Because of the amount of respect I have for Matt Lewis, I’ll take a few moments this weekend to consider a proposition which he floats for debate at the Daily Beast. In this recent editorial piece, Lewis asks if the predilection which several recent high profile jihadists show for rap or hip-hop music points to a connection between such entertainment choices and radicalization and terrorism. (Before we launch into this, allow me to first excuse myself if I go astray on some of the subject matter because my familiarity with rap music is roughly on par with the average fish’s skills at riding a bicycle.)
Cherif Kouachi was an aspiring rapper. A German rapper joined ISIS. One of the Tsarnaevs was heavy into rap. That’s three; it’s a pattern!
If having an engineering degree or a career in medicine was a strange prerequisite for 9-11 involvement, an affinity for rap music may be the common denominator for today’s Western jihadists.
Cherif Kouachi, one of the two brothers responsible for the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris the other week, was, according to ABC News, “briefly featured in a 2005 French television documentary as an aspiring rap musician-turned-jihadist.” (As CNN noted, “A report from the TV network France 3, which apparently first aired in 2005, described Kouachi as a young fan of rap more interested in chasing girls than going to the mosque.”)
I’ve stared at this for a while, dug up some statistics to ponder and checked a few of the sources. After all of that, I’ll confess that I still don’t know exactly what to make of this. If you came up to me and said that there was a connection between rap music and anti-cop sentiments and violence against police on our own shores I’d probably be ready to shake hands and pin down where it was coming from. But Islamic extremism in rap music? Again… I’ll confess that I don’t listen to rap or hip-hop (and frankly, I would be unable to accurately describe the difference between the two for you) so for all I know there may be jihad supporting songs out there, but I haven’t heard of them.
But Matt isn’t even talking about anything that overt. He refers to cases where American or Western rap music serves as a gateway drug to future terrorism. Right off the bat I’ll just say that I immediately go a bit side-eyed when anyone talks about a “gateway drug” to anything. That’s on par with various slippery slope arguments, the use of which tends to be a slippery slope in and of itself. Further, as Matt freely admits in the piece, there’s just this rather obvious disconnect between a lifestyle which glamorizes bling draped moguls with million dollar, diamond encrusted dental work drinking Crystal’ on a yacht with topless young beauties and the values purportedly embraced by Muslim extremists.
Finding three, converted, western born Islamist converts who also happen to have enjoyed rap music seems a bit of a stretch. Heck… if you found thirty of them I’d still be dubious. Demographically speaking, young Muslims in the United States are slightly more likely to be black than of any other demographic, but that doesn’t really speak to their musical tastes.(And rap music is no longer the sole province of black kids anyway, with general white apologies for the career of Riff Raff.) But if we’re going to accept this as a possibly valid premise, we certainly need to take a fresh look at Karl Rove. There is, however, one thing which rap music does lead to; me yelling at you from my lawn as the oversize base speakers in your hooptie rattle my windows on Sunday morning. (And yes, Matt… I would like extra points for the correct usage of the word hooptie by a mid-fifties, arthritic white dude.)