When Elvis Presley started performing and recording in the mid-1950s his music, movements, attitude and dress made him the first icon of rock & roll. He changed the course of popular music and with it American youth culture.
He was also regarded as a threat to morality. Radio stations banned his music and municipal authorities refused permits for his concerts. His music was branded by Christian fundamentalists in the Deep South as “the devil’s music.”
The tide of cultural history proved his detractors wrong and the revolution started by Elvis and other rock & roll artists heralded the beginnings of a movement that has led to the hedonistic and permissive culture that is now the norm not just in Western societies but in Japan and elsewhere.
The hatred of popular music of those Christian fundamentalists is now rearing its head again, this time from radical Islamists. It is no coincidence that one of the targets of the November 2015 attacks in Paris was a rock concert at the Bataclan.
On Friday, June 17, English rock group Radiohead and their record label XL Recordings invited independent record stores across the world to celebrate the release of their new album A Moon Shaped Pool. They put together a two-hour playlist for an audio stream into record stores throughout the day.
At the Velvet Indieground record store in the Istanbul district of Cihangir, a group of Radiohead fans gathered to hold a party and listen to their favourite band. Suddenly a ferociously angry man barged into the store and started slapping and threatening the fans, most of whom hastily left, only to be attacked in the street outside by a mob of Islamic radicals who beat them with sticks and bottles.
The attack was captured on video.
The next day hundreds of people gathered outside the record store to protest against the attack, but they were themselves attacked by riot police using tear gas and water cannon.
This incident is just one manifestation of radical Islamic opposition to any aspect of freedom in Turkey, a supposedly secular state that is on the verge of joining the European Union. A few days before, Turkish authorities banned transgender and gay pride marches scheduled to take place in June.
The radical Islamic hatred for music takes many forms. At the Pontanézen mosque in Brittany, France, Salafist Imam Rachid Abou Houdeyfa has taught children that “people who listen to music will be turned into monkeys and pigs.”
Dr. Ali Selim, Secretary General of the Irish Council of Imams, in his 2014 book Islam and Education in Ireland, called for radical change in the Irish educational system to accommodate Islamic beliefs, including the removal of music from the national curriculum.
During an inspection of Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham, England on 12 May 2016 officers from Ofsted, the government school monitoring body, discovered leaflets branding music and dancing as “acts of the devil.”
In Iran and Saudi Arabia, the teaching of music in schools is banned. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban regularly target musicians and music stores.
Why? One plausible reason is given by Daniel Pipes in his 1998 article, “You Need Beethoven to Modernise,” who wrote, “American popular music epitomizes the values that Muslims find most reprehensible about Western culture — the celebration of individualism, youth, hedonism, and unregulated sexuality.”
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).