I’ve been blogging about music for a while now, but I never thought there would be a day when I would write about how a certain genre of music relates to Islamic terrorism. A few days after we welcomed in 2015, a deadly massacre was carried out at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris by Cherif and Saïd Kouachi, brothers who had pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It was broadcasted that the younger of the two brothers, Cherif, had been an aspiring rapper and one of his old music videos was even shown in the news and posted online. This definitely wasn’t the first time I was hearing about a wannabe rapper later deciding to wage jihad on innocent civilians.
Denis Cuspert, a Ghanaian-German who formerly rapped under the moniker Deso Dogg, has been declared an international terrorist by the US after he joined the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2012. How did he go from being the opening act of a DMX concert to taking up arms with the most feared terror group in the world?
The chief executioner in the ISIS propaganda videos dubbed “Jihadi John” was officially confirmed as 27-year-old Briton Mohammed Emwazi but before word was out of his true identity, many had their bet that it was Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary or L-Jinny. Bary was a London based rapper whose music had even made it to BBC Radio 1. Out of sheer curiosity I actually listened to some of his music and I was very impressed by his skill. Abdel Bary was supposedly radicalized by Muslim groups in London and in 2013 left his family’s £1 million home in London to join jihadist opposition forces against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and later joining the more radical ISIS.
Even the notorious Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev was known to be a really huge fan of hip-hop. Is there some kind of connection between Western rap music and a love for jihad? The answer is maybe. Even one of my favorite counter-extremists , Maajid Nawaz, was once an Islamist with a profound love for “gangsta rap”. From his autobiography “Radical: My journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening”, it isn’t hard to gather how important rap music was to him growing up. Maajid loved how N.W.A rapped aggressively against the society that oppressed them and growing up as a Pakistani in a racist community in Southend, England ,this kind of music was easily relatable for a young Maajid. Rap music isn’t what taught him the radical Islamist views he later adopted but it definitely did something to nurture his sense of grievance at the time. (Of course now he’s the founder of the “Quilliam foundation , a counter-extremism think tank and is doing great work to offset the spread of radical Islamist views).
“Gangsta rap” perhaps inspires young disheartened men who feel subjugated in their societies to take action and have something to fight for instead of being the victim. As a huge hip hop head I know that there is a breed of rappers who talk about violence and somewhat promote it in their music, but this should not be taken to be what rap music is all about.
Nevertheless, “Jihadi rap” is a new tool being used by many terrorist organizations to recruit new young Westerners to join their ranks. These terrorists are now borrowing the genre to spread their wicked propaganda to impressionable young men. Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansoor Al Amriki was an American who joined Al Shabaab in 2006 and often wrote raps with lyrics raging against the non-believers or kuffar. He performed these raps and posted the videos online as a way to recruit more people to join the Shabaab and bond in their violent hatred for the West. The best known “jihadi rap” song is by far “Dirty Kuffar” by Sheikh Terra. The pro-terrorist themed song was released in 2004 and since then has been downloaded and remixed by several internet jihadists who share the same views.
These radicals have used rap music, which is a form of social protest music in itself, to cross-over to disenfranchised youth especially in western countries. What they are doing is saying “Look at us, we are the good ones fighting for justice of the oppressed.” The use of music to propagate their sadistic ideologies is incredibly dangerous especially regarding how easily it can be distributed on the internet these days.
Although there is a slight connection, rap music does not share the prejudice and fundamentalism of Islamist terrorists. It is also important to note that not all rap music is violent or antagonistic and so it doesn’t mean that any person with a deep love for hip hop music might become a terrorist in the future. As a “hip hop head” I am disgusted with how these people are hijacking this art and turning it into a way of spreading malice and aggression. As per now these ”jihadi hiphop” videos are relatively few and wide apart but the threat of their influence is still apparent.