Rapping Against Radicalism
September 25, 2018
Artists in Lebanon are pushing back against extremism through an increasingly popular rap movement that tackles radicalism and social challenges.
A bald man with a thick beard raps in a parking lot in northern Lebanon. “Islam is not Khomeini and his Iranian colonialist ride, Islam is not Wahhabi twin pimps,” he says with urgency and disdain. “Islam is not al-Azhar, enough for insulting the mind,” he continues, and “Islam is not the Daesh-ists and the idiots killing us.”
El Rass, who performs in literary Arabic and Lebanese dialect, is one of several artists behind the counter-radicalism rap movement. The movement addresses religious and social issues affecting at-risk youths in Lebanese border towns and beyond through music. It gained momentum around 2013 and has exploded in recent years, pushing back against a wave of violent rap across the border in Syria.
Jihadi rap, or “Jihadi Cool” as it is sometimes known, emerged in the early 2010s. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group encouraged Western rappers who converted to Islam to instrumentalize their art as a recruitment tool. But while Islamist rap lives in the shadows, its reactionary counterpart seeks the spotlight, tackling radicalization problems head-on and forging a connection between Islam and youth culture.
The new rappers are empathetic. El Rass discusses the link between social immobility and extremism in “Beirut Volcano,” while Syrian-Filipino rapper Chyno’s “Ballad of an Exodus” explores disenfranchisement resulting from displacement. The singers stress that correct Islam provides solace, while its deviations provoke conflict. Through international tours and concerts in border towns, the artists are reaching out to new, often disillusioned Muslim audiences. The rage is understandable, they suggest, but it cannot become consuming.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.