Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World
Journalist Robin Wright tells of a "counter-jihad" – a rebellion of the young and hip – now hitting the Muslim world.
An article in the new issue of Foreign Policy magazine argues that specialists failed to predict the recent, ongoing Middle East uprisings. One exception to that systematic failure is Robin Wright, veteran journalist and author. Wright’s 2008 book, “Dreams and Shadows,” profiled individuals who were offering “disparate experiments with empowerment in the world’s most troubled region.” If it didn’t anticipate the precise timing and nature of this year’s Arab Spring, it was at least prescient in previewing the people and movements that provided the intellectual and political background for the upheaval in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.Skip to next paragraph
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Wright extends that analysis in her new book, Rock the Casbah (the title comes from the song by the punk rock band The Clash). The book contends that the Middle East is rebelling against autocrats but also against jihadism. “For most Muslims today, the real jihad is simply rescuing the moral struggle at the heart of the faith from extremists,” Wright argues. Wright has strong credibility when she contends that the region is turning away from illiberalism and extremism. Her first two books were early catalogs of radical Islam in the late 1970s and ’80s, works that offered insight into the ideology that captivated much of the region. When she now says the trend is toward democracy and freedom, she deserves to be listened to.
The first third of “Rock the Casbah” offers a history of the recent upheaval in the Middle East; the middle profiles the region’s novel artistic and cultural developments; and the last part looks to the future. For those unfamiliar with the Middle East revolutions, Part 1 acts as a one-stop shop, tracing the events in the Islamic world that have captured global attention. Little of it is based on original reporting, however, and none of it is new.
Part 2, however, is terribly fascinating as Wright details unfamiliar, subversive currents of music, literature, comedy, and entertainment throughout the Middle East. Here, original interviews and observations are interspersed with analysis, all of it relayed in Wright’s sober, judicious tone. “Hip-Hop Islam” reports on the youth embracing the Bronx-born art form in places as unlikely as the Palestinian territories and Morocco. “Satellite Sheiks and YouTube Imams” covers Islamic clergymen who are offering alternatives online and on television to the hard-line preachers the West is so familiar with. “Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes” investigates Muslim-created plays that feature sex and homosexuality. All of this forms what Wright calls a “counter-jihad,” the attempt to win the war of ideologies away from extreme Islamists. She cautions that these developments are still far from dominant but suggests that history is on their side.