Sunday, July 22, 2012

Heavy Metal (Anti-)Islam

On July 11, The Atlantic published a piece on its website by Kim Kelly, entitled "When Black Metal's Anti-Religious Message Gets Turned on Islam." The article begins by describing a track called "Burn the Pages of Quran" by a female-fronted heavy metal band from Iraq called Janaza. It also describes the metal band Seeds Of Iblis (Iblis = Satan in Arabic), fronted by Anahita, the same woman who fronts Janaza, which has released an EP entitled Jihad Against Islam. Two other bands mentioned in this camp of "blasphemers" are Damaar and Ayat, both from Lebanon.

Kelly concludes by describing Anahita and her projects in quite laudatory terms:

In a scene revered and reviled for its commitment to darkness and blasphemy, it's nevertheless rare to encounter musicians who are, quite literally, willing to die for their art. Anahita's message is controversial, but it also comes with sobering, almost-jarring humanity. As her one-woman war against Islam rages on, her deepest desire seems to be for peace—or at least, for understanding. 

"The goals of Janaza and Seeds Of Iblis are to show the world that Islam is dangerous," she said, "and even the people who live in the Middle East get hurt by this religion and seek for freedom of speech, just like the other people from all over the world."

Only two days later Hetal, writing for Metalluminati exposed Janaza as a (probable) hoax. The artists hide behind fake, re-purposed photos. They only communicate with journalists via Facebook. Their stories don't add up.

In fact, the whole notion that there is something called The Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion (The Atlantic for some reason renders "legion" as "league") seems to me highly suspect. On the one hand, the very existence of such a "legion" seems like a wet dream designed to appeal to Westerners (metal fans and non-metal fans alike) on the lookout for local critics of "Islam" with whom to sympathize (cf. Hirsi Ali). Better yet if these Arab or Middle Eastern critics are motivated by their embrace of a Western popular culture form. Isn't it cool and awesome that they are using metal to blast the bejesus out of that awful and threatening doctrine of "Islam." On the other, the whole thing seems like a propaganda gift to local forces who are always on the lookout for immoral, anti-religious behaviors by Arab or Middle Eastern youth who have been corrupted by various forms of Western popular culture (cf. "moral panics" in Egypt [1997], Morocco [2003] and Lebanon [2002-3] against "Satanic" heavy metal). The metal scenes in Egypt, Morocco, and Lebanon have bounced back from the early attacks, but witch hunts keep occurring, as Beth Winegarner writes in an article for PopMatters in June. (And see, of course, Mark Levine's book, Heavy Metal Islam.)

My guess is that the perpetrators of the hoax are Western metal heads, not Arab ones. They may have been successful in creating a ruckus, and the music is pretty decent -- but they have, wittingly or not, probably done more harm to the Arab and Middle Eastern metal scene that they claim to be a part of. Too bad that The Atlantic also, irresponsibly, played along and gave the "Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion" even more publicity.

No comments: