products,” said Hassan. “Currently, our factories are working on the next winter and fall season for the Western market. If we fail to export on time our credibility and future business relations will be at stake. Already buyers have stated putting future orders on hold, but they didn’t cancel them.

“If we are allowed to open the factories from the first week of August, we still can recover the losses — otherwise things will be difficult for us.”

The lockdown in Bangladesh comes as many Western countries ease their pandemic restrictions. Apparel sales are rebounding as life begins to return to normal, people order more clothes and big brands prepare for their winter and Christmas seasons.

When Bangladesh went into its first coronavirus lockdown last year, the industry was not too concerned because Western buyers had put their orders on hold because of their own lockdowns. Now, things are different.

“This year, the Western market is fully open,” Hassan said. “People in Europe and America are now keen to buy clothing since they couldn’t do much in the past year.”

Before the pandemic, Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest garment manufacturer after China, earned $34 billion from exports of apparel. In the 2019-20 fiscal year the value of exports dropped to $28 billion as the pandemic took hold. They recovered to $31 billion during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended in June, raising hopes of a major rebound this year.

It was unclear on Friday whether the factories will be allowed to reopen sooner than planned. The cabinet secretary told the factory owners during Thursday’s meeting that “further decisions would be announced after consulting with the prime minister.”

Criticism of the lockdown is growing, as the strict rules do not appear to be succeeding in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The number of coronavirus-related fatalities continues to hit record highs, with more than 200 deaths since the start of this week alone. The infection rate stood at nearly 31 percent on Friday, higher that it was before the lockdown.

“Our economy has been severely disrupted due to the lockdown,” Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News. “If we are failing to reap the benefits of this lockdown, there is no point in closing the factory operations.”


First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
Updated 30 July 2021

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US

First evacuation flight brings 221 Afghans, many kids, to US
  • US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home
  • Evacuation flights highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after U.S. combat forces leave

WASHINGTON: The first flight evacuating Afghans who worked alongside Americans in Afghanistan brought more than 200 people, including scores of children and babies in arms, to new lives in the United States on Friday.
US President Joe Biden said he was proud to welcome them home.
The launch of the evacuation flights, bringing out former interpreters and others who fear retaliation from Afghanistan’s Taliban for having worked with American troops and civilians, highlights American uncertainty about how Afghanistan’s government and military will fare after the last US combat forces leave that country in the coming weeks.
Family members are accompanying the interpreters, translators and others on the flights out. The first evacuation flight, an airliner, carried 221 Afghans under the special visa program, including 57 children and 15 infants, according to an internal US government document obtained by The Associated Press.
It touched down in Dulles, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., after midnight, according to the FlightAware tracking service.
Friday’s flight was “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan,” Biden said. He said he wanted to honor the military veterans, diplomats and others in the US who have advocated for the Afghans.
“Most of all,” Biden said in a statement, “I want to thank these brave Afghans for standing with the United States, and today, I am proud to say to them: ‘Welcome home.’“
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lauded the Afghans for their work alongside Americans and said their arrival demonstrates the US government’s commitment to them.
Friday’s flight was all about “keeping promises,” said Will Fischer, an Iraq war veteran and an advocate on veteran’s issues.
But a refugee agency said the Biden administration appeared to be still scrambling to work out the resettlement of thousands more of the Afghans, and it urged Biden to bring them quickly to the US or a US territory, such as Guam.
“To date, there is simply no clear plan as to how the vast majority of our allies will be brought to safety,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service resettlement agency, said of the Afghan interpreters.
“We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them,” the resettlement official said.
The Biden administration calls the effort Operation Allies Refuge. The operation has broad backing from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and from veterans groups. Supporters cite repeated instances of Taliban forces targeting Afghans who worked with Americans or with the Afghan government.
Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow an additional 8,000 visas and $500 million in funding for the Afghan visa program.
The United States has been talking with Qatar and Kuwait about temporarily hosting thousands of other Afghan interpreters who are much further behind in their visa application process than Friday’s arrivals.
But US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations, said Friday that no deal had been closed with those two countries. Concerns about housing Afghans who have not completed their security screenings and uncertainty on the American side about finding funding for the massive relocation effort have remained obstacles, the US officials said.
Biden announced earlier this year the US would withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, honoring a withdrawal agreement struck by former President Donald Trump. He later said the US military operation would end on Aug. 31, calling it “overdue.” Some administration officials have expressed surprise at the extent and speed of Taliban gains of territory in the countryside since then.
Biden said that although US troops are leaving Afghanistan, the US will keep supporting Afghanistan through security assistance to Afghan forces and humanitarian and development aid to the Afghan people.
The newly arrived Afghan people will join 70,000 others who have resettled in the United States since 2008 under the special visa program.
Subsequent flights are due to bring more of the roughly 700 applicants who are furthest along in the process of getting visas, having already won approval and cleared security screening.
The first arrivals were screened for the coronavirus and received vaccines if they wanted them, said Tracey Jacobson, the US diplomat running the effort. They were expected to stay at a hotel on a base in Fort Lee, Virginia, for about seven days, completing medical exams and other final steps, Jacobson said. Resettlement organizations will help them as they travel to communities around the United States, with some bound for family members already here, she said.


British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
Updated 30 July 2021

British Muslim MP weeps in dock as she is cleared of fraud charges

Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application. (UK Parliament)
  • Apsana Begum was accused of housing fraud that her local council said had cost it almost £64,000 ($89,000)
  • She said she is a ‘survivor of domestic abuse’ and had faced Islamophobia, sexism and racism as a result of the case

LONDON: A jury in London has cleared a Muslim member of parliament of fraud charges. Labour MP Apsana Begum, who represents Poplar and Limehouse in East London, faced three charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information relating to a council housing application between 2013 and 2016.

Tower Hamlets council accused her of costing it almost £64,000 ($89,000) by failing to notify officials that she was no longer living in overcrowded housing.

Begum, 31, collapsed in the dock and wept when the jurors found her not guilty on all three counts.

During the trial, she said she fled her home in 2013 during an argument in which her brother said she was “possessed,” causing her to fear she would fall victim to honor-based violence.

She moved in with her then-partner, Tower Hamlets Councillor Ehtasham Haque, but said he subsequently became “controlling and coercive” and took over her affairs.

Helen Law, defending, said that the complaint that triggered the investigation into Begum — made in 2019 by Sayed Nahid Uddin, Haque’s brother-in-law, after the couple split — was false.

According to the prosecution, documents submitted by Begum’s mother and aunt revealed that there were four bedrooms in her property and she had failed to inform the council that by January 2013, after her father died and her aunt moved out, only four people were living there.

Begum said that at the time she was struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her family’s disapproval of her relationship with Haque, who had been married and divorced several times.

After her acquittal, Begum said: “As a survivor of domestic abuse facing these vexatious charges, the last 18 months of false accusations, online sexist, racist and Islamophobic abuse, and threats to my safety have been exceedingly difficult.

“I would like to say a sincere thank you to all my legal team and all those who have shown me solidarity, support and kindness.

“I will be consulting and considering how to follow up so that something like this doesn’t happen again to anyone else.”


EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency
Updated 30 July 2021

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency

EU to get 40 mn more Moderna jabs in Q3: medicines agency
  • European Medicines Agency said it had approved a production boost at the US sites
  • About 70 percent of adults in the European Union have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine

THE HAGUE: The EU's medicines watchdog said on Friday that the bloc was likely to get 40 million more Moderna vaccine doses by October, after an output boost at two new US sites.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) in June gave the green light for the US sites in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to produce ingredients needed for the vaccine in Europe.
At the time, it estimated the sites would "allow the production of an additional one to two million vials of ready-to-use vaccine for the European Union market every month."
On Friday, the EMA said it had approved a production boost at the US sites that "is expected to have significant impact on the supply of Spikevax," it said in a statement, using the Moderna vaccine's brand name.
"It is estimated that in the third quarter of 2021, the US supply chain will provide 40 million doses of vaccine for the European market."
About 70 percent of adults in the European Union have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said earlier this week.
Overall, 57 percent of over-18s are now fully vaccinated across the 27 nations, she said in a statement.
But she sounded a warning over the "very dangerous" Delta variant of the virus that has increasingly taken hold on the continent and seen infection rates begin to tick up again.
"I therefore call on everyone -- who has the opportunity -- to be vaccinated. For their own health and to protect others," she said.
The EMA also last week approved the use of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12 to 17, making it the second jab for adolescents for use on the continent.


Shots fired outside Berlin store, four injured, one arrested

Shots fired outside Berlin store, four injured, one arrested
Updated 30 July 2021

Shots fired outside Berlin store, four injured, one arrested

Shots fired outside Berlin store, four injured, one arrested
  • The perpetrator was on the run, sources said
  • The motive behind the attack remains unclear

BERLIN: Shots were fired in a violent clash at a store car park in northern Berlin on Friday, leaving four people injured, the Berliner Zeitung reported.

Squads of police were dispatched to run down the attacker and one person was subsequently arrested, the newspaper added later.

The injured included three men and a woman, local media reported, adding that police had questioned eyewitnesses and cordoned off the area.

Of the injured, one person was stabbed with a knife, another suffered a gunshot wound, and a third suffered a head injury in a fight in the car park of a DIY store in Berlin's Wedding district, the Berliner Zeitung added.

The motive behind the attack remains unclear.