Heavy Metal as Islamist Counternarrative?

by Steven R. Corman

Nothing you can do will hurt me, I am indestructible.
Black Sabbath, “Kiss of Death”

One of the more interesting stories I’ve heard lately is about Heavy Metal music becoming big in the Muslim world.  Earlier this week, Mark Levine posted a guest blog on the subject at Post Global.  Levine, who is a  Professor of Middle Eastern history, culture and Islamic Studies at UC Irvine, has written a whole book on the subject.

Why are we seeing this, um, ironic phenomenon?  Levine says its because the subjects metal deals with,

death without meaning, the futility of violence, the corruption of power – correspond well to the issues confronting hundreds of millions of young Muslims today, the majority of whom live under authoritarian governments in societies torn by inequality, underdevelopment and various types of violent conflict.

What’s more, there have been heavy-handed attempts by religious authorities to stamp out the corrupting influence of rock n’ roll.  Levine cites the example of Egypt’s Grand Mufti calling for metal fans to be executed unless they repent.  As a result the metalheads tend to harbor less than charitable attitudes toward these authorities.  Let me see, where have I heard this before?

I’ve seen videos of some of these bands, and to me they typically don’t look or sound much like the metal bands I’m familiar with.  Sajid and Zeeshan, for example, sound like a sort of Grungy U2, with some scratching and jazzy acoustic guitar riffs thrown in there to round-out the pastiche.  But where are the guys in all-black clothes with black fingernails and black makeup?  The on-stage guillotines?  The singers biting the heads off of live bats?  These guys obviously have a lot to learn about their genre, but relative to their context, I suppose they are radical enough.

Given the youth of the Muslim population, the counter-culture appeal of the music, and a story that puts it at odds with Islamist authorities, this seems to be a trend worth watching.

To learn more about Muslim Metal, visit Levine’s excellent web site, Heavy Metal Islam.

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