Somali Islamic militants ban music on airwaves

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somali radio stations stopped playing music on Tuesday after hardline militants called it un-Islamic and ordered stations to take songs off the air.

The edict is the latest unpopular order from Islamists, who also have banned bras, musical ringtones and movies. The order to stop the music echoes the Taliban's strict social rules imposed on Afghans beginning in the late 1990s.

Somalia has a tradition of music and most residents greeted the ban with dismay. Rock, rap and love songs from the U.S., Europe and Africa could be heard on Somali stations before the ban.

"Now I think we are going to be forced to hear only the horrific sounds of the gunfire and the explosions," said Khadiya Omar, a 22-year-old Mogadishu resident who called music a "tranquilizer" to help him forget life's troubles.

As many as a dozen Mogadishu-based radio stations stopped playing music on Tuesday after the insurgent group Hizbul Islam gave the order earlier this month.

However, Somalis in the country's capital can still listen to music on two stations: one that the government controls and another that is funded by the United Nations. Both stations are based in the small area of Mogadishu under the control of government and African Union forces.

Similar edicts have been imposed on stations in the southern Somali regions held by the Islamist group al-Shabab.

Islamic insurgents control much of Mogadishu and have been trying to topple the fragile government for three years. Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years.

"We are in a war-ravaged country and music is what brings us relief from anger, frustration, depression, fatigue and other emotional and physical pain," said Isaq Ali, a Mogadishu resident.

The deputy chairman of the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association, Mohamed Ibrahim Nur, condemned the ban and called for Hizbul Islam to retract the order.

"This will paralyze the already violence-affected media in Somalia and will deprive Somalis from getting independent information free from threat, censorship and imposition of radical addicts," he said.

Any station that defies the order could face severe punishments. The Islamists frequently assassinate those who defy them or carry out punishments like amputations. Abdulahi Yasin Jama at Tusmo broadcasting said that stations have no choice but to comply.

"We had no other option but to stop playing music. Now that we have dropped music we may lose listeners. If we ignore the warning we have to face the wrath of the militants," said one of Mogadishu's radio directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal attacks.

The director noted that the station also would have to re-record all of its commercials that contain music.

The ban on music means that even talk-radio stations will have to make changes. Jama, from the independent broadcaster, said his station would have to stop using music as a bridge between programs.

"We are using other sounds, such as gunfire, the noise of vehicles and birds to link up our programs and news," he said.