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The US Government’s Hip Hop Diplomacy in the Middle East

Believe it or not, our government is using Hip Hop as a form of diplomacy abroad, thereby countering “poor perceptions” of the US and promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Al Jezeera writer Hishaam Aidi has written a fascinating piece on Hip Hop’s appeal to Middle Eastern youth, and how our government aims to exploit it.

Aidi writes:

“In 2005, the State Department began sending ‘hip hop envoys’ – rappers, dancers, DJs – to perform and speak in different parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The tours have since covered the broad arc of the Muslim world, with performances taking place in Senegal and Ivory Coast, across North Africa, the Levant and Middle East, and extending to Mongolia, Pakistan and Indonesia.

The artists stage performances and hold workshops; those hip hop ambassadors who are Muslims talk to local media about being Muslim in the US. The tours aim not only to exhibit the integration of American Muslims, but also, according to planners, to promote democracy and foster dissent.

‘You have to bet at the end of the day, people will choose freedom over tyranny if they’re given a choice,’ Clinton observed of the State Department’s hip hop programme in Syria – stating that cultural diplomacy is a complex game of ‘multidimensional chess’.

‘Hip hop can be a chess piece?’ asked the interviewer. ‘Absolutely!’ responded the secretary of state.”

Like the jazz tours during the Cold War, Hip Hop can impact  Middle Eastern perceptions of the U.S. because it is an American cultural product that  conveys ” a sense of shared suffering,” particularly the suffering of Black and Brown people.

To say that this is problematic would be a MASSIVE understatement. Isn’t Hip Hop supposed to be a means by which the underprivileged speak truth to power? What happens when Hip Hop is being used as a tool by our government to conquer the hearts and minds of other Brown people and further it’s imperialistic agenda?

Aidi continues:

“US diplomacy’s embrace of hip hop as a foreign policy tool has sparked a heated debate, among artists and aficionados worldwide, over the purpose of hip hop: whether hip hop is “protest music” or “party music”; whether it is the “soundtrack to the struggle” or to American unipolarity; and what it means now that states – not just corporations – have entered the hip hop game.

Hip hop activists have long been concerned about how to protect their music from corporate power, but now that the music is being used in diplomacy and counterterrorism, the conversation is shifting.

The immensely popular “underground” British rapper Lowkey (Kareem Denis) recently articulated the question on many minds: “Hip hop at its best has exposed power, challenged power, it hasn’t served power. When the US government loves the same rappers you love, whose interests are those rappers serving?”

Read the rest of this amazing article at English.AlJezeera.net

Tell us what you think!

Does the State Department’s use of Hip Hop speak to it’s ever-expanding popularity,

or the theft of its subversive power?

Sound off below!


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