Chaos set to mu­sic: To­tal­i­tar­ian pasts haunt new Iraqi, Afghan songs

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - By David R. Sands

An­them pol­i­tics have proven es­pe­cially tricky in the two cen­tral fronts on the global war on ter­ror­ism: Iraq and Afghanistan.

Emerg­ing from the long to­tal­i­tar­ian rules of Sad­dam Hus­sein and the Tal­iban left both coun­tries fac­ing del­i­cate and some­times di­vi­sive choices re­gard­ing the se­lec­tion of new na­tional songs — as well as con­tin­u­ing con­fu­sion abroad.

When Iraq’s na­tional soc­cer team scored a stun­ning up­set win in last month’s Asian Cup cham­pi­onships, a post-tour­na­ment party in the United Arab Emi­rates was marred when the Dubai hosts played the old, dis­cred­ited Sad­dam-era an­them whose sec­ond verse ex­tolled the “pride of li­ons” of the dic­ta­tor’s Ba’athist Party.

Sev­eral play­ers and mem­bers of the team del­e­ga­tion walked out in protest as the song played, aides to Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki said. UAE of­fi­cials blamed the mixup on a “tech­ni­cian” who was not in­formed that the new Iraqi gov­ern­ment changed the an­them to “Maw­tini,” or “My Home­land,” a pop­u­lar Arab folk tune.

In­deed, Iraq’s dif­fi­cult 20th-cen­tury his­tory can be traced through the var­i­ous edi­tions of its na­tional an­them.

The monar­chy that ruled Iraq af­ter the end of Bri­tish colo­nial rule adopted the “Royal Salute” as the coun­try’s an­them, even though it was com­posed by a Bri­tish lieu­tenant. That an­them was jet­ti­soned when the king was over­thrown in 1959.

Six years later, in a pe­riod of in­tense pan-Arab sol­i­dar­ity, Iraq adopted Egypt’s na­tional an­them “Walla Za­man Ya Se­lahy,” or “Oh, My Weapon,” keep­ing the an­them even af­ter Egypt dis­carded it in the late 1970s.

As Sad­dam con­sol­i­dated his oneparty rule, Iraq got its third an­them in a quar­ter-cen­tury — “Land of Two Rivers.” It was this an­them, with a verse prais­ing the Ba’ath Party, that was junked by the new U.S.-backed Iraqi gov­ern­ment in 2004.

The strug­gle to fash­ion a na­tional an­them for post-Tal­iban Afghanistan also re­quired a del­i­cate po­lit­i­cal, lin­guis­tic and eth­nic bal­anc­ing act, re­flect­ing com­pet­ing in­ter­ests in the coun­try at large.

Afghan of­fi­cials were roundly crit­i­cal of the de facto Tal­iban-era an­them, a mu­si­cal cel­e­bra­tion of the Is­lamist mu­jahideen who bat­tled Soviet troops in the 1980s.

Seek­ing to head off the crip­pling fac­tional and eth­nic di­vi­sions of the past, the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion that was adopted in Jan­uary 2004 man­dates the an­them be writ­ten in Pashto, the lan­guage of the Pash­tun peo­ple; that it con­tain the phrase “Al­lahu Ak­bar” (“God is great”); and that it “men­tion the eth­nic groups of Afghanistan.”

Meant to be in­clu­sive, the re­quire­ments pro­duced new di­vi­sions.

Ta­jiks and other large nonPashto speak­ing groups protested the lan­guage man­date. More sec­u­lar Afghans — in­clud­ing the Wash­ing­ton-based writer who com­posed the verses — were un­happy with the ex­plicit Is­lamic ref­er­ence.

And the re­quire­ment to men­tion the coun­try’s eth­nic groups set off a pub­lic de­bate over which of the coun­try’s dozens of eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, tribes and sub­groups would make the cut. In the end, 14 eth­nic groups made it into the text, which was fi­nally adopted af­ter nearly two years of de­bate.

But there was one last prob­lem: a quar­ter-cen­tury of civil war and dis­place­ment left Afghanistan with­out enough com­pe­tent mu­si­cians and en­gi­neers to record the an­them for its of­fi­cial de­but in May 2006, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the In­sti­tute for Peace and War Re­port­ing.

On its first air­ing in Kabul, the new Afghan na­tional an­them was heard as a CD record­ing, per­formed by emi­gre Afghan mu­si­cians and singers who pro­duced it in Ger­many.

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