Dirty Kuffar (2005), jihad rap from Digihad Sheikh Terrah
“Is rap the battleground between Muslims?” asked the American journalist. I watched as her subject, a Casablancan emcee named Soultana, shifted her gaze into the middle distance, her face expressionless. We all went silent.
The journalist, a specialist in Iranian and Lebanese politics, was visiting Casablanca to give a talk. I had arrived a few weeks before to spend a year doing fieldwork for my dissertation on Moroccan hip hop and neoliberalization. I helped the journalist to arrange a day of interviews with Moroccan emcees for a chapter of her next book, on responses to Islamist extremism from the Muslim world. As we sat in the lobby of her downtown hotel that afternoon in 2009, she introduced herself to the four artists interviewed that day with the same message: she was inspired by hip hop in the Arab world after she heard DAM, a pioneering Palestinian-Israeli group, for the first time. DAM was “giving the kids something besides Molotov cocktails and suicide bombs,” she said.Rappers were the only people speaking truth to power in “these closed societies” across the Middle East and North Africa, she said. And their music was the only thing keeping at-risk youth, kids from slums where Islamist mosques provided services and social ties, from joining violent extremists. That’s why she wanted to spend a chapter of the book on the stories of hip hop artists from across the region—to capture the voices of what she called “the jihad against the jihad.”