Iran’s supreme leader displays exception to his staunch anti-Westernism by expressing admiration for the West’s “instructive and meaningful” musical output.
He has the image of an elderly curmudgeon of uncompromisingly anti-Western prejudices but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top cleric, has shown a surprising side of his character by revealing a taste for some of the West’s music.
The hitherto unknown trait was revealed in a series of postings on the Iranian supreme leader’s Twitter page marking World Music Day in which he praises the West’s “instructive and meaningful” music.
“You know that I’m anti-western, yet by reasoning I confirm the positive qualities of West; one of which is issue of #music,” read one tweet in English, accompanied by a World Music Day hashtag.
Subsequent tweets did not specify the ayatollah’s Western musical preferences but made it clear that he objected to some modern varieties as “decadent”.
“It’s true that in West there’s decadent #music for dancing & debauchery, but instructive & meaningful music also have long existed there,” a second tweet read.
Besides “decadent music”, a third tweet added, the West produced “some types of music…that a wise transcendental person can enjoy it [sic] in concerts”.
The paean of praise was rounded off by a fourth message stating: “In [the] West, there’s no shortage of #music that saved a nation or led intellectual groups [to] the right path; West had ¤tly has such qualities.”
Ayatollah Khamenei’s previous public pronouncements on music have been, at best, ambivalent. His comments about concerts are particularly surprising given the relative rarity of live musical performances in Iran.
He spoke out against the promotion of music in universities during the 1997-2005 administration of Mohammad Khatami, the Reformist former president who oversaw a period of relative cultural and social freedom.
He also cautioned against using Iranian music to stem the alleged Western “cultural invasion” of Iran. “It’s not an easy task to differentiate between haram [forbidden] and halal [permitted] music,” he told students in 1998. “I cannot say 100 per cent that traditional Iranian music is halal.”
Music which encouraged human beings to sin and engage in “lustful conduct”, was forbidden from an Islamic viewpoint, he said.
While little is known about his personal musical inclinations, the ayatollah, 75, is rumoured to have played the setar, a traditional Iranian string instrument, when he was young.
His latest comments are a radical departure from official policy in the years following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, when all types of music were banned and musicians were frequently arrested.
Western pop music is popular among many ordinary Iranians but is still officially frowned upon – even though instrumental versions of modern songs are frequently heard in cafés, restaurants and shopping malls.
Despite his staunchly anti-Western political ideology, Ayatollah Khamenei has taken a more nuanced view of the West’s cultural output. He once described Western culture as “a combination of beautiful and ugly things”, telling Iranian youths: “No-one can say that Western culture is completely ugly.”
A voracious reader, he is known to have listed Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” among his favourite novels, believing that they expose the iniquity of the West’s political values.
Originally published on www.telegraph.co.uk