Thursday, February 15, 2018

Jihadism has fostered an entire music industry


Art and music from the deviant Nazi and Communist Russian regimes has received considerable attention. But the culture of deviant militant Islamists has received virtually no attention. Now the Cambridge University Press is attempting to correct this with the publication of Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists. Edited by Thomas Hegghammer, an academic specialist on violent Islamism and Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, Jihadi Culture is an anthology of commentaries from various experts covering topics such as the role of poetry, visual art, cinema and music in jihadism.

Particularly interesting are the chapters on the role of anashi (singular nashid) - a capella songs. The Yemeni-American jihadi preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 in the Yemen by an American drone strike said to have been personally ordered by President Obama, wrote that: "Nasheeds are an important element in creating a 'jihad culture'". Many of the anashi used by jihadis originate outside extremist groups and a sizable industry has grown up producing these devotional songs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Wahhabism scholars forbid musical instruments except percussion but not a capella singing. As a result Saudi Arabia has a small but not insignificant recorded music market which generated revenues $12 million in 2017 primarily from sales of anashi.

Former CIA Operations Officer in Afghanistan Marc Sageman has observed that: "I have come to the conclusion that the terrorists in Western Europe and North America were not intellectuals or ideologues, much less religious scholars. It s not about how they think, but how they feel". A key proposition of Jihadi Culture is that 'ideology' is two different things: doctrines, which receive much attention, and aesthetics, which receive little attention. The book redresses this imbalance by focussing on the aesthetics - visual arts, music etc - of jihadism. Exploring how terrorists feel is just one way in which Jihadi Culture challenges received wisdom. This extract from the introduction shows how it challenges other comfort zones and stereotypes:

After all, who cares what warriors do in their spare time? This book does, and it will show that jihadis have a rich aesthetic culture that is essential for understanding their mindset and worldview. Readers who have not studied or frequented radical Islamists will find parts of this subculture surprising. We will see, for example, that jihadis love poetry, that they talk regularly about dreams, and that they weep -a lot. We will also see that jihadism has fostered an entire music industry, as well as a massive body of film production. Jihadis may have a reputation as ruthless macho men - and there is some truth in that - but they also value personal humility, artistic sensitivity, and displays of emotion.
Carl Orff, Paul Hindemith and Wilhelm Furtwängler were among the musicians appropriated by the Third Reich. Below is a nashid performed by the Saudi musician Abu Ali, whose music - notably Sharp Like The Sword - has been appropriated by the jihadis, reportedly against his wishes. Does being the product of an alien culture make this misappropriated devotional music from an Abrahamic faith any less valid than, say, Gregorian Chant?




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