The Sound of Silence in Mali

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).


Sharia enforcers bring ugly, angry noises: Cries of “Allahu Akbar” as a church is attacked. Slashes of swords and blood-gargling death. The throb of Antonovs circling in the sky. The delicate swoosh of a cluster bomb before impact and release of deadly shrapnel and ball bearings. They leave in their wake the sounds of their victims: Cries of anguish. Wails of desolation and grief.

But Sharia enforcers also bring ugly and angry silence: The silence of freedom suppressed. The deadly pall of dreams extinguished. The sealed lips of unwilling submission and of death. And, in the recently overtaken West African nation of Mali, Sharia has brought an unexpected silence. It has stopped the music that is the lifeblood and identity of the country.

An October 23 Guardian article about the actions of the jihadists that have invaded northern Mali begins with a truckload of militants driving to the northern Mali desert town of Kidal, home of members of “Tinariwen,” a Grammy award-winning band. In a country famous for its contributions to West African culture, the Islamists had come to implement a ban on all Western music.

To Islamists, “Western” appears to include traditional African music. There is an unbreachable gap between Islam and the culture of individual nations — even majority-Muslim countries. Islamists always attempt to wipe out anything that gives ethnic and cultural identity apart from Islam to those they seek to conquer. (Apologists in America always refer to “America’s relationship with Islam,” as if the global Islamic Caliphate has already been recognized, and individual nations – and even continents – have been subsumed within it.)

Arriving at the home of one of the musicians, the Islamists used threats and destruction to get their point across, according to Andy Morgan, the writer of the Guardian article. The musician was not home, but Morgan relates that they warned the musician’s sister that if he ever “shows his face” in town, they will “cut off all the fingers that he uses to play his guitar with.” Then the Islamist militants removed all of his guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones, and a drum kit from the house, doused them with gasoline, and burned them. Morgan sums it up, “In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music.”

Arab “Spring,” the downfall of common-or-garden tyrants and the ascendancy of Islamic terrorists, is on the move in Africa. Islamists have been emboldened by the Obama administration’s narrative of moral equivalence. Jihadists have been able to commandeer, bully, destroy, and murder with impunity in places such as Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. Three armed Islamic groups now control the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao and have put them under the heavy burden of Sharia.

Some Western foreign policy elites argue that the rise of Islamism is all about money and power, not about religion. They say that the actions of Islamist jihadists are rooted in their victimization, poverty, and marginalization (nothing that a few billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars can’t assuage!). But even the Left-leaning Guardian reveals that “many of the mujahideen who have zoned in on the conflict from all over the Muslim world are fired by an unquestionable religious zeal.” This is similar to the Nigerian jihadists, Boko Haram. Although the State Department denies that Boko Haram is religiously motivated, the jihadist group’s leader, Imam Abubakar Shekau, has declared openly that Islam is the motivation. He said in a YouTube video, “I am not against anyone, but if Allah asks me to kill someone, I will kill him and I will enjoy killing him like I am killing a chicken.”

There is no jihadist Bach-equivalent, writing Soli Deo Gloria at the top of stirring musical masterpieces. Islamist “religious zeal” leads to lack of music appreciation and the quenching of creativity. All Western music was officially banned in northern Mali in an August 22 decree issued “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” Morgan reports. The decree referred to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people that “Qur’anic verses must take its place.”

“Sharia demands it,” the decree states of the silencing of the music. And Sharia demands much more in Islamist-occupied northern Mali. Morgan calls the implementation of Sharia there “horrifically literal” and “gratuitous,” but implementation of Sharia is horrifically literal. People are not figuratively lashed — not even in Australia. Their actual hands are cut off. Real stones assault their bodies. And Sharia implementation is not “gratuitous.” It is by the book. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and author, Andrew C. McCarthy, also took issue with the Guardian’s assumptions. He explained that “there’s nothing ‘gratuitous’ about applying (Sharia) as it is written.” “What we wishfully call ‘radicalism’ is in fact the Islamic mainstream,” says McCarthy in another article.

The ban on music and the broader effects of Islamic jihad are devastating to Mali in many ways. The famous kora (a harp/lute like instrument made from a calabash) player Toumani Diabate explains to Morgan that the material well-being of Mali springs from music in the way that the prosperity of other nations springs from their mineral resources. “Culture is our petrol,” he says. “Music is our mineral wealth. There isn’t a single major music prize in the world today that hasn’t been won by a Malian artist.”

Even more important than the financial blessing that talented, creative music and musicians have provided for Mali, is that they find their identity in music. The Islamists are trying to erase the ethnicity and culture of the Malian people groups. Morgan quotes another famous West African musician, Cheik Tidiane Seck, who says that “music regulates the life of every Malian . . . From the cradle to the grave.” Describing life under the Islamic invaders, one well-known Touareg musician from Kidal says in the Guardian article: “There’s a lack of joy. No one is dancing. There are no parties. Everybody’s under this kind of spell. It’s strange.”

Some Malians are defying the Islamists. Morgan tells of Manny Ansar, the director of an annual musical festival that takes place in the desert near Timbuktu and Kidal. Now, La Maison, the hotel where Bono stayed when he attended the most recent festival this past January, is the headquarters of the Islamic tribunal. But Ansar is going to take the now-banned festival on the road. He is sponsoring a Festival in the Desert in Exile, Morgan reports. It is his “way of fighting back.”

Ansar is not alone. Malian rap/hip-hop artist Amkoullel denounces Islamism and military rule, declaring, “I don’t give a **** what they say! We won’t let them get away with it. We don’t need them to teach us how to be Muslims. We’re a secular tolerant country, where everyone declares their religion according to their feeling. And in any case, they know that a Mali without music is an impossibility.” Amkoullel has organized a coalition of rappers, activists, and other friends of freedom called Plus Jamais Ça to pressure the international community to counter the Islamist takeover. According to the Guardian, he has received three death threats.

Another award-winning Malian musician, Rokia Traore, says that although she is a Muslim, “Sharia is not my thing.” She says that if she could not go on stage and perform, she would cease to exist. Without music, she tells Morgan, Mali will “cease to exist.” Traore and Mali’s other musicians and freedom-lovers – mostly Muslims – are fighting against the implementation of Sharia in their country. They see Sharia for what it is – a hegemony that is crushing the life and erasing the cultural identity of this West African nation.

That, of course, is the intention of Sharia. American useful idiots of the Islamists promote the idea that Sharia is compatible with American democratic principles. And some are gullible enough to believe, as Dr. Walid Phares has said, that jihad is a benign spiritual tradition like yoga. But perhaps the gagging of Mali’s musicians by Sharia will open some eyes — at least those of music lovers — to the truth.

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  • Chezwick

    So, like everywhere else where Sharia has been implemented, Muslims flee the Orwellian hell-holes that their religion instructs them to construct, and go seeking refuge and upward-mobility in the infidel West. Then, after settling comfortably in such a welcoming, tolerant, culture, they begin advocating for the same Sharia they fled.

    When are we going to come to our senses and pull up the welcome mat?

    • Lillith

      Only after even the birdsong has been silenced!

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Muslims flee the Orwellian hell-holes that their religion instructs them to construct, and go seeking refuge and upward-mobility in the infidel West. Then, after settling comfortably in such a welcoming, tolerant, culture, they begin advocating for the same Sharia they fled."

      Yeah, but it's a hell of a ride. consuming what they can grab. That's their ideology.

    • Sunbeam

      This must be the work of some very powerful influences coming from the top of some Arab State namely Saudi Arabia for instance and Turkey for that matter. These two States I believe, are secretly funding these elements for Pro Islam and Pro Shariah in the West. Pakistan being the most dangerous terrorist country in the world plays a major role together with these two countries to advance this goals. Without them, there will be no such work and element to fulfill this. They recruit and they hired and they funded to create all the commotions and chaos to disrupt peace wherever they can take hold of in the Western hemisphere. They will continue to do this at the expense of Western ignorance, naivety and liberality. The West have to wake up if it wants to see life, and before evil entails. Deal with the root. Soft approach won't work in this case. The axe have to be laid at the root of the tree to stop the virus.

  • southwood

    Non-shariah Muslims in Mali need to realize that they are only half baked Muslims and that the shariah enforcers are the true Muslims. So then, what to do ? It's up to them, but as a Christian myself, I can only say that they need to have the gospel preached there. Mali is an interesting country. I had heard Tinariwen's music, had seen some videos of them on Youtube. They are big in the World Music scene. Not really my "bag" but a friend of mine likes them. I'm more of a Bach and Handel man myself. The fundamentalist Muslims also attack the Sufis who, in un-Islamic fashion, play musical instruments.

    Another country that it was outrageous to see shariah being imposed on is Tunisia. Tunisia was a nation which suppressed any expression of jihad by state vigilance over the Mosques. It was a big tourist destination. Now because of the wonderful Arab Spring the people are oppressed by the shariah fanatics and , thanks to the Western support for the fundamentalists, tourism has fallen dramatically. Obama and Hillary, Cameron in the UK, and others are implicated in wars against humanity. They have NO excuse. We are seeing now with the deliberate lack of help for the US ambassador in Benghazi despite full knowledge of what was going on there up to and including the events of 9/11, that Obama is truly despicable. In my opinion he aided and abetted four murders of US citizens. He is a criminal. An absolute criminal.

    • MikeWood

      I love Bach and Handel too! The cultural historian Pitirim Sorokin once referred to the "miracle of Baroque music". So true, so true.

      • southwood

        Mike, how can people not like Bach and Handel ? If they want Beyonce or Metallica that's up to them but they're missing out. My pastor told me that he loves Bach's Cantatas.

        I can recommend a budget CD ( listening to it as I type this ) :
        http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?alb

        My favourite work by Handel is "Solomon". I even prefer it to "The Messiah".

  • Mary Sue

    Somebody needs to get up a posse and drive the terrorists out of Mali. If there were enough of them the folk of Mali would probably come along too and help. I hope the people of Mali aren't outnumbered by the thugs!

  • objectivefactsmatter

    "There is no jihadist Bach-equivalent, writing Soli Deo Gloria at the top of stirring musical masterpieces. Islamist “religious zeal” leads to lack of music appreciation and the quenching of creativity. All Western music was officially banned in northern Mali in an August 22 decree issued “by a heavily bearded Islamist spokesman in the city of Gao” Morgan reports. The decree referred to such music as “the music of Satan.” It informed the Malian people that “Qur’anic verses must take its place.”

    See? "Peace" breaks out wherever Islam spreads.

  • zalukas

    Sounds of bleating sheep sodomized are still in vogue among "Heavily bearded men of Islam".

  • Schlomotion

    This article is bait, but frankly, Ms. McDonnell is pandering to musicians here. Musicians already know where the line is of Islamism vs popular music. We already know which Islamic musicians are excellent and which are terrible. We already know which people tolerate secular music and which people don't. Ms. McDonnell is simply trying to terrify and outrage musicians to make us believe that an Islamic cleric is going to come cut our fingers off for listening or making Black People Music. This is ironic coming from a Christian. It is also ignorant as to just how many Muslims, Black Muslims, produce Western Music. She is simply an arrogant Europhile. As someone with orchestral training who produces Rap Music, I see through this woman. She is an intellectual flounder looking for a new venue to scare people.

    I have an easy question for anyone here: Do you think musicians don't own knives and guns? Is there some evidence you have that a musician, an artist, a painter, a poet would not be the cutter of fingers but always the loser of fingers in the imagined standoff between clerical censors and those oh so violent, licentious creators of immoral Western Music such as ourselves?

    • Lillith66

      Christ you are boring!!!

    • rjkatz

      Ms. McDonnel in not unreasonable in her fear of Isalm. The prohibition of music has made its’ appearance in Afganistan when the Taliban were in power. Islam is a scourge and should be made illegal.

    • faithiej

      LOL! I've never been called a Europhile before, Schlo. Actually, I am quite familiar with African music – real African music, not music that panders to the Arab Islamists. Particularly the war songs of the Jieng. Do you really think that Africa's musicians, be they Muslim or Christian or whatever, are going to form militias to fight off the jihadists? If they can't even stop the Islamic tribunal in Mali from destroying the shrines of the Muslim saints at Timbuktu, how are they going to stop them from initimidating, oppressing, and killing those who don't bow to Sharia? Yes, I do think that the artists would be the losers of the fingers.

      • Schlomotion

        Your theory that in Africa or anywhere that only Muslims are capable of violence is silly. Your other idea that African musicians don't have a genuine interest in Arab scales and rhythms is preposterous. Abraha Musa and Al Haji Bai Konte are just two of many prolific musicians. Also have you not noticed but, a great deal of musicians are in the gun and drug trade? Also, outside of that, there are also people like Charlie Daniels, Dave Mustaine, and Ted Nugent who know how to operate either the shotgun or the compound bow. Africa has no shortage of musical instruments or weapons. Your depiction of African musicians as wholly subservient to hand-slicing clerics is fiction.

        • UCSPanther

          Try making your lame remixes in front of a pack of sharia thugs. Then tell us what happened.

        • Mary Sue

          Ahahahaha what? No man, no. What do you think the Lords Resistance Army was?

    • Chezwick

      Hey Schlo, we're all still waiting for you to document your scurrilous charge that Robert Spencer is a racist. A single quote from him that is objectively racist will suffice. Either produce the quote or admit your charge is patently false.

      • Schlomotion

        Patience is a virtue.

        • Chezwick

          Schlo, allow me to instruct you on what it means to be a real man. When a man screws up, when he makes accusations that have no basis in reality, when he bears false witness, he acknowledges his mistake. This is what distinguishes him from a child, or in your case, a reptile.

          Come clean, sir.

        • Mary Sue

          refusing to answer in a timely manner is stonewalling.

          • Schlomotion

            Perhaps if people write on little slips of paper and stick them between the bricks, I will answer faster.

          • Mary Sue

            No you are not God, and FPM is not the Wailing Wall.

          • Schlomotion

            You're half right.

      • Mansaya

        That's easy. Robert Spencer publicly supported genocidal extermination of Turks in Asia Minor.

    • Mary Sue

      A lot of those countries have semi-totalitarian governments. Such governments tend to forbid ownership of weapons.

      • Schlomotion

        Good. Weapon ownership should be double there, then.

    • Ghostwriter

      This is how the Islamists operate,Schlomind. Destroy everyone and everything NOT Islamic. And since music is pretty much forbidden under Islam,it's not surprising that the Islamists go after musicians. They hate ALL kinds of music.

    • Mary Sue

      also wait, did you SERIOUSLY claim that people should know where the "line" is and THEN TOE THE LINE?!

  • JoJoJams

    Let's see:: I'm a musician/singer/songwriter, who loves "man's best friend", having dogs as wonderful additions to my family my entire life, I love pig (BACON!!! and porkchops!), love a good beer or a fine wine, think highly of woman, and think the modern age sans "stonings" etc. are the way to go. In short, take your god-awful, satanic inspired "religion", that hates ALL the niceties of life, and espouses atrocities like slavery, stonings, child marriages etc. and get the #$%^& out of my country! Your "religion" is NOT welcome here! If you do come here, abide by OUR laws and ways, and leave your satan inspired sharia cr@p at the shores!

  • victoria

    It is so strange that people of America have been conditioned to accept and be tolerant of every religion that happens to come along but we accept them and they turn on us and try to impose their will on us and make us change, they attack Christianity in every form and cry if anything bad is said about them
    if the United states has proved anything to the world it is that multi culture does not work it only brings more crime and hate look at what the cities of the United States have become crime ridden
    and of course we and britton keep bringing more of the same
    they call China and Japan the names for a reason it is a land where Chinese and Japanese can live in peace without multi culture clashes think about there is a huge reason why god speerated the languages and people

    • Mary Sue

      yeah they attack Christianity as if that is the religion that is going to keep them from all the things they like to do, and it turns out the religion they are far more tolerant of is the one that has far more adherents willing to implement a strict (way way WAY beyond Puritan) "fundamentalist"/literalist reading of some Theocratic based law.

      The irony is just mindblowing.

    • Mary Sue

      well, we're pretty intolerant of religions that practice human sacrifice. (Note Aztec religion as it was practiced in centuries past is no longer).

  • Denise

    Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhh! I am so sick of thugs and sharia and Mohammad and blood and atrocities!! Rise up against the false prophet and his followers! Choose sides – civilized culture, love, tolerance and beauty or more of these abominations! Some social experiments don't work. This is a blight!

  • LindaRivera

    Music, dancing, singing! They are GIFTS from God! Music, dancing and singing are LIFE!

    YES TO LIFE! YES to Human Rights!
    NO to sharia!

  • Reno

    Just for people to understand what is at stake under this cultural genocide: http://youtu.be/f_Gev0yH3HA

  • riverboatbill

    Islam: a black hole devouring all the appeasers in it's path.

  • John

    SLOWBRAIN/NOBRAIN – YOU ARE THE ULTIMATE MORON – Go take a year long visit to mali – and write/criticize against the islamists there the way you write/criticize people in my country – They will hunt you down and kill you , literally kill you , like islamists do in all places they govern .

    • Schlomotion

      Ha. "Your country."

  • BLJ

    I wonder if these losers prefer Maple or Rosewood?

  • Shnarkle

    Remember Star Trek? Remember the Borg? Probably the most frightening and disturbing fictional depiction of a civilisation. "Surrender! You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile!" And so the Borg wipe out the slightest vestige of a conquered civilisation's history, way of life and culture as they become just another addition to the collective.
    That's what we're dealing with here people, an unremitting, unforgiving determination to convert the entire planet to their way of thinking (that's being a bit generous – thinking). I find it unbelievable that the idiot dhimmis in the west still don't get what's going on; I just don't understand how they can't see the writing on the wall. The time for insurrection is fast approaching if we are to save ourselves as a civilisation!!

    • Mary Sue

      while that is indeed apt, at least the Borg took what was useful from cultures it assimilated and added it to their own.

  • Ghostwriter

    Shnarkle shouldn't forget the Daleks,the aliens from the "Doctor Who" series,who want to wipe out everyone and everything that isn't like them. The Islamists are the frightening mixtures of both the Borg and the Daleks from both series.
    As for Schlomotion,under the Taliban in Afghanistan,ALL music was banned. Not just traditional Afghan music,every form of music was banned. That's what the Islamists want. Nothing and no one to stand in the way of their version of Islam.

    • Shnarkle

      It would save us from Justin Bieber though…

    • Mary Sue

      The creator of Dr. Who has said that the Daleks are basically Space Nazis; that is what inspired them. They are filled with nothing but hate, just like Islamists.

  • Schlomotion

    Low morals, I guess.

    • Sunbeam

      Your mind is set. That's what it is. We cannot help you. You only have yourself to blame. You're neither neutral either….you can continue to speak on behalf of evil for as long as you live for you've every right to do so. But we hope you would at least leave your mind be open and not shut it completely leaving no rooms for truth to penetrate. You seems to be an intelligent being but we see a lack of wisdom in you or rather you're the kind of person who loves to challenge and to argue. Wisdom is not about intelligent………it is about to discern between right and wrong. And I think you do not possess that. I'm sorry.

      • Schlomotion

        That's OK. I have heard this "rightly guided/moral discernment/furqan" argument before. It is part of evangelism.

  • Tanstaafl jw

    They'll have to pry my harmonica from my cold, dead fingers…….

  • LeeVonHart

    Interesting that Khaddafi was planning a big dam project that would have kept valuable water in Libya, that naturally flows into Mali. Well this before his death. Mali does a lot of natural "sustainable" farming so it was a potential huge problem. Have wondered if Libya got some key people very mad about this, like maybe those who allied against him (French?)?