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Sensemaker: A country without music

Sensemaker: A country without music

Tuesday 31 August 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The US military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan and left the Taliban, which it spent two decades fighting, in control of the country (more below).
  • Bank robbers in the southern Brazilian city of Araçatuba strapped hostages to the top of their getaway vehicles as human shields. Four people were seriously injured and two were killed during the heist.
  • China’s video game regulator ordered that children can only play online games between 8pm and 9pm on Fridays, weekends, and holidays.

A country without music

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, they banned music. Their men unspooled cassette tapes from their casing and strung them from trees. When the Taliban were ousted in 2001, an Afghan refugee called Ahmad Sarmast returned to his home country to establish the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.

The Institute became one of the only places in Afghanistan where girls could learn music. They were trained in Afghan and Western classics alongside boys. Taliban insurgents, who believed that women should not study or work, repeatedly attacked the Institute and its staff. 

Sarmast persisted for two decades until the Taliban took over Afghanistan again – and again banned music. “We are all very, very fearful about the future of music,” he told journalists. “We are very fearful about our girls.” The Institute is now closed and it isn’t looking good for the girls:

  • Seven buses carrying 280 girls from the Institute, with no food or water, travelled for 17 hours in blistering heat to get to Kabul airport on Saturday. They were sent to three different airport gates and told to wait in line for approval for departure from the Taliban.
  • As the aeroplane that the girls were set to board waited for them on the airport’s one runway, US military personnel took the flight manifest to a Taliban checkpoint where they normally negotiated with the fighters to let people through. In this case, the Taliban refused approval for departure.
  • The gates shut. The girls were promised that there would be meetings on Sunday morning in which their case for departure would be revisited. The meetings never happened.

The girls’ future is now unknown. The attempt at evacuating them was private, backed by donors and coordinated by Robert Stryk, a Washington fixer, and former Republican congressman Scott Taylor. It was private because the girls were not considered a priority for the last of the US-led civilian evacuation efforts over the weekend or for the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab – who was made aware of the girls’ situation but offered no real solution.

One person involved in the attempted evacuation told the Sensemaker that the official response has been “very disappointing, but there’s been an extraordinary coming together of citizens who haven’t slept for days and who are still working on this”. With the US and UK withdrawals complete, and the Taliban now in full control of Kabul airport, more will fall on these citizens’ shoulders.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Leaving Afghanistan
President Biden completed his withdrawal of American military and diplomatic personnel ahead of today’s deadline, delivering on his campaign promise to end the country’s longest war. Biden described the evacuation of troops and civilians from Afghanistan as “the largest airlift in US history“. Thousands remain stranded and are now dependent on the goodwill of the Taliban for permission to leave the country. The Taliban promised the US they would allow those with proper authorisation to leave, but don’t hold your breath. As Taliban militants took control of Kabul airport early this morning, they fired into the air and celebrated Afghanistan’s “independence” and its status as a “free and sovereign nation”. If the Taliban’s previous rule is a guide, Afghans will now live under highly restrictive and draconian rules.

New things technology, science, engineering

Antidepressants for children
Children in the UK were prescribed a record number of antidepressants during the pandemic. According to data from the NHS, 231,791 prescriptions were handed out to children aged between five and 16 last year compared with 189,457 four years earlier. Mental health campaigners have blamed the rise on long waits for mental health services for young people – and pandemic restrictions that have kept children away from school. In this context, GPs feel powerless to offer anything other than antidepressants. “While antidepressants can play a role in supporting some young people’s mental health,” Tom Madders of YoungMinds told the Times (£), “it’s crucial that they are never seen as a substitute for fast access to talking therapies, especially for younger children.”

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

European Covid death wave
The World Health Organization’s European director predicted the region could record another 236,000 Covid-related deaths by December. The situation, according to Hans Kluge, is “deeply worrying” – in the past week, Europe has seen an 11 per cent increase in deaths. Kluge blamed the rising trend of deaths on the more infectious Delta variant, the easing of pandemic restrictions, and slow vaccine uptake. While EU data shows that 65 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated, uptake has slowed in the past six weeks on account of vaccine hesitancy in some countries and lack of vaccine access in lower and lower-middle income countries. As the Sensemaker reported last month, the iniquitous global distribution of vaccines is leading to masses of preventable deaths around the world, including, according to Kluge, on Europe’s periphery. The Tortoise Arms Race campaign is pushing rich countries to share their surplus doses and pharmaceutical companies to send more doses to poor countries.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Hurricane Ida
Another day, another extreme weather event. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana on Sunday with 240 kilometres per hour winds. It was the fifth strongest hurricane to ever hit the US mainland. About one million locals have no electricity. Officials expect it will take weeks for power to return. “It’s going to be a difficult life for quite some time,” a local leader told the BBC. So far only death has been recorded, but the property damage is catastrophic. Some 5,000 National Guard members have been deployed to help with search and rescue, and more than 25,000 workers from around the country have been brought in to support electricity restoration.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Theranos defence
Elizabeth Holmes, once named “the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire” by Forbes, and now facing charges of serious fraud, looks set to use a mental health defence at her upcoming criminal trial. Holmes had founded a company, Theranos, that made wild and untrue claims that it could provide revolutionary blood tests. Now 37, Holmes is facing up to 20 years in prison on 12 charges of fraud. Her defence will be that her ex-boyfriend and business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abused her – controlling what she ate, when she slept, what she wore – impairing her mental state. Balwani is facing the same charges and called Holmes’s claims “outrageous”.

Emily Benn’s Paralympic fact of the day

Day five of the para-athletics competition will see 24 gold medals handed out in total, and we have already seen world records aplenty in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Switzerland’s Marcel Hug smashed the 2:50 barrier to win the 1500m T54 in a time of 2:49.55. Brit Hannah Cockroft became a six-time Paralympic gold medallist as she defended her T34 100m crown with a new world record of 16.39 seconds. This is not the first time Hannah has broken a world record in the Paralympics – she was the first athlete to do it in London 2012. The first to do it in Tokyo was the American Nick Mayhugh on Friday – who managed it twice in the same day, in the heats and final of the T37 100m.

Thanks for reading and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Produced by Sophia Sun and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images

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