Jewish Journal


July 17, 2008

Heavy Metal Islam: the book



Come on feel the noise ...

I’m not sure how their elders would feel about leather pants or ridiculous guitar solos or, Allah forbid, AC/DC and Black Sabbath, but Muslim metalheads aren’t such an oddity in the Middle East, listened to not just by rebels and wanna-bes and the childhood me, but the children of diplomats and influentials, which, when you think about it, sounds a lot like the people who actually listened to metal in the 80s, gangsta rap in the 90s and Justin Timberlake today.

American metalheads never did much with all that angst we were channeling—remember “Peace Sells ... but Who’s Buying?”—kind of like the aimless hippies on “South Park.” But, according to Mark LeVine, a UC Irvine professor and author of the new book “Heavy Metal Islam,” the music carries the seeds of revolution.

The LA Times reviewed the book today. Here’s a snippet:

He describes an environment where rapid globalization has shaken identity and community, places such as Morocco where the rich live more lavishly than ever and young multitudes from slums of Casablanca and elsewhere have few places to turn beside the local mosque. That gap, writes Le- Vine, is the “caldron that produces both Morocco’s metalheads and its extremists.”

Heavy metal musicians in the Islamic world are not typical careerists but musical revolutionaries putting everything at risk for little payoff beyond dreams of free expression. The price has been high, writes LeVine. Morocco initially repressed the scene, convicting 14 metal fans in 2003 as Satanists recruiting “for an international cult of devil worship.” In 1997, more than 100 players and fans were jailed in Egypt, where the grand mufti demanded they repent or be executed. (They were eventually released.) That same year in Iran, homes were raided and metal fans arrested.

Some struggles are internal. One young player from the Moroccan band Immortal Spirit was “wicked at soloing,” but quit the band and turned “fanatic about religion,” grew out his beard and no longer listens to music. The all-female Moroccan band Mystik Moods were screamed at by young men outraged by the idea of teenage girls playing metal. As one band member told LeVine, “It’s not easy to be a girl on the metal scene, no matter what country you’re living in.”

LeVine compares the polite, soft-spoken manner of Islamists he meets to conservative Christians back in the U.S. And the crackdown on “Marockan roll” and other scenes shares some of the historic intolerance for the devil’s music in America, where Beatles records were burned, shock-rockers arrested and songs banned from the airwaves. Young men in long hair and black T-shirts are proudly marginalized everywhere, but the stakes are far higher here.

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