Who Decides Fate of Concerts in Iran?

23 July 2016 | 21:48 Code : 1961563 General category
Rouhani administration’s latest culture-related reform is being stonewalled by political rivals.
Who Decides Fate of Concerts in Iran?

A decades-long debate about music concerts and public places is taken to a whole new level but seems ceaseless as far as we can see. After a series of pop and traditional music concerts were recently cancelled in the eleventh hour across the country over what is dubbed as moral security, the Rouhani administration rectified a bylaw to give the Culture Ministry the final word. This was met with unprecedented backlashes from remote places.


In mid-April, a long-awaited traditional composer Kayhan Kalhor’s concert in Nishabur, with all the usual permits, was cancelled over what was initially announced a judicial decision in response to requests submitted by families of the city’s martyrs. Soon, the Nishabur’s Association of Solidarity among Families of Martyrs issued a statement criticizing the move as an abuse of their reputation. Two hundred artists from the city wrote an open letter to President Hassan Rouhani urging him to resolve the issue. Culture Minister Ali Jannati later said he had informed the judiciary chief of the matter and that judiciary officials had promised more cooperation. Since then, it has turned out to be the opposite as several other concerts were cancelled and in many cases it is unclear who is really behind the cancellations. Many are blaming the Solicitous, a hardliner division of the principlist front.


After about three months, the cabinet finally passed a proposed rectification of Article 20 in a bylaw on public places in order to prevent police intervention in the permits and contents of music concerts last week. According to the new executive legislation, the culture ministry is authorized to issue permits for art and culture stage performances, including those of music and theater while the police is obliged to review security and traffic provisions within 10 days and provide discipline and security during the event. This came after years of sporadic crackdowns by spontaneous ‘pressure groups’, the police, or judiciary officials and was meant to seal the fate of these performances through separation of powers. However, it appears not to be the end of the story.


A few days after the new ruling was publicly announced, Iran’s Deputy Chief of Staff of Armed Forces and Police Spokesman Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri issued a statement which said crackdown on moral, behavioral anomalies in the society is a police duty and a public demand. The statement urged the police to continue such crackdowns “seriously in the whole society including concerts”. During a meeting with Police Chief Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari, Hujjat al-Islam Mohammad Saeedi, the official custodian of the holy shrine of Fatima Masumeh (PBUH) said: “Moral security is interwoven with the dignity and foundation of the [Islamic] establishment and cannot be seen as amenable to partisan or individual interpretations”. He criticized efforts to issue concert permits without the supervision of bodies concerned, saying some concerts are meant to vulgarize the society and empty it from revolutionary principles so that make any promotion of licentiousness and mixing of men and women appear as normal. The latest comments come from Hossein Noushabadi, the Culture Ministry's spokesman, whose remarks fail to provide a final answer. “The duties of the police force have not changed, because the law cannot be altered with an executive bylaw,” he told Shargh daily. “What happened was a ‘division of labor’ to determine the role and position of two cultural and disciplinary institutions in organizing cultural and artistic stage events in public spaces and places,” he added.


This multiplicity of the decision-making institutions is damaging the country’s toddling music industry. To be more realistic, the ambiguity of the political resonances of the issue is rooted in the obscure approach to music in the country’s seminary schools that function as centers of religious leadership and the religious attitude among those involved in the music industry who are acting more and more secularly. A better understanding may help but is too farfetched clearly because neither can compromise. That perhaps explains why recent remarks by Ali Jannati that suggested some musicians should be sent to the seminary schools have sparked awe among many observers. 

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