In recent weeks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and denied that the Holocaust ever happened, much to the dismay of the West and probably a silent majority of Iranians, too.
Now the Islamic Republic has taken another bold step on the road to Year Zero, this time by banning Western music. Tehran commuters, who in recent years have grown accustomed to listening to Eric Clapton or Kenny G., will now have to put up with whatever Mr. Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council deem "decent." Don't expect "Crosstown Traffic" or "Baby You Can Ride My Car" to make the list.
Iranians have been here before, as have other victims of dictatorship. Ayatollah Khomeini banned all forms of music after the 1979 revolution, but the rules were gradually relaxed after his death. In the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge, music was banned along with all other expressions of art and culture, and hundreds of musicians were murdered. The Nazis extolled the music of Wagner, yet they famously tore down the statue of the Jewish-born Felix Mendelssohn in front of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. The Communist regimes also had their songs, including such memorable hits as "The East Is Red."
There is a philosophical pedigree to this madness. In Plato's "Republic," Socrates notes that music holds a key to fashioning the souls of men, and therefore is a tool in the education -- and subjugation -- of citizens. There is probably something to this.
But as Vaclav Havel reminds us, music can also be a tool of liberation. Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution took much of its inspiration from the Velvet Underground. Iranians, too, may eventually find themselves taking a Walk on the Wild Side.