We Aint MissingPalestinian Hip HopA Transnational Youth Movement
Sunaina MairaUniversity of California, Davis
when privilege will yield indifference / like history needs some Ritalin like misery sees your system as / an accessory for pillaging / meant to be the end of it whether you an immigrant or children of slaves you can see it in the difference / of the living in conditions like missions tortured indians / force em to christians we call em Palest-indians / we aint missingExcerpt from No Justice, Arab Summit1
Introduction: A Pedagogy of Empire An honest, accurate, and open discussion of the history and reality of the vexed Palestine question has long been missing in the U.S. public sphere. Michigan State University Press. CR: The New Centennial Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2008, pp. 161192. issn 1532-687x
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In the last few years a new force has attempted to counter the silence in this larger arena slowly and sonically, and has infused Palestine-centered movements with a new aesthetic idiom and a new genre of music: Palestinian and Palestinian American hip hop.2 The emergence of what is a largely underground phenomenon of rap produced by Palestinian and Palestinian American youth is linked to a larger phenomenon of a growing Palestinian and Palestinian American hip hop generation that has come of age listening to the sounds of rap both in the United States as well as in Palestine, and that has taken up the cause of Palestinian self-determination as well as issues of racism, inequality, and imperialism. The globalization of U.S. popular culture and the diffusion of hip hop into the Arab world has been accompanied by the mainstreaming of hip hop in the United States and its increasing embracement by new groups of young people inside and outside the United States who have used it as a medium to express their political and cultural concerns (Osumare 2007). Given the mainstreaming of hip hop in recent years, it is also by now a pervasive, even global, signifier of being cool or simply being young or youthful. If hip hop was described as the Black CNN by Chuck D of Public Enemy, suggesting its role as a tool for sharing news of the social and political realities of urban, disadvantaged youth of color since the 1970s (Rose 1994; Forman 2002), it is possible to argue that today, hip hop has become the Palestinian Al Jazeera (knowing what we know about CNN)! In this paper I will offer a transnational perspective on Palestinian and Palestinian American hip hop, situating it in the context of a political movement and youth culture that spans national borders and that links the United States and Palestine, and exploring how it is shaped by the politics of both locations. To speak of the question of Palestine in the U.S. public sphere is to note that the public sphere, by definition and in debates about its constitution, is marked by relations of power. Silencing and exclusion are built into the structure of who and what can and cannot legitimately be a part of the public sphere and what can and cannot be spoken or, as Talal Asad points, cannot be heard by publics that are always politically constructed (2003, 18485). I would argue that the politics of collective denial and repression of the Palestine question in the United States is linked to the larger politics of collective amnesia
about the United States as an empire and that the two processes need to be considered together to understand why Palestine so often goes missing in mainstream public debates about the Middle East or international politics (Finkelstein 2005; Said 1979).3 Amy Kaplan and Donald Pease, in their edited volume Cultures of U.S. Imperialism (1993), advanced an analysis of U.S. empire that they argued had long been absent, or evaded, in American studies as well as in postcolonial studies, and offered a framework that would connect cultural politics and popular representations to the politics of late U.S. imperialism. They also argued that repression and subordination of marginalized groups within the nation (women, minorities, immigrants, workers, queers) is linked to U.S. overseas hegemony, and that the domestic and global frames of U.S. empire needed to be connected rather than focused on as separate spheres of analysis. This framework helps us understand how the repression of Palestinian and Arab Americans and their racialization as threatening others to the nation is inextricably intertwined with U.S. imperial policies in the Middle East and, in particular, the U.S. role in the Palestine question. Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Americans are demonized and criminalized as suspect citizens or the enemy within not only because of cultural marginalization and religious differences with the West, but also because of historic processes of Orientalism tied to U.S. interests in remapping the Middle East and in suppressing pan-Arab nationalism and movements opposing its hegemony. The Palestine movement in the United States is caught in the linkages of domestic racial, gender, and class politics within the nation and is deeply shaped by U.S. foreign policies as well as by particular historical shifts and events in the Middle East. The Palestine question is key, for it represents a crucible in which some of these domestic and transnational dimensions linked to U.S. imperialism emerge most sharply. The evolving Palestine movement, the forms and rhetoric it uses and the alliances it generates, offers a political pedagogy of U.S. empire that reveals the linkages between various struggles against colonialism, imperialism, and racism. I am particularly interested in the ways that Palestinian, and Palestinian American, youth understand and express these linkages and shape these alliances, especially based on my experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area, a locality that has its own particular race politics and political culture, and
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in the case of Palestinian youth inside Israel, a location that reveals some of the most acute contradictions of citizenship and settler colonialism. I will focus here on youth culture, particularly hip hop, as a site of resistance and solidarity in relation to the Palestine movement in order to understand how politics is expressed outside of the realm of formal politics or official political organizations. This paper is based on my interviews with Palestinian and Palestinian American hip hop artists and analyses of their music and lyrics; since I am not a musicologist, I focus less on the musical elements and more on exploring the politics of this youth culture. I use this music to demonstrate some of the issues facing the current generation of Palestinian and Palestinian American youth and the possibilities and challenges of Palestine movements in the U.S. public sphere.
Palestinian and Palestinian American Hip Hop An emerging generation of Arab and Palestinian American youth is using popular culture, particularly hip hop, as a medium through which to raise awareness of the Palestinian question. Hip hop emerged in the United States in the late 1970s as a subculture created by marginalized African American and Puerto Rican youth in the South Bronx who responded to urban restructuring, deindustrialization, poverty, and racism by producing a new cultural expression of their experiences of political abandonment and alienation and imaginings of the past, present, and future (Chang 2005; Rose 1994). Hip hop, which consists of rap (MCing), graffiti, deejaying, and break dancing, has been described by Tricia Rose as a hybrid cultural form that mixes AfroCaribbean and African American musical, oral, visual, and dance practices with contemporary technologies and urban cultures to create a counterdominant narrative (1994, 82) The heavy reliance on lyricism makes hip hop a genre that can be powerfully used for social and political commentary by layering poetry over beats (Youmans 2007, 42). Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab American rap is a poetics of displacement and protest. In fact, some scholars such as Joseph Massad (2005) situate the political rap produced by Palestinian youth in a longer tradition of
revolutionary, underground Arabic music and political songs that have supported Palestinian liberation since the 1950s and that mix nationalist poetry with hybrid Arab-Western musical instrumentation. Others, such as Will Youmans (2007, 4647), who is himself a hip hop artist (Iron Sheik), acknowledge that, although some forms of improvised and folk poetry that are performed by Palestinians and Arabs (such as zajal, mawwal [mawwaliya], and saj) that could be likened to Arabic spoken wordnot to mention the percussiveness and lyricism of Arabic musicbut argue that the impetus for Arab American hip hop is the mainstreaming and globalization of rap. The question of cultural influences is not an either/or one; clearly Palestinian and Palestinian American rappers are responding to both the global popularity of hip hop and to Arab musical and poetic traditions they have grown up with and are incorporating into a new cultural form. These artists acknowledge this hybridity themselves; for example, DAM, a Palestinian crew from Israel, notes that its influences are Jamal Abdel Nasser, Naji al-Ali, Ghassan Kanafani, Fadwa Tuqan, Tupac Shakur, Toufiq Ziyyad, Malcolm X, Marcel Khalife, Fairuz, El Sheikh Imam, The Notorious BIG, George Habash, Edward Said, Nas, and KRS One.4 As hip hop has crossed ethnic and class boundaries, it has become a multiethnic and globalized art form even as it has become increasingly mainstream. Many fans of political or so-called conscious rap lament that the oppositional thrust of hip hop has waned as it has become increasingly commercialized; some argue that this is part of the politics of containment directed at youth of color in the postcivil rights era (Chang 2005). It is apparent that, although hip hop culture may in some instances be critical or implicitly subversive of consumerism, it is always engaged with the realm of commerce and does not exist outside of U.S. or global capitalism, like all other forms of popular culture that are marketed, distributed, and consumed (Lipsitz 1994; Kelley 1997). Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab American and Palestinian hip hop is getting increased attention, but it is still, for the most part, an underground music that has not yet entered the mainstream music industry and is distributed via the Internet and Arab/Arab American stores. Yet young Palestinian and Arab American rappers who are part of the hip hop underground are getting increasing attention, such as Iron Sheik ( from Oakland but now based in Ann Arbor, Michigan), Excentrik (Oakland), the
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Philistines (Los Angeles), the NOMADS (also from L.A.), and the Brooklynbased Hammer Brothers, who wrote a Free Palestine anthem. Numerous other Palestinian and Arab American MCs around the United States do political rap, such as Masari (San Francisco), MC Shaheed (New Orleans), Gaza Strip (New York), ASH ONE (New Jersey), and Arabic Assassin (Houston), not to mention well-known music producers such as Fredwreck (Los Angeles) and spoken word poets such as Suheir Hammad (New York), star of Def Jam Broadway (Alim 2005; Davey D 2007; Youmans 2007).5 In fact, Iron Sheik, who was inspired to produce and write rap in high school because of politically conscious groups such as Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest, suggests that the message rap produced by Palestinian American youth is reinvigorating the progressive potential of hip hop: I feel ambivalent about what hip hop has become in the U.S. and Im happy to see messages in rap again (2008). Arab and Palestinian American hip hop artists are part of a transnational hip hop movement that includes young artists in Palestine/ Israelsuch as DAM and MWR in Israel; the Ramallah Underground, Checkpoint 303, and Boikutt in the West Bank; PR (Palestine Rapperz) in Gaza; and Clotaire K, Aksser, and DJ Lethal Skillz in Lebanonas well as MCs in the larger Arab diaspora (such as I AM and MC Solaar in France, and Palestine a.k.a. Ref-UG in Sweden) who increasingly perform all over Europe and North America (Gross et al. 1996). A new generation of Palestinian and Arab American youth have grown up identifying with the experiences of racism shared with other youth of color in the United States, and are increasingly vocal about critiquing their profiling after 9/11 and linking it to older structures of Orientalism and anti-Arab racism. Similarly, a politicized generation of Palestinian youth inside the 1948 borders of Israel (the 48 Palestinians) are critical of the painful and paradoxical condition of being citizens without citizenship or without the full rights of Jewish citizens in Israel (Sultany 2003). Tamer Nafar of DAM identified with the rap of African American artists such as Tupac Shakur, who commented on the poverty and racism affecting inner-city youth that Nafar, too, experienced growing up in Lid, Israel: My reality is hip hop. I listened to the lyrics and felt they were describing me, my situation. You can exchange the word nigger
with Palestinian. Lid is the ghetto, the biggest crime and drug center in the Middle East. When I heard Tupac sing Its a White Mans World, I decided to take hip hop seriously (in El-Sabawi 2005). The music created by these Palestinian youthin the diaspora, the West Bank, Gaza, and Israeldemonstrates transnational and cross-ethnic linkages among Palestinians, Palestinian and Arab Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native American, and Latino/a youth through popular culture, as I will demonstrate. In 2007, a new Arab American musical project called Arab Summit was formed and released an eponymous album. Arab Summit consists of Excentrik (Tarek Kazaleh of Rogue State); Ragtop who is part of the FilipinoPalestinian American hip hop crew, the Philistines; Omar Offendum, a Syrian American member of the NOMADS (who says he is from Los Shem-geles); and Narcycist of Euphrates, an Iraqi Canadian artist from Montreal. Members of Arab Summit have performed at political and community events around the country, including at the inauguration of the Edward Said mural at San Francisco State University in 2007, where I saw Excentrik and Narcycist perform for an enthusiastic crowd of Palestinians of all ages while students waved Palestinian flags in the middle of the campus. For Narcycist (a.k.a Jamal Abdul Narcel), the agenda of the collective is to speak on the issues that have touched us and affected our lives indirectly or directly. I want to further investigate the study of Arab identity in the West vis--vis hip hop cultural belonging (in Christoff 2007). Hip hop becomes a tool not only for documenting but also for analyzing the conditions of growing up Arab in the diaspora and an archive of the historical memories and collective experiences of Arab and Palestinian youth.
History: At Odds with Lessons We LearnTell me why all our children gotta die, why our mothers and fathers gotta cry? Ramallah-wide born in California, seen a potent portion of the pride. Even if you see the evil with your 3yn [eye], it can only be deflected with your pain. Always at odds with lessons we learn. Its a beautiful thing we cant explain.Excentrik, Somebody Please, Arab Summit (2007)
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The Palestinian American youth who are part of this growing Arab American hip hop movement are the second or third generation of Palestinians living in the United States and are grappling with the painful as well as beautiful aspects of their experiences that are always at odds with official narratives in the United States that erase and deny Palestinian histories. As Excentrik suggests, this generation is asserting its Arab and Palestinian pride through a new idiomhip hop and youth culture. The websites of Palestinian American MCs from New Jersey to Texas, who have names like Palestine Free 4 Eva and Palestine Till Death, are adorned with red, white, green, and black proclamations of their love for Palestine and contain weblinks to Palestine solidarity campaigns. Like Excentrik, who is part of a large community of Palestinians from the Ramallah area that lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, they identify not only with exiled Palestinians but also with Palestinians currently living under occupation or facing apartheid-style discrimination. Juliane Hammer (2005, 83) writes of a politics of nostalgia among Palestinian youth in the diaspora but also shows how these youth use collective memory and nationalist symbols of the homeland to connect to tangible issues such as the politics of return and the rights of refugees. Hammers ethnographic study, Palestinians Born in Exile, touches on the music and poetry used by Palestinian rap and spoken word artists to raise awareness of the Palestine question. The cause of Palestinian liberation is obviously a key touchstone of identity for Palestinian youth in the diaspora, and their music deals not only with issues of cultural identity but also of global politics. On his first underground album, Camel Clutch, Iron Sheik recorded songs such as Olive Trees and 194 that he sings at political events to educate and galvanize youth; these songs address issues of displacement, the right of return, the history of Zionism, Orientalism in the media, and anti-Arab racism. Iron Sheiks songs (Weir 2004) also make links to the genocide against Native Americans (As a Palestinian / feel more like an Indian / driven into reservations / living under occupation / as a shattered nation / a Western creation), a persistent theme in Palestinian and diasporic hip hop that articulates a critique of settler colonialism in the United States and in Israel (Wimsatt 1994). The refrain of Olive Trees is: They exiled us and stole our homes / Now all we have is old keys and new poems (Camel Clutch, 2003).
The song evokes the dispossession of refugees in the past but also the political expression of future generations of Palestinians. Iron Sheiks lyrics reflect neither a romanticized vision of homeland nor an easy invocation of liberal human rights discourse, but he uses hip hop as a political tool that connects different movements and speaks musically and aesthetically to the growing culture of hip hop fans in the United States and globally. Palestinian immigrant communities in the United States and other parts of the diaspora have obviously always been shaped by the politics of their homeland and its relationship with Israel and the United States. Arab migration from what is today Syria and Lebanon formed the bulk of migration before World War I, and the first Palestinian immigrants came to the United States in the early twentieth century. The second major wave of Arab immigration and of Palestinian refugees was after World War II and the Nakba in 1948, which led to the exodus of more than 700,000 displaced Palestinians (Abraham 1983). The Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, as well as the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965, were followed by a third wave of Palestinian immigration to the United States. Whereas many early immigrants from the Levant became peddlers who traveled to rural areas, later immigrants lived predominantly in urban areas and were employed in the industrial sector, particularly the automobile industry centered in Detroit, Michigan, which is home to the Ford company (Abraham 1983). Kazalehs family was part of this migration to Detroit; his great-grandfather came to the United States in the early twentieth century and worked in a paper factory there (Excentrik 2007). His grandfather then left Ramallah to join his father in Detroit in the 1930s and went back to Palestine to have children, but returned in 1952 when he lost all his land. Kazaleh is thus fourth-generation Palestinian American; his father worked at two jobs, at the store and at the Ford factory in Detroit. Kazaleh, who remembers the older generation of Arab immigrants who were still working in the auto factory, lived in an Arab American neighborhood before moving to the Bay Area. In San Francisco, he found a community of Palestinian Americans who owned small businesses, such as liquor and convenience stores, and a diverse, progressive community that was less ethnically segregated than Detroit, in his view. Although Palestinian immigrant communities have grown through chain migration and the sponsorship of relatives, and have traveled to and from the
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homeland across generations like many other transnational communities, they were marked by an identity that was rendered invisible and from a place whose history was not recognized in the United States (Said 1979, 2000). Moreover, Arab identity was racially ambiguous in the United States, and Arabs and Palestinians were variously classified as white, Asiatic, Syrian, and Mohammedan throughout the twentieth century, being not quite white within the prevalent black/white racial polarity (Samhan 1999). As Iron Sheik, who grew up between black and white neighborhoods in the Detroit area, notes, There is a very ambiguous racial positioning for Arab Americans. Hip hop is a way to . . . express solidarity with people of color. A good example is Suheir Hammad, whose book of poems was titled, Born Palestinian, Born Black (2008). In using a cultural form such as hip hop, which was created by marginalized African American and Latino youth and is identified with an oppositional youth subculture, some Palestinian and Arab American youth have been aligning themselves with other youth of color, culturally and politically. Yet both Excentrik and Iron Sheik are very aware of the racial and class tensions that exist between African and Arab Americans in urban areas such as Dearborn and Detroit, Michigan, commenting on issues of mutual suspicion, prejudice, and racial segregation, and do not romanticize this cross-ethnic affiliation and solidarity. In my previous research on second-generation South Asian youth drawn to hip hop in New York (Maira 2002), I argued that this cultural affiliation was perhaps a way for young Asian Americans to negotiate the contradictions of being neither black nor white, of being part of an upwardly mobile community, and of appropriating the styles and sounds of a subculture associated with youth of color. Yet hip hop has increasingly crossed ethnic, racial, and class boundaries, and even national borders, so its identification with blackness is increasingly contested in debates about what defines authentic hip hop and keeps it real (see, for example, Flores 2000; Wang 2007). As Excentrik observes, People of different voices find a place in hip hop because theres so much room for voices in hip hop. . . . Hip hop . . . is so accessible, its trendy, and so people gravitate toward that (2007). It is possible that this is the allure for some Palestinian and Arab American youth, who grow up in suburban, middle- or upper-middle-class families and who identify
with what has become a pervasively American subculture. At the same time, working-class Arab Americans such as those in Dearborn, were affected by the same politics of deindustrialization that affected African American and other blue-collar workers struggling to live in depressed urban areas similar to those where hip hop was created (Abraham et al. 1983). Excentrik, who began doing spoken word while he was in high school, commented, We were ridiculed for being into hop hop in high school. . . . I dont see it as an over-important cultural phenomenon, I grew up in hip hop in the city. . . . I grew up in citiesmany Palestinians in the suburbs dont know what gave birth to hip hop (2007). Whereas some Palestinian and Arab Americans may be ignorant of the history of hip hop and of the struggles of people of color in the United States, it is also true that many Americans do not know the full history of the Palestinian struggle. It is this experience of being white yet not white, urban and suburban, immigrant and second- or third-generation, Arab Muslim or Arab Christian, and still without a nation-state that shapes the politics expressed in Palestinian American hip hop. The postcivil rights discourse of ethnic pluralism and the emphasis on multicultural diversity in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s promoted the popular expression of ethnic identity in music, dance, and the arts. Yet Arab American identity, let alone Palestinian identity, was not really promoted or celebrated by this rhetoric of inclusion, even within the confines of a liberal multicultural model. Arab identity has historically been difficult for Arab Americans to express in the public sphere because of repressive domestic policies targeting Arab Americans that have accompanied U.S. overseas interventions and support for Israel. State surveillance and repression of Arab American political activity began well before 2001; as early as 1972, President Richard Nixon launched Operation Boulder, a little-known FBI program targeting Arab American students and activists for surveillance; and the notorious case of the L.A. Eight was initiated in 1986 and not resolved for the Palestinian activists involved until 20 years later (Cole and Dempsey 2002; Orfalea 2006).6 In general, there has been a persistent strand of anti-Arab racism in American culture, heightened during events such as the Arab-Israeli war, the OPEC oil crisis, the first Gulf War, the 9/11 attacks, the current war in Iraq, and the ongoing, U.S.-backed
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Israeli occupation and incursions into the West Bank and Gaza (Abraham 1994; Salaita 2006; Saliba 1994). Some scholars suggest that this repression and broader anti-Arab racism led to a general cautiousness within Arab American communities about publicly displaying Arab identity; this cautiousness, in turn, partially dissolved in later generations and with the growth of Arab nationalism in the 1960s (Abraham 1983; Orfalea 2006). Newer immigrants from the Arab world also helped forge a pan-Arab identity and a heightened political consciousness about the Palestine situation that was more overtly expressed in Arab American communities such as Dearborn (Abraham et al. 1983, 17778). The 1967 Arab-Israeli war and the anti-Arab representations in the U.S. media at the time galvanized a younger generation of Arab Americans who supported the Palestinian struggle and formed pan-Arab American political organizations, such as the Arab American University Graduates in 1967 and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1980 (Abraham 1983; Orfalea 2006). During the October Arab-Israeli War in 1973, 2,000 Arab Americans from the Southend, a largely working-class community in Dearborn, staged a demonstration in front of the United Auto Workers office to demand that the UAW divest from Israel, and later organized a massive protest at a Bnai Brith event that involved Arab high school students and auto workers (Abraham et al. 1983, 17879). In fact, Gregory Orfalea describes the 19721981 as a period of political awakening for Arab American collective organizing and entry into U.S. electoral politics (2006, 216). These events are important for situating the Palestine movement and youth activism in a larger historical context that has shaped the ebb and flow of mobilization around the Palestine issue in the United States. As other scholars have pointed out, Palestine activism spearheaded by Arab nationalists has a long history in the United States that is rarely acknowledged and that predates the Six Day War of 1967; for example, Lawrence Davidson (1999) has documented the attempts of Arab nationalists in the United States to mobilize around the Palestine question and in opposition to the Balfour Declaration from 1917 to 1932. Contemporary political hip hop focused on the Palestine issue seems to be, in part, an expression of the politicization of a new generation of Palestinian Americans who are countering the message
of some of their parents and families to stay away from politics and to avoid raising controversial issues in public (Orfalea 2006). Iron Sheik says, I also want Arab Americans . . . to gain a view that its cool to be political, its OK . . . to speak truth to power (Weir 2004). Clearly, the fear of taking a public stance on an issue that is considered highly controversial and is repressed in U.S. mainstream discourse, such as the Palestine question, is justified by that very repression. If, as Said (2000) observed, speaking of Palestine from a Palestinian perspective in the United States is the last taboo, then breaking that taboo has a price, and it is a very high one for narratives that challenge dominant or official histories. In the wake of the surveillance, detentions, and deportations targeting Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11, and the charged climate for political speech challenging U.S. government policy in the Middle East, many Arab and Palestinian immigrants, parents, as well as youth understandably experienced a heightened fear of engaging in political activism that might endanger them or their families (Cainkar and Maira 2005) .
Resistance Despite the repressive political climate, Palestinian American youth have chosen not to remain silent but to challenge the racist profiling and Orientalist images of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists and fundamentalists that suffuse mainstream U.S. discourse, implicitly and explicitly. Excentrik remembers being harassed while growing up and being called terrorist and Saddam (2007). Ragtop, whose MC name is a play on the racist slur of camel jockey and raghead, comments, The inspiration to do what we do definitely came from a mixture of personal and political feelings . . . for me it was the backlash following 9/11, both in the media and [against] our communities, that really drove me to try and make my voice heard (in Christoff 2007). Ragtop mocks the surveillance of the privatized national security state in the song We Need Order, which alludes both to the domestic criminalization and deportation of youth of color in the law and order regime and the global criminalization of those who resist the New World Order:
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Order in the courtorder him deported, its plethoras of his sort up in our borders . . . hook them to the corporate pursuit of new suits and profits, use they dollars to shoot launch bombs into orbit more troopsCameras on every front stoop, and they porches. GPS systems in they coupes and Porsches so their movements is tracked dont lose the coordinates. Me?Im a MCIll never forfeit. Catalogue it on an analog discrecord IT . . . (Arab Summit 2007)
Ragtop and Narcycist both speak of the profiling and special security searches they have experienced while traveling across borders in the United States, Canada, and Israel. At the same time, Offendum is acutely aware that the detention suffered by many Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim political prisoners, from Guantnamo to Israel, is far graver (Christoff 2007). Palestinian and Arab American hip hop counters Orientalist stereotypes of Arabs, subverting gendered and racialized representations of sheiks, terrorists, harems, and camel jockeys through their names and album titles. They play with the hysteria about Arab terrorism and reappropriate signifiers of the exotic Middle East in the imagery on their albums, websites, and music videos. For example, the cover of Arab Summit album is imprinted with the motto, Arabs at it again! and a slyly mocking seal for the Department of Arab-man Security. NOMADS actually stands for Notoriously Offensive Arab Males Doing S, a tongue-in-cheek play on images of Arab male terrorists as well as on exotic wandering tribes. Iron Sheik takes his MC name from the name of a 1980s wrestling star who used to wear a red kaffiyeh and represent the bad guys (Weir 2004). These artists seem to be aware of the pitfalls and contradictions of self-Orientalization and commodification of a culture that is simultaneously maligned as backward, anti-modern, antidemocratic, and fundamentally other to the West (Said 1978). Excentrik also hints at the dangers of liberal Orientalist responses to Arab music: If Im playing my oud, some old Berkeley lady wants to take my picture, talking about my exotic culture (in Christoff 2007). In their music, these young Arab American artists speak of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia in the United States, particularly after 9/11 but also in ongoing Orientalist representations of Arabs, and connect it to the racism of
occupation and apartheid in Palestine and the war in Iraq. Referring to the Arab Summits song, No Justice, which layers a sample from a Bob Marley song over Fairuz stirring ode to Jerusalem in La Fleur Des Cities, Ragtop insightfully observes, Get up stand up is of course a reference to the classic Bob Marley line recorded before Fairuz . . . [which] reinforces the idea that little has changed (in Christoff 2007). The sampling of songs from different historical moments and political struggles allows hip hop artists to articulate an analysis of historical continuities across time and place. No Justice begins by tracing the links between Palestinian, Haitian, and post-Katrina New Orleans refugees and poverty in Los Angeles and the Philippines, suggesting that there will always be injustice as long as the ravages of imperialism and global capitalism persist:Nopeaint none left. Knock down house make build up stress. Aint no justice, aint no peace, aint no place safe left to be. We got refugees from Haiti to the P. to those fleeing toes freezing wet from New Orleans, we got people waiting for their piece of the cake and its a long line of empty platesFrom L.A. to the Bay to Wastes of Manila, where your waste is they food, shit that youd throw away gets consumed with a little bit of regret, whole lotta not enough yet get your dollars anyway that you can. (Arab Summit 2007)
The politics of solidarity espoused by Arab Summit, Iron Sheik, and other young hip hop artists is very important for Palestine activists who do not want to remain focused on single-issue politics and who see the Palestine movement as intertwined with other movements for self-determination and social justice. However, Iron Sheik comments that, in his view, most Arab American youth do not make alliances with other groups; he finds this problematic, for he is critical of the Zionist discourse of unique victimhood and of Palestinians who respond with their own discourse of exceptionalism. Iron Sheik thinks it is important for Palestinian and Arab American youth to show greater solidarity with other causes, for as he points out, The Palestinian experience is not unique in the twentieth century. Displacement and dispossession have happened throughout world history (2008). What is unusual, if not unique, is the silencing of the Palestinian struggle in the
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United States, and underground Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab American hip hop helps shatter this silence. This growing genre is allowing Palestinian and Palestinian American youth to make the connections between racial profiling, surveillance, segregation, militarism, warfare, and police brutality in the United States and the Palestinian diaspora as well as in the Occupied Territories and Israel, offering a musical critique of global structures of colonialism, racism, and war.
Hip Hop from Palestine 48: We Want a Generation of GiantsWe want an angry generation To plough the sky, to blow up history To blow up our thoughts We want a new generation That does not forgive mistakes That does not bend We want a generation of giants . . .DAM, Mali Hurriye (I Dont Have Freedom), 2007
Rappers from Palestine are part of a Palestinian and Arab youth movement that spans national borders and that allows Palestinian youth in the diaspora to communicate with one another and share their stories and views. There is a transnational connection between Palestinian/Arab American youth and hip hop artists from the Arab world, such as from Palestine and Lebanon ( for example, DJ Lethal Skillz from Beirut has collaborated with Omar Offendum of the NOMADS, and Excentrik has performed with MWR), as well as Arab artists from Europe (DAM has a song with My Hood, a Moroccan French rapper, in which they link the ghettos of Palestine to the ghettos of France). DAM has performed with the Philistines in Los Angeles, and Ragtop speaks of how cats like our boys the Palestinian [MCs] DAM are engaged in a similar project of creating an honest expression of their lives (in Christoff 2007). DAM did their premier concert in the United States in 2005, at a New York benefit for the album Free the P, dedicated to the youth
of Palestine and released to support a documentary film about Palestinian hip hop, Slingshot Hip Hop: The Palestinian Lyrical Front, directed by Jacqueline Salloum (Kanazi 2005). DAM shared the stage with Latino and African American hip hop artists and with Invincible, an Israeli American woman from Detroit whose song on the album, No Compromises, addresses issues of occupation, resistance, and the apartheid wall, as well as police brutality and racism in Detroit. DAM (or Da Arabian MCs; dam also means persisting in Arabic and blood in Hebrew) became globally famous with their first single, the searing song Meen Erhabi (Whos the Terrorist?) released in 2001 and reportedly downloaded more than a million times from their website until 2008 (Charnas 2008). In the powerful video for the song produced by Jacqueline Salloum and circulated on the Internet, they rap over images of the occupation and the Intifada:Whos a terrorist? Me, a terrorist? How am I a terrorist When youve taken my land? Youre the terrorist! Youve taken everything I own while Im living in my homeland. You want me to go to the law? Youre the witness, the lawyer, and the judge. Ill be sentenced to death, To end up the majority in the cemetery. ... You attack me but still you cry out, When I remind you it was you attacked me You silence me and shout, Dont they have parents to keep them at home?
DAM, who released their first full album, Dedication, in 2007 consists of Tamer Nafar, his younger brother Suhell Nafar, and Mahmoud Jreri, all of whom grew up in the slums of Lod [Lid], between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.7
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Their music combines Arabic instrumentation and melodies with rap in Arabic and Hebrew, sampling speeches by Nasser and poetry by such Palestinian poets as Tawfiq Zayyad. DAMs music is a powerful commentary on the contradictions of being Palestinian citizens of Israel, the so-called 48 Palestinians who represent 19 percent (1.2 million) of the Israeli population. In Meen Erhabi, they astutely critique the notion that Israel is a democracy with equal rights for all its citizens by pointing out that there is no neutral arbiter of justice in a state where discrimination is built into citizenship and the law itself. This is acknowledged even in an Israeli government report issued by the Orr Commission in 2003, which noted that specific rights granted only to Jewish citizens are encoded in the Law of Return and the Laws of Citizenship; in the normative definitions of the educational, media, and judiciary systems, and . . . the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund. They were also expressed in the very legal definition of the state as a Jewish state (in Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker 2005, 160). In the song Gareeb Fi Biladi (Stanger in My Own Country, 2007), DAM notes the paradox inherent in the notion of a state that claims to be both democratic and Jewish:Who cares about us? We are dying slowly Controlled by a Zionist democratic government! Ya, democratic to the Jewish soul And Zionist to the Arabic soul That is to say, what is forbidden to him is forbidden to me And what is allowed to him is forbidden to me And whats allowed to me is unwanted by me . . .
In fact, the Orr Commissions report was issued after an investigation of a historical event that was a turning point in the consciousness of Palestinian youth inside Israel: Black October. Thirteen young Palestinians were killed by Israeli police within two weeks in October 2000 during demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience that broke out in support of the Intifada that had begun in the Occupied Territories and that galvanized political resistance among a younger generation of 48 Palestinians. The Orr Commissions analysis was surprisingly frank, yet it failed to hold the Israeli police accountable
or to make practical recommendations to address the ongoing problems (Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker 2005).8 DAM commemorates the deaths of these 13 shaheeds (martyrs), naming each one: When the stones are in the hand, 13 shaheeds / The ALA (highness) of our land, and the EMAD (base) of it / Black October proved that the EYAD (support) is in our blood . . . (2007). The events of October 2000, like the deaths of Palestinians in Galilee who were protesting Israels land expropriation policies in 1976 and that are commemorated annually as Land Day, deeply affected what Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker call the Stand-Tall Generation.9 This generation of Palestinians, who are the grandchildren of the generation that experienced the Nakba and the children of those who mobilized the Palestinian minority in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, is assertively challenging the fundamental definition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; they are demanding full citizenship and equality, building on the Palestinian national movement within Israel that has been developing since the 1990s, if not earlier (Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker 2005, 23). Many in this generation reject the illusion of civil rights and citizenship as promised by the Israeli state. Saz (Samih Zakout), a young rapper from Ramleh, which is also a mixed Jewish-Arab town like Lid, raps: The authorities give you freedom of expression? No! / Are you an Israeli citizen? Of course not! / Its about time we faced the facts / We deserve equal rights, lift your head up, stand tall (2006; emphasis mine). In the documentary film about his life and music, Saz articulates a deeply skeptical view of the notion of inclusion of Palestinians in the Israeli state as it is currently constructed: I dont consider myself Israeli, I dont have a relationship with Israel. Whats Israeli citizenship to me? My blue ID? Later he reflects, As time goes by, I realize I have nothing to do with this country. I have nothing here, but the land is mine. The police, the school, nothing is mine, nothing belongs to me. For Saz and others of the Stand-Tall Generation, the state of Israel has failed and it is now their turn to put it on probation until it offers them genuine equality, including the recognition of collective rights and the rectification of past wrongs. Until then, they see the state as a mere provider of services, not a locus of true affiliation. . . . Their point of departurea clear sense of not belongingis their first step toward emancipation (Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker 2005, 137). This sense of radical
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alienation of youth, who reject the deliberate erasure of their Palestinian identity in the states label, Israeli Arabs, and of their history in the Israeli educational curriculum, is expressed in DAMs Gareeb Fi Biladi (2007):Cause its denying my existence Still blind to my colors, my history and my people Brain-washing my children So that they grow up in a reality That doesnt represent them The blue ID card worth nothing to us Let us believe we are a part of a nation That does nothing but makes us feel like strangers Me?? A stranger in my own country!!
Palestinians within the 1948 borders have an acute sense of estrangement from a national project that was built on the erasure of their history and grapple daily with the paradox of being a minority in their own land, surrounded by an alien culture and society, and living with the contradictions of settler colonialism.10 In the documentary, Saz talks about being beaten by the Israeli police simply for not having his ID card while shopping in the market, and of being watched by bystanders like an animal, observing, Its time Arabs woke up, especially here in Lid, Ramleh . . . Ive had it, I dont want to live this life. So I chose rap. . . . I especially want the young Arabs to be able to walk down the street and lift their heads up without anyone marking them with an X (2006). Rappers from 48 Palestine sing about racism and living as third class citizens, police brutality, and wanting to be united with all Arabs around the world (in El-Sabawi 2005). MWRs song, Because Im an Arab, echoes similar themes of racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and their music addresses issues of religious and class divisions fostered by Israeli policies and the need for greater unity among Palestinians (Massad 2005, 193). The songs of DAM, MWR, and Saz are, in fact, full of the same outrage about police brutality, inner city poverty, and the failure of the state to protect the rights of its minority citizens that infuses political rap in the United States, exposing
the hypocrisy and racism of national security and anti-terrorist policies in both Israel and the United States. Even a reviewer from the Washington Post acknowledged that, whereas in mainstream hip hop, successful American rap artists squandered their political bully pulpit long ago, DAMs powerful music and growing popularity is evidence that hip-hop is still the voice of the oppressed, influencing politics and moving the masses (Charnas 2008). When I interviewed Nafar on the phone (2007), he was getting ready for a series of ten shows around Israel as part of a campaign to resist the governments call for Palestinian Israelis to sign up for national service. DAM had written a song that addressed the contradiction in this recruitment of a dispossessed minority for national duty, with a line that would resonate with American minorities resisting recruitment by the U.S. military, for it notes wryly: For the national service, we want Arabs that left behind their memory (2007). DAM and other rappers are successfully using their music as a tool for political critique and mobilization, though Nafar seems frustrated with the lack of a music industry in Israel that supports Palestinian rap. Yet MCs from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza have managed to use the internet and new technologies to distribute and publicize their music through the Palestinian hip hop underground. This follows in the tradition of underground Arabic music on cassettes and radio broadcasts from the 1960s and 1970s that supported the Palestinian guerrilla movement and also the Palestinians suffering inside Israel.11 Palestinian Israelis are discriminated against, directly and indirectly, in the provision of social services by the state, and many, including college students, have waged legal and political battles to fight for equality, so the state is not seen even as a minimal source of social support by many (Adalah 2001; Rabinowitz and Abu-Baker 2005; Sultany 2003). Nafar says that his generation of 48 Palestinians is concerned with finding [their] identity, getting an education, finding jobs and housing and struggling to assert their Palestinian identity (2007). In DAMs Ngayer Bukra (Change Tomorrow), a song which features children from Lid and is focused on issues of education, employment, identity, and historical memory affecting Palestinian Israeli youth, they rap: Dont grab a gun but grab a pen and write / im an arab like Mahmoud Darwish did.12 DAM supports nonviolent resistance but, like Saz,
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they are critical of co-existence programs, Jewish-Arab youth dialogues, and peace talks that evade structural inequalities: This situation reminds me of Apartheid and Nelson Mandela / Didnt he say Gandhi flowers dont always work / So to all the people of love and peace / How can we have coexistence when we dont even exist? / It takes revolution to find a solution ( from Inquilab, Revolution, 2007). It is striking that Nafar and DAM are the Palestinian hip hop artists that are perhaps best known in the United States, and that it is the political rap produced by groups such as MWR and Arapyat ( from Acca), Saz ( from Ramleh), and The Happiness Kids ( from Jaffa) that has drawn attention to the politicization of Palestinian youth inside Israel.13 These youth and their experiences were often neglected in the discourse of the Palestine movement in the United States, which has traditionally focused on refugees and the plight of Palestinians under occupation but has not always linked the condition of those on the outside (in the West Bank and Gaza) to those on the inside (within Israel). Layered over the critique of segregation and apartheid in the rap lyrics of Palestinians living inside Israel is also an astute attempt to link the condition of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with those inside the 1948 borders. Afif Safieh noted that Palestinians, as an exiled people scattered throughout the globe, could use their dispersal across different nations to their advantage and turn their differences and divisions into a source of strength, rather than weakness and fragmentation (2007). In Gareed Fi Biladi, DAM (2007) directly challenges the perception that 48 Palestinians are somehow less loyal, authentic, and resistant for being citizens of Israel and comments on the feeling of not being recognized:And our Arabian roots are still strong But still our Arabian brothers are calling us renegades!!?? Noooooooooooooooooooooo We never sold our country, The occupation has written our destiny Which is, that the whole world till today is treating us as Israelis And Israel till tomorrow will treat us as Palestinians
In addition to helping connect the issues of occupation and settler colonialism to the condition of exile, thus linking 48 Palestine with the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora, Palestinian hip hop is important for the Palestinian rights movement, especially internationally, because rappers such as DAM emphasize core issues of equality and freedom. These are at the heart of questions of self-determination and are strategic concepts that can be used to mobilize mass support for Palestine on the fundamental issues. In Sawa Al Zaman (Driver of Fate) DAM raps: Drop me in Equality and Ill walk alone to Peace / Dont tell me they are not on the same track . . . Take me to the unknown place called the United Arabs / Take me to the freedom that was taken from us / Take me to the heart of fighting so well take it back (2007). Linking the inside and outside in the Palestine movement also helps us link the inside and outside of U.S. empirePalestinians and Arabs here and there, minorities and native peoples in the United States and beyond. This hip hop movement helps underscore the importance of taking back the fight for equality, freedom, and justice on a self-determined conceptual terrain.
Tensions: Between a Rock and a Hard Place There are two major points of potential tension or debate in the political hip hop produced by Palestinian and Palestinian American youth. One is the tension that some rap artists feel between their artistic development and political motivations. The Sheik says he is an activist first, then an MC. I got back into producing hip hop as an alternative way to communicate the messages and ideas I work with. For him, there is no tension for he is very clear that if it werent for the politics, I wouldnt be doing it (2008). Iron Sheik has increasingly shifted to hosting shows and writing articles, rather than producing hip hop, because he feels this is the most effective medium for political activism at this point in his life, and given the emergence of Palestinian rap around the United States; he is now in a graduate program and has a political blog, Kabobfest.14 Nafar, who is clearly passionate about being a Palestinian artist, is ambivalent about being restricted in the content
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of his music and by the expectations that he perform the anthems for the movement; he says, Yanni (you know), sometimes I feel selfish but its not always about Palestine. . . . It doesnt make you feel like an artist, singing the same thing (2007). There is no inherent contradiction between art and politics, but there is a tension that has long been experienced by committed artists who are part of the global movement of Palestinian resistance artsuch as Mourid Barghouti, who said poetry is not a civil servant, its not a soldierwhile continuing to use literature, music, film, visual art, and multimedia technology for the cause (in Soueif 2006). Artists such as Nafar and Excentrik are interested in producing interesting and innovative music, not merely communicating a message. Excentrik exclaims to me: Were not just Arab hip hop, Im not f-ing McDonalds, Im not going to give you the same burger every time. Its art! (2007). But he also acknowledges that politics suffuses his art and identity: I dont see anything that isnt political in regards to being Palestinian and an artist (in Christoff 2007). Excentrik, who is interested in producing experimental music and electrifying the oud, seems to be concerned with the burden of representation that many minority artists feel, especially Arab and Muslim American artists since 9/11, in always having to speak on behalf of an ethnic group: After 9/11, I was no longer just a hip hop artist, I was an Arab hip hop artist. Now Im in a box, Im in a metal cage. The media totally puts us in that box (2007). As Iron Sheik observes, there is a difference between being an Arab American hip hop artist, who speaks to Arab American identity and politics, and an Arab American in hip hop, who does not address Arab American issues, and although he thinks there is room for both, some feel it is not always their choice (2008). The flip side of this dilemma, however, is the racism and backlash that Palestinian hip hop artists have experienced, especially those who do progressive rap. Iron Sheik and Excentrik have had some of their shows cancelled because of Zionist pressure, and Excentrik was almost attacked by a white man with a crowbar at a club in Detroit. The African Americans in the audience threw the assailant out, and said, Youre the new niggaz, welcome to our world! Weve dealt this with for years (Excentrik, 2007).
A second issue that deserves more reflection is the seeming absence of Palestinian women MCs in the United States. Interestingly, although there are female Palestinian rappers from Israel, such as Abeer from Lid and Arapyat, most Palestinian American women in hip hop seem to be DJs (such as DJ Mutamissik in New York and DJ Emancipation in San Francisco) or spoken word poets (most famously Suheir Hammad, but also younger figures such as Tahani Salah from New York). There is also a queer Lebanese hip hop crew, NaR (comprised of two men), in the Bay Area. When I asked Iron Sheik about this striking absence of women rappers in the United States, relative to Palestine, he suggested that male-dominated Palestinian American hip hop was still behind the times, and compared it to early 1990s hip hop in the United States, which became hyper-commercialized and male dominated (see Chang 2005, 44546). Interestingly, Safa Hathoot, a young female rapper from Arapyat, has a song with Nafar on Dedication, Al Hurriye Unta (Freedom for My Sisters), in which they address multiple levels of discrimination by Zionists and Americans against the Arabs as well as internal discrimination among Arabs and against women, suggesting that freedom comes only when liberated from all these prisons.15 This is a topic that requires more research for it is possible that the relative absence of Arab and Palestinian American female MCs, in particular, who occupy a role that is seen as more rebellious than that of a deejay or even spoken word artist, arises partly from the cultural conservatism that generally shapes all immigrant communities, who tend to uphold more traditional social and gender norms than in their home countries ( for example, Maira 2002). It is also apparent that the image of the angry Arab man, however oppositional, is more marketable in American (and global) popular culture than that of a defiant and militant Arab woman MC, not to mention the gendering of hip hop that is evident for all artists, not only Arab Americans (see Guevara 1996; Rose 1994). At the same time, the poetry performed by young women in hijab who speak unflinchingly about Palestine and express their rage and sorrow using the idioms of urban poetry, such as Tahani Salah (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJArzOTZ8LU) in Hate, also challenge the dominant images of passive, voiceless, and veiled Muslim and Arab women.
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Conclusion: Activism, Solidarity, Repression Palestinian and Palestinian/Arab American hip hop is a site of political education and alliance-building for youth through everyday popular culture. It is also a form of aesthetic bridging, translating the Palestine movement into a medium that has the potential to resonate with the experiences of different groups of youths who have an oppositional critique of colonialism or racism in the United States and globally; for example, M.I.A., a British Sri Lankan hip hop artist who has ties to Tamil Tigers, raps in Sunshowers, Like PLO, I dont surrender, and has pictures of tanks on the cover of her album, Arular (Sissario 2007). In connecting to different local movements, Palestinian American youth are using their diasporic condition to promote the cause of Palestinian liberation in a variety of locations. Political alliances between Arab American youth in the Palestine movement and other groups of youth exist to varying degrees, but in the Bay Area, where I am based, there is still much work to be done in educating and translating the struggles of Palestinians for other communities. This is where the idiom of youth culture is important: it helps bring awareness of the Palestine question through the sounds, images, and symbology of spoken word and hip hop that permeate and cross cultural spaces. For many American college youth and activists, the kaffiyeh denotes a visual symbol of solidarity with Arabs (in relation to Palestine or now Iraq), as it has at other moments, and one can purchase a range of products that express or embody solidarity with Palestine, from T-shirts to wristbands and pendants of Handala (Naji al-Alis iconic figure of Palestinian resistance). But politics and cultural production have to go hand in hand; cultural resistance, or resistance through symbols, such as wearing the kaffiyeh, cannot be substitutes for political resistance and political education. Activism, and also solidarity, are not simply identities to be performed. At the same time, young Palestinian and Arab Americans are resisting the pervasive silencing and distortion of the Palestine issue by openly expressing their political critique and vocalizing their Palestinian identity. Political Palestinian American rappers challenge hip hops conflation with American
consumerist lifestyles and perform at anti-war and pro-Palestine rallies and political events, on college campuses, and at community festivals in spaces that are Arab American as well as multiethnic. There are inspiring examples of cross-ethnic alliances in the Palestine movement among youth in the Bay Area and in the Asian American communities that I work with; for example, the solidarity shown by Filipino American youth involved in transnational movements for democracy in the Philippines, such as BAYAN-USA, that have long resisted U.S. imperialism given the American occupation of the Philippines. African American youth in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement have drawn on the language of the right of return to link refugees from Katrina-stricken New Orleans to the plight of Palestinians, opposing American as well as Zionist ethnic cleansing and mass incarceration. There are also growing alliances with Latino youth; for example, events linking the militarized security fence on the U.S.-Mexico border with the apartheid wall in Palestine. These alliances do meet with opposition sometimes; for example, the portrayal of the Intifada in a mural made by Latino youth belonging to HOMEY, an organization in the Mission District of San Francisco, met with attempts at censorship, predictably, but the mural was also an inspiring example of the mutual understanding among Arab American, Native American, and other youth on issues of indigenousness, colonialism, and sovereignty. As a Chicano ex-convict commented: the Palestinians had their homeland stolen and were oppressed in much the same way as Mexicans (in Aidi 2007). The movement for Palestinian rights or Palestinian liberation is not one movement but many. But in some form or another and at one point or another, all face tactics of intimidation, repression, or harassment given the well-organized structure of silencing that exists in the United States, from generously funded pro-Israel and right-wing groups, think tanks, and watch dog organizations. Palestinian and Arab American youth, too, have to confront this in their political mobilization on college campuses; for example, David Horowitz Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week brought pro-Israel speakers focusing on Islamic terrorism to campuses around the country in fall 2007.16 Yet this campaign united Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and progressive students who formed coalitions to counter its racist discourse. Hip hop
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played an unanticipated role in organizing a series of events at my campus, the University of CaliforniaDavis, which ended up pre-empting the rightwing show. An outdoor event, Walls and Wars, organized by a multiethnic student coalition, focused on the apartheid wall, immigrant rights, imperialism, and occupation and featured Latino/a spoken word artists as well as Middle Eastern student speakers. The lyrics of a powerful poem about Palestine by a Bay Area rap artist, Amir Sulaiman, countering the discourse of Arab and Muslim terrorism (I am not dangerous / I am danger) could be heard all over the quad. The Anti-Defamation League, predictably, struck again and objected to the rap song, in particular, as anti-Semitic. Yet their attempt at silencing implicitly acknowledged the power of this medium to be heard, to unite, and to harness the language and beats of resistance for the liberation of Palestine. The word is out.
notesI would like to thank the artists who generously shared their time and thoughts with me, and Magid Shihade for his valuable suggestions and insights. 1. 2. Arab Summit, Fear of an Arab Planet. The title is a riff on Public Enemys Fear of a Black Planet. Throughout the essay I use Palestinian to refer to youth in (occupied or historic) Palestine and Palestinian American or Arab American to refer to youth of Palestinian or Arab origin in the United States (acknowledging that not all these youth would choose to identify with this label). The difficulty of naming the form of U.S. empire, until recently, is tied to the fact that U.S. imperialism has historically been characterized by nebulous, nonterritorial forms of domination that do not resemble traditional forms of territorial colonalism (Magdoff 2003; Smith 2005). Scholarship on U.S. empire has analyzed the direct or overt as well as the often covert or secret military and political interventions that are enabled by the collective denial of U.S. empire (Harvey 2003; Williams 1980). It is worth noting that there are hip hop and spoken word artists who are not Arab or Palestinian American and who address the issue of Palestine and support the Palestine movement as well; for example, Talib Kweli, Method Man (PLO Style), Immortal Technique, and poet Mark Gonzalez from Los Angeles. There are also African American hip hop artists who resonate with Arab issues via Islam; for example, Mos Def, Eric B. and
7. 8. 9.
14. 15. 16.
Rakim (Know the Ledge), and Black rappers who are Five Percenters (the Nation of Gods and Earths)a splinter group of the Nation Of Islam founded in 1964such as Wu Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, and Poor Righteous Teachers. See Aidi (2007), Alim (2005), and Knight (2006). See Rodinson (1973) and Shafir (2005). Less well-known is the 1968 case of three Yemenis falsely accused of plotting to assassinate President Nixon and the FBIs targeted surveillance of Arab Americans in Operation Boulder beginning in 1972 (Orfalea 2006, 216). See DAM website: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile& friendid=25392149. See the articles in Adalahs Review (2002). The label is drawn from Samih al-Qasems poem, Standing Tall (Muntasib al Qama): Standing tall I march / My head held high / An olive branch held in my palm / A coffin on my shoulder / On I walk (Rabonowitz and Abu-Baker 2005, 2). See Sayed Kashuas 2002 novel, Dancing Arabs, for a poigant portrait of growing up Palestinian in Israel. For example, Massad notes Tawfiq Zayyads song Unadikum (I Call upon You) which implores the diaspora and West Bank and Gaza Palestinians not to forget their compatriots (2005, 189). This refers to the famous poem about being a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Record, I am an Arab (DAM 2007). Ragtop insightfully suggests that this is because 48 Palestinian rappers identify strongly with the oppositional relationship to the state and the racism of majority culture expressed by hip hop artists in the United States, have access to technology (however limited), and can use rap to speak to the Israeli public as well as to Palestinian and Arab youth (email communication with Ragtop, February 7, 2008). Iron Sheik has also published an article about Arab American hip hop (Youmans 2007), so he is clearly a scholar, political analyst, and cultural producer. The songs title might be more literally, and evocatively, translated as Freedom and Woman are One. See: http://www.terrorismawareness.org/islamo-fascism-awareness-week/.
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discographyArab Summit. 2007. Arab Summit. Available at www.myspace.com/euphrates. DAM. 2001. Meen Erhabi (Whos the Terrorist?). Iron Sheik. 2003. Camel Clutch.
filmographySaz. Director Gil Karni, 2006 (originally produced 2004). Slingshot Hip Hop: The Palestinian Lyrical Front. Director Jacqueline Salloum, 2008.
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