The mass globalization of U.S. culture and the mainstreaming of hip hop within the state has led to an underground claiming of Hip Hop culture by the Arab world. The musical form has been used an outlet for young people to express their political and cultural concerns in the U.S. and it is proving to have the same benefit for Arab youth. (Osumare, 2007) This can be expected to have a very beneficial influence on Arab countries as a whole in future.
In her article “We Aint Missing”: Palestinian Hip Hop—A Transnational Youth Movement Susaina Maira points out the cultural significance Arab Hip hop has on current events in this time of war. “The emergence of what is a largely underground phenomenon of rap produced by Palestinian and Palestinian American youth is linked to a larger phenomenon of a growing Palestinian and Palestinian American hip hop generation that has come of age listening to the sounds of rap both in the United States as well as in Palestine, and that has taken up the cause of Palestinian self-determination as well as issues of racism, inequality, and imperialism (Maira, 2008).
” While Hip Hop music is a tradition that originated in the U.S. in the 1970’s the connection made between Arabic music and hip hop culture extends further back to the 1950’s, as Maira notes, “Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab American rap is a poetics of displacement and protest. In fact, some scholars such as Joseph Massad (2005) situate the political rap produced by Palestinian youth in a longer tradition of revolutionary, underground Arabic music and political songs that have supported Palestinian liberation since the 1950s and that mix nationalist poetry with hybrid Arab-Western musical instrumentation (Maira, 2008).” Maira cites lyrics from a popular Arab songs to give relevance to the concept of Palestinians ‘missing in action’ in the public arena of voiced opinions.
whether you an immigrant or children of slaves
you can see it in the difference / of the living in conditions
like missions tortured indians / force ’em to christians
we call ’em Palest-indians / we ain’t missing” —Excerpt from “No Justice,” Arab Summit (Maira, 2008)
Within the lyrics of the song are the years of conflict between the United States and the Arab world. It is a potent relationship that can’t be ignored, by the very fact that Arab culture and ideals are being promoted and expressed through an art form that is inherently American. According to “No Justice” fan Hahn Salim, “The lyrics are culturally relevant because they are expressing the problems Palestinians feel about identity and their place in the eyes of the global world” (Interview, 10 April 2008).Currently, with the American war on terror and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan is a hot topic. A key subject in the center of this controversy has to do with America’s foreign policy and its history of democratizing other nations; but more telling is how this relationship between America and Afghanistan has made both nation’s judicial policies significantly influenced by organized crime. Where in America organized crime operates as a counter-culture to Wall Street as it secretly funds fortune 500 hundred corporation, and lobbies political favor, in Afghanistan it provides the region with its chief manufacture and directly funds terrorism. The main theme of the lyrics can be found in the concept that the Palestinian people ‘aren’t missing.’ There has been much debate over what the views are of the Palestinian youth in this conflict. The Western media shows multiple images. On one hand, American viewers are able to young Arabs embracing American culture by having poster of Hollywood celebrities on their walls, and then they are depicted throwing rocks at U.S. tanks and burning American flags in the streets. Through embracing the art form of Hip Hop, Arab youth are able to take some control over how they are represented on the public platform and express what the media may not be getting across about their plight. This is the cultural significance behind why Arab Hip Hop artist Maya Arulpragasam adopted the stage name M.I.A.
In Ben Sisario’s New York Times article, Appreciation for Arab Hip Hop is not just isolated to western culture either. An Itinerant Refugee in a Hip-Hop World, he talks about the international reception new Arab Hip Hop sensation M.I.A is receiving, noting that, “Blocked from returning to the United States for most of the last year because of delays in renewing her working visa, she wound up traveling to India, Jamaica, Trinidad and Australia, recording along the way with portable gear (Sisario, 2007).” Eventually M.I.A. managed to get her visa and was able to perform at the 2009 GRAMMY awards alongside such artists as Jay-Z, Ll Wayne, T.I.P. and Kanye West. Her newfound success has served as an exciting alternative to the life she had back home in here Bedford-Stuyvesant studio apartment in a Caribbean and African immigrant neighborhood. Sisario points out how significant the music is culturally when she quotes M.I.A on her desire to bridge gaps, the artist says, ““I’m just trying to build some sort of bridge,” she said of her work, picking at a slice of Oreo cookie cake. “I’m trying to create a third place, somewhere in between the developed world and the developing world (Sisario, 2007).” M.I.A’s performance at the GRAMMY’s cemented her as the most recognizable Arab hip hop artist in the world. Much of her success can be connected to the contents of her lyrics and how they manage to parallel U.S. conflicts with those in Arab countries.
When N.W.A. ushered in the gangster rap era for American Hip hop, their success largely stemmed from the depiction of violence and corruption in the criminal justice system. They were so successful not just because these images caught their audience’s attention, but because the subject matter was socially relevant. M.I.A. takes the same approach with her lyrics. Afghanistan’s main issue deals with flaws in their criminal justice system. Their inability to cut off the codependent relationship between terrorism and organized crime is a major cause for concern internationally. Terrorism and organized crime directly endanger the stability of states by targeting economic, political and social systems. M.I.A. subtly makes this a part of her lyrics just in her mention of criminal activity (Makarenko 2002). These links have recently received considerable attention, represented as a new and increasing phenomenon caused by the rapid developments in the past decade. This results in a situation where political and criminal motivated violence is often indistinct (Makarenko 2004). When an American rapper mentions criminal violence it provides a window into subculture, but when an Arab artist does it, the window is much deeper and more historically complex, and yet the United States still remains relevant within the context due to its Involvement with the Arab world.
M.I.A. often talks about the illegal sale of drugs, but this holds a very significant stigma in the Arab world specifically Afghanistan. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in 2007 Afghanistan was the world’s leading producer of drugs, cultivating 193,000 hectars of opium poppies, an increase of 17% over their past year. They noted that “The amount of Afghan land used for opium is now larger than the corresponding total for coca cultivation in Latin America (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined) (Mateen 2007, piii).” Furthermore, the dramatic way the opium trade has transformed Afghanistan, like Hilmand, Kandar and other provinces in South Afghanistan are recognized as the richest and most fertile regions of the country. The opium trade can be directly connected to the insurgency, as the authors point out that “The Taliban today control vast swathes of land in Hilmand, Kandahar and along the Pakistani border. By preventing national authorities and international agencies from working, insurgents have allowed greed and corruption to turn orchards, wheat and vegetable fields into poppy fields (Mateen 2007, piii).” The Taliban’s ability to involve their special interest in the structure of the Afghan democratic process is a key component of how the connection between narcotic exportation and Terrorism is made. The revenue produced from the exportation of narcotics is extracted by the Taliban and reportedly put towards arms resources and militia pay.
Despite the cultural conflicts that hip hop portrays, over time it has proven not to be a form that perpetuates these conflicts but better yet shed light on their existence. Hip hop ‘has crossed ethnic and class boundaries’ (Maria, 2008). The fact that it is a multiethnic globalized art form that doesn’t require any expensive instruments, and it can’t be boxed in even by consumerism, “It is apparent that, although hip hop culture may in some instances be critical or implicitly subversive of consumerism, it is always engaged with the realm of commerce and does not exist outside of U.S. or global capitalism, like all other forms of popular culture that are marketed, distributed, and consumed (Maria, 2008)” Another benefit of transcendent nature of Hip Hop ushers in for a new generation of Arab listeners is a better understanding of American political conflicts to bridge the gap in dialogue that exists between young Arab and young American youth.
Many of the political conflicts that have exited for American citizens throughout history can be paralleled with those endured by Arabs. This is a factor of international relations that may never become apparent if not for Hip Hop. “Tamer Nafar of DAM identified with the rap of African American artists such as Tupac Shakur, who commented on the poverty and racism affecting inner-city youth that Nafar, too, experienced growing up in Lid, Israel: “My reality is hip hop. I listened to the lyrics and felt they were describing me, my situation. You can exchange the word ‘nigger’ with ‘Palestinian (Maira, 2008).’ The myth that Arab’s hate Americans can easily be negated when one assess that for many Arabs the only way they can make it through their daily lives is to embrace an art form which many would call one of the most significant parts of American culture.
In sum, Arab hip hop is an international phenomenon in its own right, but it also represents the ability of the Arab world to embrace American culture. Currently, Arab and Palestinian hip hop is still underground and has not yet hit the mainstream, but based on the benefits it has brought to America in increase of dialogue among different races about cultural conflicts. The core impetus for the connection Arab youth make with American hip hop culture is the aspect of racism and the trials that it brings in one’s life. This is an issue that only enhanced after 9/11 and United States racial rhetoric began to shift from African Americans and other races and focus largely on the Arab communities within the States and abroad.
Arab Summit, Fear of an Arab Planet. The title is a riff on Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. Maira,
Bibliography: Hahn, Salim. Interview. Goleta, California. 1 April 200.
Maira, Sunaina. (2008) “We Ain’t Missing” Palestinian Hip Hop—A Transnational Youth Movement. University of California , Davis Volume 8, Number2, Fall
Makarenko, T. (2002): ‘Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime: The Emerging Nexus’. Smith, P. (ed), Transnational Violence and Seams of Lawlessness in the Asia-Pacific: Linkages to Global Terrorism, Hawaii: Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies.
Mateen, Abdul, Abdul L. Ehsan, Fida Mohammad, and Mohammed I. Anderabi. Afghanistan Opium Survey 2007. Diss. Comp. Khiali Jan. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2007. 1-169.
Sisario, Ben. 2007. An Itinerant Refugee in a Hip-Hop World. New York Times, August 19. www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/arts/music/19sisa.html (accessed August 19, 2007).
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