The Popular in American Muslim Identities

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Chapter Three: Nation of Islam and the manifestations of Militant Muslim identities in Black American Music


Chapter two analysed the literature available on Muslim identities, the interface with popular American music and emphasised the constructions of Muslim identities through the themes of nationalism, religion and black women’s struggle for voice. This chapter focuses on the manifestations of militant Muslim identities in the music of the band, Public Enemy, Talib Kweli and Paris. The chapter closely analyse the lyrics of these singers in order to demonstrate the diversity of views and varieties of discourses of militant nationalism in the constructions of diverse notion of political Muslim identities in the music that emerged, before and after 9/11. The latter is a time warp in the American history and it shall be demonstrated that popular music has redefined this historical moment as the music and artists were significantly impacted upon by the new politics that came out in the aftermath of 9/11 acts of terrorism in America.
On September 11, 2001 the American Twin Towers, and Pentagon were targets of what the American President, George W. Bush described as an act of terrorism on the American people. The so-called ‘War on Terror’ that ensued established a new world order in which America reserved the right to militarily intervene in any country in pursuit of the so-called terrorists. The Taliban of Afghanistan fell. Saddam of Iraq was hanged. Muslims all over the world became enemies and/or were perceived as potential enemies of the American State. American official media created and continues to reproduce the image of Blacks and Arabs and their Islamic religious identities as objects of attack and derision. However, in America, Black Muslim popular singers have generated a counter-narrative seeking to provide ‘alternative viewpoints’ on Muslim identities.
9/11 is a date in American history and recent memories that marks the intensification of the challenge of the ideology of ‘war and terror’ by black artists. The after math of the 9/11 also inaugurated a new morality in which artists and democratic voices were subjected to extreme control by the government probably more than before. Part of the reason is that most black popular musicians – though American by citizenship – do not feel included in the definition of being part of an American nation. There are noticeable and different tendencies in musicians who adopt strategies of resistance to the American state that the artists view as practicing terrorism on its own people. The lyrics from the music of Public Enemy, Talib Kweli and Paris are most trenchant in their critiques of American domestic and foreign policy in the period before as well as after 9/11. A textual analysis of the music can help uncover the degrees of social resistance in the music that proclaims itself as not only a crusade against the American ideology of ‘war on terror’, but sometimes openly identifies its inspiration from Islam. While the lyrics of the selected artists demonstrate a quest for liberation of blacks from the perceived injustices perpetrated by America on its black people and the Arabs in general, the singers articulate their visions from contradictory ideological ground of being American, victim, and visionary artist for a better society.

Thinking through myths and music of 9/11

The quest to understand the role of Black music after 9/11 has created some myths that need to be dispelled. The first of this myth is the assumption that before 9/11 in 2001, there was no black music that offered political and incisive critique of the American society. The second myth is that all the singers composing after 9/11 are all Muslims. The third assumption in the mainstream white American media is that the singers’ music is directed towards the promotion of the fundamentalist religion of Islam. In fact there have been very critical and important songs by Black musicians exposing the endemic violence in the American society. There has also been a negative and spirited repression of musical lyrics deemed to be pro-Muslim. The effect of this crack down among black singers has been varied. Peddie (2008) writes that black music has been resisting the restrictive measures imposed by the American State on black cultural creativity. This sweeping statement obscures the fact that some black artists connive with the American ideology of war on terror. However, the general feeling among black music critics is captured by The Times Online report of November 11, 2006 that opined that Hip hop and black artists are teaching young Muslims the ideology of radical Islamism through songs about the war in Iraq, the oppression of Muslim and the creation of an Islamic state governed by Sharia, or religious law (2008/02/26).
This oversimplification of the role of black music is contradicted by Khabeer’s nuanced study in which different trends of black hip hop imagines different enemies. American Islamic hip hop is created by Black American Muslims who seek to comply with Islamic religious standards and practices and whose current and primary audience is basically Muslims. According to Khabeer (2007; 126) the influence of some versions of Islam is visible in that, they ‘restrict[s] the types of musical instruments used, generally does not employ expletives and frequently refers to issues of ideological import.’ Other American black singers are integrated within the mainstream of American culture. Furthermore Khabeer differentiates the Sunni Islam artists who provide the reserve from which Muslim music emerges from ‘immigrant Muslim musical traditions that is ‘tainted by the political agendas and racial prejudices of immigrant Muslims and the governments of Muslim-majority countries (Ibid 2007).
In an interview with some hip hop singers, Alim observes that several of the artists testified to have been influenced by Nation of Islam. For example, for the singers “Islam served as a transformative force both in the personal lives and in the public roles of many Hip hop artists as community conscious agents” (2006: 46). For example Hi-Tek, one of the Black hip hop artist told Alim that, he, Hi-Tek “ went to the Mosque…wanted to be a Muslim…Farrakhan and Malcom X, you know, that’s what I was into…Knowing the realities of who I am as a Black youth.”(ibid: 52). For Hi-Tek, Islam gives Black youths new identities, aspirations and positive ideals in the American society. Also, “J”, another Black Hip hop artist testified that he became a member of the Nation of Islam after having read “The Final Call newspaper that the Brothers from the Nation of Islam got out to the communities” (Alim, Ibid: 53). Another black musician by the name JT said that Minister Farrakhan confirmed the importance of Islam in Black communities when Minister Farrakhan [said] “the rappers are the leaders” (ibid: 55). These names of the black African American singers provide some evidence of the influence of The Nation of Islam in shaping the musical sensibilities of the black singers.
However, in attempting to sample the varied responses of black music to 9/11 critics must be sensitive to the fact Black singers come from different class, social, gender, regional and generational backgrounds. These factors can enable some Black musicians to sing and compose lyrics that other Black African Americans in America may not be creating. Black musicians are also not always singing against the American state or in favour of Islam. Many singers still focus on social problems encountered in black communities that prevent them from sharing in the ideology of the American dream that ironically is promoted in some lyrics. Some black musicians are ambivalent; while their music justifies the bombing of the twin-towers, they still recognize that they are Americans and as such, they are not always totally in agreement with the ideology of Islam in its extremist forms. And others, particularly female musicians call themselves feminist and believe that their music can expand women’s awareness in a capitalist and patriarchal American society. They work within the validating hip hop male genre heavily patronized by male artists and the female artists use this genre to criticize the American system and at the same time to create space for themselves to engage the misogynistic tendencies in black communities.

Public Enemy and the black musical background to 9/11

Black music before 9/11 carries forward the black musical tradition of being a public counterculture (Levine 2006). The most specific identity of this counterculture to American racism is the paradoxical nature of the music; it is both dependent on and opposes American capitalism (Gilroy1993). It is born out of extreme forms of injustices for the black people, and yet it shares the general aspiration of individual success in the American dream. The music criticizes the very capitalist system that provides it with the technology to express itself. The musicians show uneven levels of understanding the object of their attack; American mass consumption is encouraged and yet subverted in the lyrics. For example, in Public Enemy’s song, Black Is Back, blacks are still trapped in the ghettos, and the American government is criticized for victimizing blacks who refuse to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan in the so-called war on terror.
The artist tells off the government not to control the lives of ordinary Americans and imprison them in the ideology of a war viewed as benefiting elites. Musical Art is a tool of reprimanding and the singers chimes: ‘Off my lips/Tell the scurred beware of them ghetto tricks/Tell the government/Please stay off my dick’. The authoritarian tendencies of the government are highlighted as exposed as undermining the individual freedom of expression. In the song, Black Steel in The hour of Chaos, the reality of the alienation of blacks is brought home through the persona who has been imprisoned for refusing to acknowledge the participation in the war on terror as a national duty. First, the singer-persona ‘got a letter fro the government/The other day/I opened and read it/They wanted me for their army and, when the singer-persona refused he ‘got sittin’ in the state pen’. There is suggestion in the line I’m not a citizen’ that America is a ‘prison’ in which the most basic human rights are eroded; It occurred to me/The suckers had authority/Cold sweating as I dwell in my cell/How long has it been?/They got me sittin’ in the state pen/Igotta get out – but that thought was thought of before…./I’m not a citizen/But ever when I catch a C-O/Sleepin’ on the job-
my plan is on go ahead/On the strength, I’m tell you the deal/I got nothing to lose‘Cause I’m goin’ for the steel….
However, for the artist the condition of being ‘captive’ in the wider sense of being oppressed is the condition of possibility of struggle against the system that violates individual freedoms.
But I’m still a captive/I gotta rap this/Time to break as time goes intense/I got the steel in my right hand/Now I’m looking fot the fence
While in the song, the protagonist escaped from the ‘pen’ or prison, music is another avenue through which marginalized voices can challenge the system. In Escapism, by the group, Public Enemy there is open reference to the war on terror that the singer views as not benefiting blacks. The persona rejects the notion of participating in what he/she sees as an imperialist and senseless war in which American youths are perceived as being sacrificed for oil at the expense of their well-being in America:
Cause I want yall to know/Exactly what I said/ This so called war in Iraq/Over a thousand dead/That’s about 10 a week/Even as I speak/33% of black males in jail/55% of black female will fail/85% of blacks forgot/We were slaves/Up inside this box/They don’t even know that the blues is back/And when I rap is back to the roots
Capitalist America counts loss in dollars and profits. But the persona counts America’s losses in human terms. The financial resources that should go into educating blacks are diverted to a war that most in the black communities to not approve of. The result is that poverty and ignorance is perpetuated in black communities. The disadvantage of the war is represented statistically; a third of blacks are in jail, more than half of the black women fail at school and ironically, due to low levels of consciousness within black communities, 85% are still enslaved mentally by the so-called ideology of the American dream, which in black communities is experienced as an American nightmare.
In Rage against time, the group, Public Enemy reveals that as part of executing a cultural genocide, the black people, suffer the most from HIV infection. There is even the conspiracy theory that White Americans would want to use AIDS as an instrument to wipe blacks: ‘Who/ World Health Organised/Murderized/Came to aid got paid/Doctor doctor in the lab/Concocted a germ warfare to the booty/I rocked it/105million going down/In da ground/Most in da black an da brown/aw!’ In these lines the war in Iraq and the germ warfare from AIDS are the nemesis of Black people’s communities. The American state is thus defined as practicing terrorism on its black people. The staggering figure of 105 million black and brown people who die suggests that there is within the American society reactionary ideologies that are hell-bent to see the destruction of African-American lives.

Talib Kweli and the struggle against militarization of domestic life in America

If Public Enemy’s songs can be said to reveal the cultural instabilities in black communities, Talib Kweli’s music shows that political violence and acts of terrorism in America did not begin with 9/11. In The Proud Talib Kweli traces the roots and routes of terrorism in America by making the audience remember the unfortunate events that led to the Oklahoma bombings in which event several innocent lives were lost;
So everything’s okay and all must be well/I remember Oklahoma when they put out the blaze/And put out Islamic terrorist, bombing on the front page/It’s like saying get AIDS, propaganda/Like saying the problem is over when they locked the man up/Wrong it’s just the beginning, the first inning/Battle for American soul, the devil’s winning/The president is Bush, the Vice Presiden’s a Dick/So a whole lot of fuckin is wha we gon’ get/They don’t wanna raise the babies so the election is fixed….
Kweli removes the thin veil of hypocrisy in the discourse on democracy in America that suggests that Islamists are behind the political instability in America. The Oklahoma bombing was the work of a former white American soldier protesting against the republican policies that marginalize those who make America the mighty country that it is. The economic policies of President Bush, and his Vice –President Dick Cheney are isolated as having created the instability in the Middle East. Further, Bush and Cheney are depicted as uncaring because Americans die of AIDS on their watch. These social conditions are linked to the 9/11. Kweli is boldly assertive that the American leadership was in the know about the possibility of the 9/11, and that the 9/11 was deliberately left to happen in order to allow Bush and Cheney to find a pretext to wage a war on Iraq so as to have unlimited access to Iraq’s oil:
‘It,s in they job description to terminate the threat/So 41 shots in the body is what he can expect…September 11, 2001/Terrorist attack the Pentagon and the World Trade Center/Kills thousands and permanently scars Americas false sense of security/As firefighters, police officers, rescue workers/And volunteers of all sorts, fight to save lives/The world will never be the same again’
The cynicism of oil magnates is shown through the fact that Americans were sacrificed. But the events of the 9/11 also showed that America is not invincible. America is vulnerable although it insists on what the singer views as the ‘false sense of security.’ The bullying tactics of America is depicted as rendering the world to be an unsafe place to live. In Ghetto After life, Talib Kweli suggests that at a domestic level, the African-Americans are wrongly persecuted for crimes that emanate from the discriminatory structure of the American society. For the singer ‘These niggaz aint thugs, the real thugs is the government/don’t matter if you independent, democrat or republican.’ The inference here is that although America champions itself as a democratic government its weakness are manifest through the way the country’s leaders treat the minority black people. But Kweli also reveals that there is now in America also a new class of black elites who have joined hands with white executives to exploit the poor blacks. Kweli problematises the identities within black communities and refuses to see in it an essentialised and collective community without its own contradictions:
Niggaz politickin the streets, get into beef/Start blastin , now a new ca is executive chief/With a passion for heat you get, blast in your seat/Die before you crash in your jeep, never passing in your sleep/Like an old man, you aint a fool you got a whole plan/To conquer territories like Europeans who stole land/The future of your whole fam’hang in the balance/You the king and your block is the palace/Ya’ll niggaz is the parliament, untouchable spot unrushable/Keep your weight wet, call in to save a buck or two/Get mad , who the fuck are you? What you gonna do?….
Kweli suggests that the identities of blacks are not static, and that it is simplifying to describe blacks as victims of the ideology of American liberalism. Some blacks have become part of the ‘untouchable’ while others have been condemned to a life of perpetual poverty. Kweli and Public Enemy therefore use their music to suggest that before 9/11 there were within the American society ingredients for potential self-destruction.
The treatment of people of colour in America reveals that the domestic public sphere is also tense with social expectations of the majority of the minority blacks not satisfied. There is an inference that 9/11 could have come from a country imploding from within. That 9/11 was carried out with some Arabs who had become citizens of America further confirms the idea that the contradictions in American social life are irreconcilable and that unfortunately they could only be resolved through drastic acts such as through acts of terrorism whether this was internally or externally induced. This language that’s emanating from the black popular singers that America is largely to blame for the 9/11 has come under severe assault in the post 9/11 where state agents haunt artists whose lyrics are not agreeing with American foreign and domestic policies.

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Censorship of Black Music after 9/11

Senator John McCain wrote in a foreword to the book, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories can’t Stand up to the Facts (2006) that:
As Americans…we liberated Afghanistan from the murderous rule of the Taliban, our attackers’s proud hosts. We chased Al Qaeda around the globe….The terrorists who attacked
America were clear about their intentions. Osama bin Laden and his ilk have perverted a peaceful religion devoting it not to the salvation of the souls but to the destruction of bodies. They wish to destroy us, to bring the world under totalitarian rule according to some misguided religious fantasy. (McCain 2006: xii).
The vocabulary describing the new world order suggests that Americans are liberators, that Osama and those who practice Islam are destroyers. It is a clear world divided into infidels – the Muslims – and peace-loving people of the western world. The vociferousness of McCain’s argument and his twisting of facts such as that those who destroyed the twin towers were motivated by ‘misguided religious fantasy’ help construct a new mythology that justifies.
America’s interventionist policy in world affairs. Chomsky wrote that ‘the world regards Washington as a terrorist regime.’ (Chomsky 2007: 2). America did not seem to have learnt much from the events of 9/11. Or rather, America leant how to impose its will on other races with deadly force and impunity. Chomsky further notes that The national security Strategy declared that the United States – alone – has the right to carry out “preventive war”: preventive, not pre-emptive, using military force to eliminate perceived threat, even if invented or imagined. Preventive war is very simply, the “supreme crime” condemned at Nuremburg. (Chomsky 2007: 36).
In the new world order, “preventive war” is the right to provoke other nations in order to create pretexts for invasion. Weapons of mass destruction can be ‘invented’ or ‘imagined’ and this alone can justify American invasion of Iraq. In the aftermath of 9/11, censorship on free speech, creativity and the undermining of individual rights by the American state have intensified. Neal suggests that the more benign forms of censoring the black popular culture is through
‘corporate annexation of black popular music…a process that placed significant constraints on black expressive culture [since] black popular music was no longer solely mediated by the communal masses within segregated black locales, but mediated by Corporate America’s own mercurial desires for the marketplace’(1998:65).
Chang further underlines the contradictions within black hip hop that make it amenable to commercial forces when he argues that ‘Hip hop began as a way for ghetto youth to refuse anonymity, to escape enforced marginalization’ and yet in the present,
‘The hip hop Generation could come under more surveillance because of the October passage of
the USA Patriot Act. The Act authorized the federal government to install its controversial
Internet monitoring program Carnivore. The program tracks and makes copies of all of an ISP’s
traffic, including web and email and uses filters to sort out irrelevant content…The Patriot Act
now provides cover, under a sweeping definition of domestic terrorism’ for federal officials to
further harass hip hop activists(Chang: 2008: 3-4).
Snow writes that in post 9/11 America the twin forces of censorship and propaganda are used to divert creative artists from criticizing the failings of the government. For Snow, authoritarian values are winning over democratic values ‘Censorship ends the free flow of information so essential for democracy and makes dissent less likely. Propaganda injects false, misleading, or slanted information into the media in order to influence the behaviour of populations (2005:103). The paradox is that popular music is also implicated in sustaining the status quo, especially when it colludes with the state in shutting avenues of democracy dissent. The fact that music in particular and media in general cannot be taken for granted in post 9/11 is also revealed by Miller (2002). He appeals to the American government to make sure that security management systems must not compromise the freedoms of expression and association that people share as citizens of America. Conservative American politicians such as Richard Posner argue for the infiltration of information and control of the private lives. Posner blames the 9/11 mainly on inadequate sharing of intelligence among different intelligence agencies and thought a more centralized intelligence structure is an indispensable part of the cure’(Cooper 2006:94-95).
The emphasis on intelligence, security and control of information in the post 9/11(Levi & Wall 2004; 194-220; Straetmans, Verschoor & Wolff 2008 17-42; Carroll, Wichman, &Arkin 2006: 289-290; Plant 2004: 293-305) impinges on academic freedom(Knopf-Newman 2006:101-108) and undermines discourses of democracy(Mummery & Rodan 2003:433-443), associated with new globalized identities of Muslims(Abushouk 2006:487-505). According to Mary L. Shapiro, this condition of ‘new normal’ (2002:5) where information is strictly monitored has encouraged cultural workers to vigorously question the values underlying the ideologies of the war on terror propagated by the American government. One such cultural worker is the American musician Paris who uses his songs as a ‘lyrical sword’ (Banjoko 2004) to challenge the American system.
3.5 Black music and militant cultural nationalism after 9/11
The assault on America’s interests in the homeland and in Africa and the disproportionate violence in response to it by the American State has shaped American popular music in very contradictory directions. Perry (2006) for example, initially suggests that Hip hop is essentially black music with distinct characteristics. While the music’s primary language is African American vernacular English, its political location is distinctly ascribed to black people, and their music traditions rooted in African American orality. Perry believes that ‘even with its hybridity: the consistent contributions from nonblack artists, and the borrowings from cultural forms of other communities, it is nevertheless black American music. (Perry 2006: 10). The critic refuses to essentialise black music in America when she argues that, ‘in the midst of a consumer culture that glorifies violence and eschews intellectualism, hip hop has both spewed American vices on the airwaves and aggressively introduced progressive politics, compelling artistic expression, emotion, and beauty into popular culture”(Perry Ibid: 2).
An important aspect of the militant nature of black hip hop music is its capacity to balance “American vices” with ‘progressive politics” of identity renegotiations in black Muslim communities. Asadullah (2003:1) notes that black hip hop rails against police brutality, inequalities, and materialism in the black community. Ali (2005: 3) argues that “unless we rid Hip hop of all its Jahiliya (ignorance) elements, we can only expect more sharp minded but misguided youth to perish over territorialism, materialism, and the pursuit of the sensual path.”
In many ways Paris’s new CD, Sonic Jihad can be viewed as an attempt to deal with the contradictions of being black and Muslim in America. It can be viewed as a way to chart “alternative viewpoints” set against the characterization of Islam as a violent religion, and Arabs as people prone to ‘senseless’ destruction when forging new identities. Paris’s lyrics can be viewed as radical in so far as he attempts to redefine the role of hip hop; to use it to confront the excesses of power entrenched in the American notion of an imperial presidency. His music also struggles against attempts at containing/controlling his voice by both politicians and the musical industry (Chang 2005).

Chapter One: Introduction
1 Background to Area Study
1.1 Formulation of the research problem
1.2 Formulation of the sub-problems assumptions of the Study
1.3 Formulation of the research question (s) / hypothesis (es)
1.4 Justification of the Study
1.5 Literature Review of the Study
1.6 Theoretical background of the Study
1.7 Theories of Black Subjectivities in African American Communities of the USA.
1.8 Theories of Popular Culture and Black African American Popular Music
1.9 Postcolonial theories and black African American popular music
1.10 Relevance of the study
Chapter Two: Literature Review on Muslim Identities in Popular Songs in America
2 Introduction
2.1 Redefining Muslim identities
2.3 Popular Music and Black American culture
2.4 The Popular in American Muslim Identities
2.5 The Theme of Islam Religion in American Popular Music
2.6 Women in Islamic popular discursive constructions
2.7 Negative images if Black women in Male-produced musical videos.
2.8 Muslim Women and the struggle for positive images
2.9 Literature on Muslim Women and the struggle for voice in female-produced images
2.10 Conclusion.
Chapter Three: Nation of Islam and the manifestations of Militant Muslim identities in Black American Music
3 Introduction
3.1 Thinking through myths and music of 9/11
3.2 Public Enemy and the black musical background to 9/11
3.3 Talib Kweli and the struggle against militarization of domestic life in America
3.4 Censorship of Black Music after 9/11
3.5 Black music and militant cultural nationalism after 9/11
3.6 Paris’ ‘Sonic Jihad’ as Black Islamic Militant counterculture
3.7 Paris’ Artistic vision and the Quest for Justice
3.8 Conclusion
Chapter Four: American Islam, Christianity and the re-formation of Muslim identities in Black American hip hop music
4 Introduction
4.1 Some manifestations of negative stereotypes of Islam in American dominant discourse
4.2 Islamic influences on black American Hip hop; A theoretical reconsideration.
4.3 Lupe Fiasco: Sunni Muslim and the quest for self knowledge
4.4 Mos Def: The Influences from Nation of Islam, and Five Percenters and the search of alternative black community values
4.5 Scarface: Religion as the space of cultural hybridity in America
4.6 Kanye West: Affirmation and critique of American Christian faith
4.8 Conclusion
Chapter Five: Gendering Islam: Black Female Muslim artists and the search for Alternative models of Black Communities
5 Introduction
5.1 Critical perspectives on Notions of black women in the hip Hop industry
5.2 Ms Elliot and the Female Gangsta Hip hop culture
5.3 Missy Elliot, Hip Hop and the subculture of Islamic Faith
5.4 The ‘conscious turn’ towards Islam in Black American female Singers
5.5 MissUndastood and the celebration of Sunni Islam
5.6 Critique of Miss Undastood’s Sunni Islam Pop music
5.7 Erykah Badu and the teachings of the Five Percenter Nation of Gods and Earths
5.8 Rethinking black womenhood, and respectability in the context of the theology of The Nation of Gods and Earths
5.9 General Remarks on the chapter: the influence of NOI, Five Percenters and Sunni Islam on female artists
5.10 Conclusion
Chapter Six: Use of rhetorical devices in the constructions of Muslim Identities in African American songs: The Case of KRS-One
6 Introduction.
6.1 KRS-One and Historical referencing of Slavery as a subversive technique of Hip hop
6.2 KRS-One. Style and the recreation of hybrid Identities
6.3 KRS-One and Critique of Black African American Culture of Materialism
6.4 KRS-ONE and the language of imagining post 9/11.
6.5 The Language of Philosophy, and philosophy of language in African American Conscious hip hop
6.6 Conclusion
Chapter Seven: Conclusion
7 Whither Islam and Muslim identities in black African American popular song
7.1 General recommendations for future study in the construction of Muslim identities in black African American popular music
Primary Sources and Discography

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