Like Jewish hip hop, Muslim punk or “taqwacore” is about finding one’s place at the intersection of a global religion and a nation-state in which that religion is in the minority.  I’ve heard of taqwacore a few times before, but it seems to be getting more buzz lately and I thought it was worth a shout-out.

Taqwacore as such is the brainchild of a guy called Michael Muhammad Knight, a convert to Islam who became disillusioned with his faith and, in 2003, published a novel called The Taqwacores in which a bunch of Muslim kids who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere else move into a house together and do their own thing.  (Basically just like parts of West Philly, but plus Islam and probably more fun…anyway.)

The novel inspired a full-fledged genre of Muslim punk music, which is becoming more and more successful all the time; most of the music deals with issues of concern to American Muslims and generally sounds like regular punk music with a few nods to Arab influence here and there.  The musicians conceive of themselves as

stoking the revolution – against traditionalists in their own communities and against the clichés forced upon them from the outside – “we’re giving the finger to both sides,” says one Taqwacore. “Fuck you and fuck you.”

Here’s a review of an Al-Thawra concert earlier this year. As an aside that should be developed further at some point, I think it’s pretty interesting that this is (to my knowledge) the only music scene that has grown almost entirely out of an imaginary group of music-makers in a fictional work.  It’s almost too pomo to be happening in real life.

Unlike Jewish hip hop (which is the topic of my current research hence my constant reference to it), which tries very hard to contextualize itself within and connect itself to both mainstream American society and to the larger Jewish diaspora, taqwacore seems to be more about individual identity–more about asserting oneself against the larger Muslim and American communities.  (Not that there aren’t elements of both in each style.)  I don’t always like the strident individualism in the punk ethos, but I think in this case it can be really valuable for members of a community who are often seen by other Americans, and by the media, as monolithic, dogmatic and obedient (especially women).

Taqwacores don’t unproblematically identify as Muslim; they have many different views on the practice of Islam, on American culture, on music, and how they deal with all of the above and more.  They’re also really savvy about speaking for themselves–check out the Taqwacore Webzine–and seem to be making room for themselves and their unique take on American Muslim identity.  Perhaps their paradoxical “shared sense of isolation” will be the tension driving a new way of thinking about Islam in the American public sphere.  We can hope, right?

Documentaries and stereotypes

Dear The Root:

Normally, you are a pretty good website with progressive, thoughtful stuff.  Why on earth was it necessary to headline an article about a Muslim hip hop artist “An Intimate Look at Hip-Hop’s Jihad?”

According to Wikipedia (which I know is not the most reliable source, but bear with me), “jihad” simply means “struggle,” or “striving in the way of Allah.”  That’s all well and good, as it seems that Hamza Perez is doing his best to lead a godly life as a prison chaplain, musician and community activist.

However, I’m sure you know that most Americans associate “jihad” with the worst prejudiced rhetoric of the Bush years and therefore that using it in your headline is going to make readers think “terrorist hip hop” as opposed to “hip hop for positive social change.”  And that would be a shame, because it appears that Hamza Perez is doing good work and making good music.

Sincerely, Meredith

On another note, the documentary looks really cool.  I’ve done some research about the connection between Islam (specifically West African Muslim liturgical chant) and African American music in the past and this is right up that alley.  Check out this video, it will blow your diasporic hybridized mind:

Torture music

No, I’m not talking about the endless loop of Journey coming from the frat across the street again.  While music is usually a positive thing, unfortunately our military and intelligence agencies have decided to use it against “enemy combatants” in the war on terror.  The Society for Ethnomusicology, the professional association of ethnomusicologists, condemned this practice in 2007.  It took the American Musicological Society (the equivalent for musicologists) until 2008 to get around to taking a stand but hey, better late than never.

It’s been known for a while that American pop music has been projected into battlefields and used in torture chambers to get suspects to crack–both by offending their morals and/or aesthetic taste.  It’s usually part of a more sinister and well-honed torture method (laid out in chilling detail in Naomi Klein’s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, which I’m only now getting around to reading), in which our spooks (or, you know, other countries’ spooks that we subcontract) first deprive prisoners of any sensory input and then flood them with stimulus in the form of strobe lights, electroshocks and loud music.  This causes prisoners to regress to a childlike state, lose aspects of their memories and become extremely vulnerable to the power of suggestion–which is how torturers get confessions out of these guys.

That’s where this list from Mental Floss via the WSJ comes in.  The CIA’s top choices?

1) Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA.” I really don’t like Springsteen either–I think it’s the terrible drum machine.  I hope that doesn’t make me a suspected terrorist.

2) Christina Aguilera, “Dirrty.” Apparently the interrogators chose this one because its sexual content would offend the moral views of some of the stricter Muslim suspects.  I hadn’t seen this video in a while–I forgot about those horrendous assless chaps she used to wear.  Remember when she came on the scene in the late 90s and she was the classy one out of all the teen pop stars (which she kind of is again given the Britney trainwreck)?  Like, my grandma bought me the album with “Genie in a Bottle” on it.

3) Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Were Made for Walking.” I mean, it’s not the greatest song ever, but I don’t think I’d crack after listening to it for a long time (except for maybe that part where the bass line sounds like the bassist is just slowly detuning the instrument…).

4) AC/DC, “Shoot to Thrill” and “Hells Bells.” I dislike AC/DC so much that I am refusing to embed the clips.  Take that, Gitmo.

5) Barry Manilow’s oeuvre (so to speak). I will let this quote from the article speak for itself:

The New Zealand town of Christchurch recently blasted the crooner’s tunes throughout their central mall district to drive away the local punks who had been littering the area with graffiti, drinking in public and doing drugs.

I wonder how it feels to be the entire world’s punchline.

6) Barney the Dinosaur, “I Love You.” Given that 90s nostalgia is apparently au courant right now, just watch this clip and party like it’s 1993 (and you’re at preschool).  Note the dramatic half-step modulation around 0:31.

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