Hip-hop ban and lessons in tolerance

An effort to ban hip-hop music in schools instead turned into a lesson in tolerance in a nation where religious fundamentalism has been on the rise. In late January, Pakistan’s Punjab Assembly passed a resolution to end “objectionable” music concerts in public and private schools, but the measure was widely repudiated in the media for impinging on free creative expression.

“What’s next? A resolution seeking a ban on wearing jeans in academic institutions?” one assembly member asked during the ensuing debate.

A few days after it passed, the measure was overturned. The abrupt about-face highlights the sometimes tense balance in Pakistan between a youth culture raised on a constant diet of YouTube and Facebook and conservative Pakistanis willing to curb certain freedoms for the sake of tradition and cultural integrity.

The fracas evidently was sparked, at least in part, by two recent incidents. In January, three young women were trampled to death after a concert at a Punjab college by popular Pakistani singer Atif Aslam. Three months earlier, the FEW Collective, a hip-hop group from Chicago, performed in Islamabad and ran afoul of the Pakistani military; the group was detained when one member was accused of photographing sensitive installations in Rawalpindi. (Rappers as spies? In Pakistan, any conspiracy theory can gain credence.)

Punjab assembly member Seemal Kamran introduced the anti-rap resolution and pushed it through the provincial assembly. “I live in this society and everybody knows it is a conservative society,” she said in an interview. “In the U.S. and Canada and England they have these things. It’s okay with them because it’s their culture.”

A mother of four, Kamran said she believes banning hip-hop concerts and other “vulgar” music is necessary to preserve traditional values. Kamran insisted students themselves are against objectionable hip-hop lyrics, and their parents agree with them.

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