by Julie Jigsawnovich
Tonight British-Iraqi, Palestinian and American rappers will perform and have a panel discussion at 7:30pm in Held Auditorium, Barnard College in Manhattan. They are seeking to promote Hip Hop as a means of addressing social justice problems.
Included will be MC Lowkey, a half-British half-Iraqi rapper, who created a song called, "Long Live Palestine" together with Palestinian, Syrian, Iranian and American rappers. Part 2 of the song specifically addresses the Israeli bombing of Gaza.
I saw Lowkey speak on a panel with Professor Norman Finkelstein, Jody McIntyre, Jajla Said, Hurriyah, Lamis Deek, MC Immortal Technique, MC Hasan Salaam and others a few nights ago at Alwan for the Arts in Manhattan. Key points generally advocated during the discussions were: 1.) Ending ethic cleansing of Palestinians 2.) Equal rights for Palestinians and Jews 3.) A secular, non-racist government which would govern a single state which would include what is currently named Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The majority on the panel didn't seem to believe a two-state solution is feasible any longer.
Although some of their ideas may seem politically radical within the generally pro-Israel context of New York, they reflected a spirit of fairness rather than retribution. And the proposals were based on reason rather than religion. In fact there was a marked absence of religious and/or violent rhetoric. Although the speakers were passionate, their language was not fiery.
During the discussion, MC Lowkey did mention the level of military support the U.S. gives to Israel. And Lowkey recently made a song and video bitterly critical of President Obama, and of specific historical and current U.S. foreign policies and actions. The irony of course, is that his right to make these criticisms here in the U.S. is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, by American cultural norms and even, one could argue, by U.S. foreign policies and military actions which have defended freedom of speech. Yet Lowkey's criticisms have an element of Kant's Categorical Imperative. As part of the process of finding out whether something is morally correct, one asks oneself--how would the world be if everyone did the same thing I want to do?
I talked to Lowkey briefly before the panel discussion, and showed him An Open Letter of Reconciliation and Responsibility written by two former specialists, U.S. Army--one of whom carried the 10 year old Iraqi girl in his arms in the infamous "Collateral Damage" video leaked to Wikileaks--as he sought to bring her to medical treatment. Lowkey responded to my placing this letter in his hands by saying, "I wondered how it was for the people there on the ground." He told me he would read the letter later in private. It will be interesting to find out his response to it, and see him speak again tonight.
I truly cherish the rights to free speech and public debate so associated with America. This country gave birth to Hip Hop. It's hopeful to see people from other countries exploring the constructive potential of this art form, especially when they advocate winning hearts and minds for positive social change rather than advocating violence. And when they have such mad skills and flow on the mike!