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Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam

by Mark LeVine

Pub Date: July 15th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-35339-9
Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Heavy metal embodies the rage of young people in rigidly controlled Muslim societies, offering a surprising message of hope and solidarity that contrasts sharply with its reputation.

That’s the conclusion of Levine (Middle Eastern History/Univ. of California, Irvine; An Impossible Peace: Oslo and the Burdens of History, 2007, etc.), who traveled extensively in the world’s major Muslim countries interviewing members of the unique but growing subculture of metalheads. His stories reveal that in several countries where death and violence have become commonplace, music with morbid, violent themes can provide an outlet for negative emotions and a potential avenue for cultural critique from within. The Jewish-American author used his proficiency in Arabic and hard-rock guitar to maximum advantage during his many encounters with metalheads from Palestine to Pakistan. Each chapter features a different country from the Middle East or North Africa, encompassing a wide range of political and religious opinions. Despite the many cultural differences of their respective countries, metal movements throughout the Muslim world share a few key characteristics. Because metalheads risk harassment, imprisonment and police brutality simply for playing and disseminating the music, their concerts, festivals and recordings remain largely underground, sustained by bootleg copies and clandestine jam sessions. Beyond the book’s obvious appeal to metal lovers and hard-rock musicians, it’s useful to a much broader Western audience because it depicts creative, internal resistance to some of the most oppressive regimes within the Muslim world. It also promotes talented but obscure musicians. Given the complexities of a Middle Eastern cultural survey, Levine can only skim the surface of alternative music’s position within Muslim countries. His background explanations are often patchy, his prose duller than the subject matter would suggest, but the project extends beyond mere description to a kind of empathetic activism.

Alternately inspiring and disheartening—a solid work of cross-cultural analysis.