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Nowruz ban: Suppressing cultural diversity in Afghanistan

The solar New Year has arrived. Normally, millions in Afghanistan would be celebrating Nowruz but the Taliban have forbidden and prohibited any marking of the spring equinox. Last year, the Taliban regime officially deemed that the celebration of Nowruz was non-Islamic and Zoroastrian rituals. This edict came even though this universal celebration, which has occurred for more than 3,000 years, is registered as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2009. This grand festival is perceived as a commemoration of renewal, rejuvenation, and the blossoming of nature after the cold winter. The ancient celebration of the new year is celebrated with similar yet diverse folk customs throughout the Persian-speaking world, including Afghanistan, Iran, and other Central Asian countries.  

This year’s Nowruz will be particularly difficult. It used to coincide with the beginning of the new academic year but in today’s Afghanistan, millions of girls and women are being deprived of education and other human rights and citizenship, such as the right to work and independent and free movement.  

The Taliban’s prohibition of this celebration is a clear violation of the social and cultural rights of the people of Afghanistan. It is a decision based on the fundamentalist religious interpretation of Islam by this group. It also indicates this group’s long-held hostility toward cultural and social diversity in Afghanistan as well as its intent to destroy the ancient cultural heritage of Afghanistan. Banning Nowruz is the latest in a series of intolerant decrees and actions, which include the destruction of the two giant Buddha statues in the Bamiyan province in 2001; the imposition of black clothing rules on women; the prohibition on shaving for men; and the ban on music, dance, and human imagery.  

Prohibiting anyone in Afghanistan from celebrating Nowruz is also part of this ruling group’s  overall policy of cultural homogenization, which includes the imposition of its ideological identity and authority on diverse cultures, religions, and ethnic groups in the country. 

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The long and widespread history of the New Year’s celebration means that Nowruz has no specific connection to any specific religion or ideology and is cherished by the people in this region, regardless of their beliefs or religious adherences. Except for a few reactionary and biased groups, such as the Taliban who see it as contradictory to Islam, others have not issued any religious fatwa banning Nowruz.  

The culture of Nowruz, with its diverse and widespread rituals and geographical extent, contradicts the narrow and extremist interpretation and mindset of the Taliban group regarding religious sources as well as the foundation of the violent mentality of this group. Moreover, this celebration energizes people to live joyfully, and hope for life, prosperity, freedom, and diversity. This not only contradicts the fear-driven, isolated, and monolithic society desired by the Taliban but can also pose a threat and challenge the authority of this group, especially as celebrating Nowruz means public participation of a diverse range of society.  

The Taliban ban on the Nowruz celebration, along with imposing restrictions and censorship on the publishing industry and bookstores, completely limit people’s access to free information. In addition, the Taliban prohibition of the use of Persian language and expressions in governmental and educational institutions reinforces the Taliban’s imposition of constraints on the cultural expressions of the people. 

As a shared cultural heritage and capital, Nowruz has been seen as a unifying force between different social groups. The Taliban’s prohibition of this celebration deprives a war-torn and identity-crisis-ridden society like ours of opportunities for empathic interaction. The politicization of Nowruz will also deepen social divides and may pave the way for unpredictable social and political crises. 

Nowruz has been a generational builder of collective memories for the people of Afghanistan, one intertwined with the fabric of their lives. In particular, children and women use celebrating this festival as a pretext for recreation and outdoor activities. 

Banning Nowruz could backfire on the Taliban. In addition to increasing solidarity among the ethnic groups residing in Afghanistan, Nowruz can serve as a bridge and a catalyst for fostering cultural understanding among neighbouring countries in the region. This celebration, which represents our society’s cultural richness, has always had the potential to prevent prejudice and violence while also promoting a culture of reconciliation, tolerance. 

Nowruz is an irreplaceable celebration. 

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