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).