Monday, October 02, 2006

Fun^Da^Mental's "786 All Is War": "Sufi surfing on boards of steel"

Fun^Da^Mental's All Is War has been out since July 31, and it now appears that, despite all the controversy, the group's leader, Aki Nawaz, will probably not prosecuted under Britain's glorification of terrorism laws, passed earlier this year. I've been listening to it a lot, and playing songs that are appropriate on my "Interzone Radio" world music show. One of the songs I play is "786 All Is War." The controversy about All Is War mostly centers on the songs "DIY Cookbook" and "Che Bin" parts 1 and 2. "DIY Cookbook" gets into the heads of bomb-makers: the lowrent suicide bomber who makes his own bomb at a cheap cost, the maker of a dirty bomb who holds a PhD, and a "legitimate" bomb-maker, government employee, at work on a neutron bomb. Part one of Che Bin features a speech by Che, explaining the difference between sabotage ("revolutionary") and terrorism ("ineffective and indiscriminate"), although terrorism is sometimes useful when it involves the killing of an oppressive leader. Part two of Che Bin features a speech by Bin Laden in which he justifies the killing of Western civilians in a kind of exchange for the Muslim children killed by the West.

Less attention has been paid to the track, "786 All Is War." I consider it just as disturbing as "DIY Cookbook," and perhaps even more so. (I'm much more creeped out, however, by "Che Bin Pt. 2," the Bin Laden speech.)

Here's what Fun^Da^Mental say about the song on their website:
The United States is a country built on theft and mass murder yet it propagates the idea it is a civilized nation. Since 9/11 it has displayed all the evidence necessary to find it guilty of genocide and mass murder. Thus we will see its demise in the future, even if this seems like a dream, eventually its own citizens will turn their backs and beg to be liberated by those which it is currently attempting to destroy...Muslims. Islam will come back to haunt it. No Hollywood movie mogul would dare to imagine such a scenario...but here is the theme to the future. The emancipation of the United States will come from within but with the help of those forces that it attempted to destroy. Even the Statue of Liberty will prostrate to its liberation, until that fictional idea becomes reality let's watch Hollywood continue to push through its fantasy of a free nation, democratic and just, as its foundation is overflowing with the blood of others.

That is, this is meant to be a futuristic song about how the US is liberated by Muslim invader/liberators, in alliance with its own citizens. A look at the lyrics, however, suggests that the focus is mostly on the invader-liberators. Check it out:
Attack at dawn with sonic horns
Quranic forms and phonic guns
Sufi surfing on boards of steel
Laser scimitars coded zikr
Love and hate approach the state
The Statue of Liberty falls prostrate
On the way to slay the riba
The money lenders the bank elite


Takbirs from cyborg mujahids
AI imams electro du'a
Robotic maidens of paradise
Mechanoid martyrdom sacrifice
Chrome steeds galloping out to war
Future fedayeen shariah law
Truth cannons firing tomes
Beaming khutbas to their homes


Send forth the Sunnah troopers
Anti gravity plasma scooters
Crescent starship shabab clones
Powered by the power of the blackstone
Form ranks Ibrahim tanks
IC ballistic archers flank
Built from the holy Meccan soil
Engines running on blackseed oil


East west bring the law deliver
Jihadi jetskis Hudson River
Mechanical Moorish tour of duty
Deen machines replicant Sufis
Activate the Saracens
Annihilate the Pharaoh's sons
Embraced by the citizens
Appointed by the denizens

786 - congregate - 786 - dominate - 786 - propagate - 786 - emancipate

All is war this is what you fought for

Dream team Salahuddin

The citizens they build they build a mosque on Ground Zero

The musical track for the song is hard slamming, consisting of a very basic electronic riff, repeated over and over, backed by an insistent, driving beat from the dhol. A sample of a chorus singing one or two notes in harmony (and no lyric) is also used frequently, especially at the end of verses, and lends the track a kind of celestial feeling. The lyrics are rapped, by someone with a BrAsian accent.

"786" is the numerical total of the Qur'an's opening words, "Bismillah al-rahman al-rahim" (In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful) in the abjad numeral system. Abjadi numerals were used by the Arabs prior to the development of Hindu-Arabic numbers, in which the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet were assigned numerical values. In South Asia, 786 is an important Islamic symbol (Fun^Da^Mental's Aki Nawaz is the son of Pakistanis who settled in England.)

"All Is War" and "All is war this is what you fought for": I read these lines as references to the war on terror declared by President Bush, a war without end, and to the song's prediction that what is being fought for will ultimately end in the Muslim liberation of the US. This end is symbolized powerfully, and transgressively, in the image of the Statue of Liberty falling prostrate, to Allah, and the citizens building a mosque on the site of Ground Zero. In-your-face images, designed to provoke and enrage, and entirely within the punk tradition. (Aki was the drummer for Southern Death Cult, which later turned into The Cult, and he has consistently stated that punk philosophy was for him, foundational.) Ponder the images: the Statue of Liberty, on a prayer rug, in the act of Islamic prayers; a towering minaret at the site of Ground Zero, the sacred location of the martyrs of 9/11. Whether one is an American who thinks of the US as quintessentially secular or as quintessentially Judaeo-Christian, these are images of symbolic defilement. But they are not, ultimately, images of destruction or death or mayhem.

The song mobilizes all kinds of images of "Islamic warriors" and Islamic invasion dressed up in futuristic, sci-fi garb. The overall effect reminds me of the futuristic writings of William Burroughs, particularly his Nova trilogy, minus of course the homoerotic currents. It's important to recall that in his writings Burroughs repeatedly mobilizes the image of Hassan al-Sabbah, the 12th century leader of the "Assassins" (the original fedayeen), an Isma'ili Nizari shaykh. In some respects Hassan al-Sabbah could be considered as the original Islamic "terrorist," in the view of the West. "786 All Is War" is a kind of revenge fantasy, of the sort often found in hip-hop. It's useful to recall that Fun^Da^Mental's first album, Seize the Time (1995), was very much in the "conscious hip-hop" vein, and that the group was frequently compared at the time to Public Enemy. What distinguishes "786 All Is War" from other revenge fantasies, however, is that it's written from the perspective of the Islamic warrior, mostly describing the character of the warriors and their actions, and the anger is not aimed at the listener, but at the oppressor, the "riba" (meaning usury but implying the usurer), the bank elite, the moneylenders (also a Biblical image), and the Pharaoh's sons. Unlike much hip-hop, and also unlike the novels of Black writers like Chester Himes, the listener is not made to feel implicated in the crimes of the oppressors.

The song is full of fabulous, crazy images and of clever internal rhyme schemes and alliteration. Among the images I particularly like:

"Sufi surfing on boards of steel." This calls to mind the Silver Surfer of Marvel Comics fame; presumably, like the Silver Surfer, the Sufi surfers are flying around on airborn boards. It also confounds the liberal-hippy Orientalist depictions of Sufism as only about peace and love, for these are Sufi warriors.

"Jihadi jetskis Hudson River." The picture of jihadis on jetskis makes me chuckle (and reminds of the "fun" in Fun^Da^Mental). These are NOT the Wahhabist jihadis of Al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad in Egypt. They are engaged in "holy war," jihad for liberation.

"Deen machines replicant Sufis." I like the internal rhyme of "deen machine"; deen means religion, in Arabic and Urdu. "Replicant Sufis": the term replicant (biorobotic being) was invented by Ridley Scott for his film Blade Runner (and replacing the term, android, used by novelist Philip K. Dick, whose book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, was the inspiration for the film). Are replicant Sufis, Sufis who look as fully human as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? When Aki Nawaz thinks of Sufism, one of the things he has in mind is qawwali, the very vibrant devotional music of the Pakistani Sufis. Fun^Da^Mental have performed and recorded in the past with qawwali maestro Nawazish Ali Khan and with the Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali group (led by two of Nusrat's nephews).

Here's a glossary of some of the other terms used:

"coded zikr": zikr (Urdu) or dhikr (Arabic) is the remembrance of God. Chief among the ways in which God is remembered is through the use of dhikr beads (sometimes known as "worry beads"), which are fingered as the 99 names of God are recited. Sufi orders revolve around rituals of dhikr, or remembrance. "Coded zikr" could refer to the beads and/or to the Sufi rituals.

"takbir": the Arabic name for the phrase, "Allahu akbar," or God is the greatest.

"mujahid": in Arabic, literally a "struggler," but usually implying someone engaged in jihad. Also can be used in the sense of militant or insurgent.

"AI imams": an imam is a leader, often in the sense of the leader of prayer. AI: artificial intelligence.

"du'a": prayer, calling out to God.

"fedayeen": in Arabic, "those willing to sacrifice their lives." In the Arab world, the term often refers to the Palestinian guerillas during the years when the PLO was focused on armed struggle.

"khutba": a sermon, typically delivered in the mosque before Friday prayers.

"Sunnah": in Arabic, the "way of the Prophet." The deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, agreed upon by the Prophet's companions, and considered to have established Orthodox religious practice by Sunni Muslims.

"shabab": in Urdu, "youthfulness," in Arabic, youths. "Shabab clones" seems to refer to the Arabic meaning, youths.

"blackstone": a reference to the Ka'aba, a structure built of black granite, located inside the Masjid (mosque) al-Haram in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam. When Muslims pray, they pray in the direction of the Ka'aba.

"Ibrahim": Arabic for Abraham, the same Abraham of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Islam, Ibrahim is one of the most important prophets.

"blackseed oil": blackseed is sometimes referred to as black cumin in English. The prophet Muhammad is said to have recommended the black seed as a "cure for all diseases except death." A popular "folk" remedy in South Asia and the Middle East.

"Pharaoh's sons": The Pharaoh is used as a symbol of the apostate tyrant by jihadi Islamists; the source of this notion is Sayyid Qutb. But the symbol is also widely used in the Judeo-Christian tradition, for instance, in the expressive culture of US slaves.

"Salahuddin": known in English as Saladin, renowned for vanquishing the Crusaders in the 12th century.

Will "786 All Is War" launch an Islamo-futurism trend?

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Riza said...

check out g.o.r.a. a space movie,
it's a Turkish sci-fi space spoof by Turkish standup Cem Yilmaz taking issue with how hollywood portrays aliens :-)
.I think gora also has some meaning in the indian language, though I am not sure...

Anonymous said...

Gora means Light skinned or white
when Asians referred to themselves its complimentary but when in reference to wetserners its derogatory. I just want to say tat as the writer of the track 786 a Spoof fantasy It was refresshing to read such an accurate dissection of the lyrics. Im amazed at how much you actually got the point about a powerless people fantasising about defeating an imperialist nation. I pretty much agree with everything you wrote and once again I can say that if you are indicative of most people there is hope for the future...