How Music Stopped an Extremist

When I started Cultures in Harmony with a concept paper dated January 1, 2005, the goal was hardly modest. I hoped that the initial project would “provide further proof of the powerful role music plays in reminding people of the glory of which humanity is capable and the bonds we all share.”

Should I have aimed higher? Music is nice, but surely its impact is limited. Surely, music cannot truly solve the most pressing problems of our time. It cannot halt the spread of militancy. Or can it?

Through our Egypt project in January 2009, I got to know a young 18-year-old Muslim musician named Mohab. He added me on Facebook shortly after my return from Egypt in January of this year. Our original conversations dealt with our favorite music or how to balance the demands of school and practicing.

In March, he asked me to join a Facebook group called “Hitler Lovers.” I wrote him and explained why he should not admire Hitler. He agreed with the letter I wrote, said that he realized Hitler is “not that great,” and left the group.

We continued the dialogue. Last month, we were instant messaging on Facebook. He was feeling inadequate because the other young musicians he hears sound better. I urged him to do his best and compare himself only with his personal best.

Then came the shocker. He mentioned that he was invited to join a militant movement on the campus of the school he attends. The group wanted him to help fight against those who listen to music and to harass women who refused to veil themselves. He said that he refused, because he prefers peace to violence. He said, “Please connect me to other people who reject violence and choose peace. I am not around people like that, and I would like to know them.”

Cultures in Harmony is that connection.

We will return to Egypt to meet more young men like Mohab. We will go back to Pakistan to heed the words of the student in Karachi who told us to “build a relationship” because we are “feeding an entire nation.” We will teach young musicians in Tunisia and Zimbabwe. We will collaborate with groups in Papua New Guinea and Cameroon.

Would you like to help build a world graced by more understanding? Then give whatever you can, and tell everyone you know to give whatever they can.

Mohab deserves nothing less.

William Harvey