The first known pronouncement by a public figure regarding the potential of popular music to act as a socially destabilizing force comes from the first century B.C., when none other than the great philosopher Plato wrote, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” Many similar pronouncements have followed in the 2000 years since, with defenders of the status quo labeling musicians as diverse as Igor Stravinsky, Elvis Presley and Ice-T as dangers to society. On this day in 2005, in one fell swoop, newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put that label on those musicians and many more when he announced a total ban on Western music on state-run television and radio in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The announcement of the ban was entirely in keeping with the antipathy to Western culture that President Ahmadinejad had previously shown as the mayor of Tehran. While in that office in 2003, for instance, Ahmadinejad had issued a ban on all outdoor advertisements featuring international soccer star David Beckham. In truth, however, the ban on Western music was simply a restatement of a longstanding official policy first put in place in Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In banning all music except that with an explicitly religious theme, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini had remarked at that time that “Music dulls the mind because it involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs. It destroys our youth who become poisoned by it.”
In the decades following the revolution but prior to the election of Ahmadinejad, tolerance for Western music had increased to the point that the works of certain Western musicians—George Michael, Eric Clapton, The Eagles and Kenny G. in particular, according to the BBC—had become relatively common on Iranian state television. The ban announced by President Ahmadinejad put an end to that practice, but predictably did little to stamp out enthusiasm for Western music in a nation where 70 percent of the population was younger than 30 as of 2008. As reported in Time magazine and The San Francisco Chronicle that same year, underground scenes devoted to homegrown, Western-style pop, rock and hip-hop continue to thrive in the Iranian capital despite the ban announced on this day in 2005.