Sunday, November 06, 2011

Hishaam Aidi on US attempts to use hip hop as a foreign policy tool and US media's over-estimation of the role of hip hop in the Arab Spring

Please see this piece from Al Jazeera English by Hishaam Aidi, Columbia University, on hip-hop in US diplomacy. One of the points Aidi makes, which is also one of my peeves of late, is that 'the role of music should not be exaggerated: Hip hop did not cause the Arab revolts any more than Twitter or Facebook did. the countries in the region with the most vibrant hip hop scenes, Morocco and Algeria, have not seen revolts. Western journalists' focus on hip hop - like their fixation on Facebook and Twitter - seems partly because, in their eyes, a taste for hip hop among young Muslims is a sign of moderation, modernity, even "an embrace of the US."'

Thank you, Hishaam!

Here is a typical report, by Karl Bostic of NBC News, entitled "How Rap Fueled the Revolution." (It's not dated, but was broadcast in early September 2011, I believe.)

It claims, "Rap music has become the soundtrack of the revolution, and the symbol of resistance." I'm pretty unconvinced by a lot of what Bostic asserts. He presents two rather unimpressive Libyan rappers, who rhyme in English, and claims that Libyan rebels were going into battle inspired by local rap. The so-called "rapper" from Hama, Syria, who did the popular song "Come On Bashar, Leave," was not really a hip-hop artist, contrary to what Bostic states, but rather chanted, in traditional style, to a debke beat. (See Anthony Shadid's report on this song, and how the person who performed it, Ibrahim Qashoush, had his throat cut shortly thereafter, here.) Bostic does at least show that the person he says is Syria's most popular rapper, Murder Eyez, supports the Bashar regime, and that rap's appeal in Yemen is limited. It is true that rappers like Egypt's Deeb were active during the uprising centered at Tahrir in January and February, but I believe that he was of lesser importance in these events than artists working in other musical genres. I believe the only place where hip hop truly played a significant role was in Tunisia, and in particular, the rapper El General and his song "Rais el-Bled."

Hishaam also raises all kinds of important questions about hip hop cultural diplomacy. For a more in-depth look at the issues of race, hip hop, Islam, and foreign policy, please see Hishaam's recent article in Middle East Report (Fall 2012), "The Grand (Hip-Hop) Chessboard: Race, Rap and Raison d'Etat."

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