Music

"It's that old-time Lennon/Bono rock idealism reimagined for a post-Cannibal Corpse world"

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Yesterday's New York Times carried a great little review of Mark LeVine's new book Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam. According to reviewer Howard Hampton, LeVine, a longhaired Jewish rocker and professor of Middle Eastern studies, travels among the believers only to find death metal bands, riot grrrls, and other assorted thrashers:

Eagerly seizing on the stereotype-busting possibilities of "an 18-year-old from Casablanca with spiked hair, or a 20-year-old from Dubai wearing goth makeup," LeVine would like us to see them as the faces of an emerging Muslim world, potentially a much less monochromatic place than the one represented on TV by the usual "Death to America" brigades. "Heavy Metal Islam" turns the notion of irreconcilable differences between Islam and the West on its head, appealing to the universality of youth culture as "a model for communication and cooperation" in the Internet age. LeVine reckons the likes of Metallica and Slayer provide a brute lingua franca that knows no borders, opening up breathing room in cloistered societies, gradually undermining rigid belief systems—a benign, bottom-up brand of globalization as opposed to the ruthless corporate or state-sponsored kind.

I'm not sure if the guys in Slayer have ever been called agents of tolerance and goodwill before, but there's no question that openly listening to a Slayer classic like "Altar of Sacrifice" might get a young Iranian in some trouble with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. But, as Hampton argues in his review, LeVine is on pretty shaky ground describing Slayer and Metallica as alternatives to "ruthless corporate" globalization rather than as explicit products of it. Who does he think releases and distributes their records, anyway? Along those lines, here's Hampton's final word:

The punch line of LeVine's informative, valuable and moderately mad book is twofold: this conscientious anti-imperialist has written a swell tract in favor of large-scale cultural imperialism—a Marshall Amps Plan—and his program is undoubtedly the first to enlist death metal as the spearhead of a new Peace Corps(e).

Whole thing here. Charles Paul Freund on how vulgar culture liberates Islam (and the West) here.

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  1. LeVine is on pretty shaky ground describing Slayer and Metallica as alternatives to “ruthless corporate” globalization rather than as explicit products of it. Who does he think releases and distributes their records, anyway?

    Fans of Metallica and Slayer can, and do, form their own bands, create their own product, and might export it back to the west, thus joining in a community in which they are actual contributors, not just passive recipients.

    Not quite the same thing as buying Big Macs, or putting on the paper hat and selling them.

  2. And Metallica is all about the free exchenge of content on the Internet…

  3. I’m a bit skeptical whenever people talk about music as bringing about political change. That requires the musicians to actually take action themselves, as Bono did. Music alone can’t do much of anything politically.

  4. Your first mention of him states Mark LeVin, rather than LeVine. I wouldn’t mention it, but when I read Mark LeVin, I was think of the talk show host and nearly stopped reading the rest of the post.

  5. I’m also trying to visualize the Death Metal Peace Corps: Leatherclad men with eye makeup and vast epilets growling the lyrics to “Koombayah” and serving up gruel from an open skull.
    Hopefully this will spread into the child sponsorship industry: “20 cents a day will provide little Anya with milk, rice, and the entire Obsidian Torment back catalog.”

    Henry Rollins once described seeing Marilyn Manson playing an outdoor festival in broad daylight, with flashpots and smoke machines, as resembling a bunch of dead guys having a barbeque.

  6. think=thinking

  7. Not only does Slayer bring disparate cultures together, they are also a wonderful tool for dispersing hippies (As Cartman used to great effect).

  8. Figaro (the marriage of): yet another cause of the Revolution!

  9. This is why the State Department should have a humble approach to public diplomacy. Any government run attempt to spread freedom won’t work nearly as well as random garage bands. On a lighter note, I just love the irony of a Goth movement making a region less monochromatic.

  10. I don’t buy that music brings about much political change. But what music can do, especially the violent hard rocking variety is give a non-violent way for young males to channel their aggressive energy. I would rather have young Muslims banging their heads against the front stage raving about the jihad than building bombs. You can’t just pretend that resentments don’t exist and hope that we can all hold hands and make peace. One way to deal with resentments is to give people a less destructive way of channeling them. Free expression through music and art does that.

  11. there’s no question that openly listening to a Slayer classic like “Altar of Sacrifice” might get a young Iranian in some trouble with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

    The Revolutionary Guard would presumably be OK with them listening to “Angel of Death”, though. Auschwitz! The meaning of pain! The way that I want you to die! etc.

  12. If Anthrax can’t bring peace to the world, I don’t know who can.

  13. I have done some investigation on the subject (yeah, right) and it seems like pornography is liquefying Islamic culture.

    Saudi cell phones are full of saved pornographic images.

    An Israeli porn company gets at least 10% of its inet business from Islamic countries.

  14. “I have done some investigation on the subject (yeah, right) and it seems like pornography is liquefying Islamic culture.”

    Saudi Arabia is such a recipe for producing a fucked up crazy young male. They totally isolate girls from boys growing up. Further, there are so many rituals that go along with getting married that only wealthy men can afford a wedding. So here you have all of these young men who grew up in a society that provides them no access to any normal relationship with women and no prospect for marriage. Then all of these men vent their sexual desires by watching porn on the internet. If that life doesn’t fuck you up, what would?

  15. Anybody see the documentary “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”? Those poor dudes just want to grow their hair long, live in peace, and play their music as loud as possible, but they had to leave their homes to avoid the fighting.

    At least they managed to get refugee status in Turkey, so they won’t be kicked out for a while. I’d say we owe those guys some green cards.

  16. “At least they managed to get refugee status in Turkey, so they won’t be kicked out for a while. I’d say we owe those guys some green cards.”

    I will take that up with USCIS. We could have an entire heavy metal refugee resettlement program.

  17. No access to any normal relationship with women? No wonder they like death metal!

    Bet they’re closet Trekkies as well.

  18. Further, there are so many rituals that go along with getting married that only wealthy men can afford a wedding.

    You are talking out of your ass again John. Getting married in not such a big deal even with the amount of money it takes to get married. It is usually a family thing and everyone chips in.

  19. Talk this out of your ass anon

    http://www.wluml.org/english/newsfulltxt.shtml?cmd%5B157%5D=x-157-541133

    Basically, Saudi men are turning to “temporary marriages” as a way to be able to have a relationship without going afoul of the police and without the incurring of the huge costs associated with marriage. Add to that the problem of polygomy, rich men taking more than one wife, and the plight of your un-wealthy Saudi male sucks big time.

  20. the universality of youth culture

    Y’know, this is one of those little tidbits that’s tossed out there as self-evidently true, and I don’t get it at all. Unless you define “youth culture” down to the bare essentials of “wanting (a) my own place and (b) to get laid”.

    I would say that “youth culture” is getting more fractured all the time. It used to be that it was largely the product of a handful of outlets – big record labels and the TV. Now, cultural outlets have fragmented all over the ‘tubez, and “youth culture” has followed suit.

  21. thoreau:

    http://www.myspace.com/wwwacrassicaudas5com

    These dudes aren’t half bad.

  22. I’ll hijack this scholarship by insisting that Altar Of Sacrifice is the best song on that record.

  23. There’s actually a fairly large heavy metal underground in Iraq.

    John,

    There’s a theory that some of the violence in the Mideast stems from the fact polygamy forces young men to compete for a smaller share of the women.

    A LOT of Saudi men become suicide bombers, so I guess those 72 virgins start to sound good after a while.

  24. We could have an entire heavy metal refugee resettlement program.

    OK, the finalists for resettlement cities are Chicago, Jacksonville, and West Memphis.

    Hmmmmmmm…if you consider typical housing costs…

  25. TallDAve,

    I think there is something to that theory. Honestly who wants to be a suicide bomber when you have a girlfriend? That sounds stupid but women really do serve to give young men a reason to settle down and stop raising hell all of the time.

  26. i just bought ‘heavy metal in baghdad’ last week. it’s great. i loaned it out to some soldiers i know who are in a metal band.

    the guys from system of a down are assyrian, and have extended family in iraq. they’d go up to soldiers and ask them if they listened to s.o.a.d. must have been a surreal question to get asked over there.

    acrassicauda sounds better now that they can practice and put on shows regularly. and they have the most badass metal band name i know of.

    and yes, all our problems could be solved if everybody could get laid.

  27. West Memphis

    Only three of them, though.

    In regard to suicide bombers being dudes who can’t get laid: China is going to have a hell of a problem in a few years when they have about 50 million more 20-something men than women.

  28. Episiarch | July 21, 2008, 1:00pm | #
    If Anthrax can’t bring peace to the world, I don’t know who can.

    I have dutifully reported this comment to the Department of Homeland Security.

  29. Misyar, for your information, is typical for men with multiple wifes, not single men who are strapped for cash. Women who agree to it are usually financially-independent women (teachers, etc.) who are older than the average marrying age for women.

    It started out with men who frequently travel to a certain destination (for business) and it became widely known as it became socially acceptable.

    There’s a theory that some of the violence in the Mideast stems from the fact polygamy forces young men to compete for a smaller share of the women.

    Any stats that support this assertion?

  30. China is going to have a hell of a problem in a few years

    Well, they have daily riots now.

    In theory, polygamy is a bigger problem than mere disparity because the most succesfully violent can acquire the most wives.

    Any stats that support this assertion?

    I think someone strung some together. Here’s a Psychology today thingy.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20070622-000002.xml

    “According to the Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, a comprehensive history of this troubling yet topical phenomenon, while suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, when religion is involved, it is always Muslim. Why is this? Why is Islam the only religion that motivates its followers to commit suicide missions?

    The surprising answer from the evolutionary psychological perspective is that Muslim suicide bombing may have nothing to do with Islam or the Koran (except for two lines in it). It may have nothing to do with the religion, politics, the culture, the race, the ethnicity, the language, or the region. As with everything else from this perspective, it may have a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

    What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don’t get any wives at all.

    So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.

    However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars-but not suicide bombings.

    The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.

    It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.”

  31. My take is that a strong part of the appeal of metal is its anti-authority streak, not to mention its anti-religious bias. Such a thing doesn’t obviously change a nation all by itself, but perhaps it provides a small seed of an idea.

  32. ChrisO,

    I’m afraid you’re way off base on metal not having a religious bias.

    Praise Satan.

  33. Learn the sacred words of praise, “Hail Satan”!

  34. i just happened to come across this comment thread on my book and couldn’t resist chiming in a bit. i was thrilled and honored by the ny times review, but hampton missed the point of the book when he argued that i was “on pretty shaky ground describing Slayer and Metallica as alternatives to “ruthless corporate” globalization rather than as explicit products of it.”

    i never claimed that metallica is an alternative to globalization–in fact, i’m quite disappointed in their support for crackdowns on file-sharing, etc. nor did i claim at all the metal alone can produce a revolution. what i did argue was that we can learn a lot about the muslim world that we otherwise wouldn’t know by looking at the metal and other extreme music scenes. most important is that the muslim world is a lot more like ‘us’ than we might imagine, and that therefore policies based on the widespread assumption that it is somehow fundamentally different and hostile to the ‘west’ will only exacerbate rather than heal the conflicts between them.

    that said, joe’s comment near the top best captures the spirit of the movements across the muslim world, which are very DIY–and this is the big threat both to corporatized globalization and authoritarian regimes and religious leaders who need to control how, when, and where people interact and produce culture in order to retain power. it’s in the creation of new communities outside this control that the metal scenes in particular have the potential to create powerful spaces of opposition to the current order, but only if these communities can interact with other communities also trying to push for change in their countries.

    as to the power of metal, the founder of the moroccan scene put it best to me, “we play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal.” what kind of music should you play, he said, when you live lives filled with little hope for the future? moreover, the music, while rarely addressing openly religious themes like christian metal does here, is deeply spiritual, and the musicians often religious (and anyone who thinks metal doesn’t have religious roots in the west is invited to go back and listen to ozzy’s lyrics on ‘master of reality’ and ‘paranoid’).

    finally, as to the sex-suicide bombings link, i would point out that the vast majority of muslim men don’t have more than one wife, and as pointed out by some posters, there’s a big problem even affording one in most countries. but as far as i can tell, even in saudi and iran, young men and women are pretty adept at getting together regardless of what their religion or society tells them is ‘proper’ behavior.

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