Saturday, December 29, 2007

Islamic Punk Rock

I've been anticipating that this shit would come down the pipeline eventually:

This is Taqwacore: a furious meld of punk and piety that first stamped its foot on the continent that September night in Chicago. For those who weren't there, a Canadian filmmaker caught the whole Chicago spectacle on tape.

The name comes from the words Taqwa – loosely translated from Arabic, it means God-fearing. The genre is only now gaining recognition, thanks to a tour and an upcoming Canadian documentary expected to be released in late 2008.

“It's a really hard thing to explain to people,” says Michael Muhammad Knight, the American Muslim convert and author who invented the genre. “I don't think Western media as a whole is ready for a complicated Muslim voice – they divide the world into good Muslims and bad Muslims.

“But these kids are pissed off about everything.”

When Knight talks about his life leading up to the creation of Taqwacore, he says this: “I grew up in upstate New York. I was raised by my mom. My dad was a white supremacist, a diagnosed schizophrenic poet-slash-racist. I met him for the first time when I was 15.” He talks as though he's reading a shopping list, as though none of this is unusual.

Taqwacore originated in Knight's head. In 2002, about a decade after he discovered Islam through rap lyrics and Malcolm X biographies, the 25-year-old became disillusioned with dogma. He tried going to college but soon dropped out.

“I was coming to class wearing this Khomeini-sized black turban,” he says. “Kids who were sitting behind me had to move; they couldn't see.”

Working as a night-shift janitor and feeling his time with Islam might be coming to an end, Knight began writing a novel about a Muslim culture he wished existed. The result was The Taqwacores, a fictitious account of Muslim punks in Buffalo. The prose swerves from mildly offensive to Danish-cartoon-offensive and beyond.

At first, before a punk rock record label published it, the novel existed only in late-night Kinko's photocopies. Then one day, Knight got a phone call from a 15-year-old San Antonio kid named Kourosh who wanted to meet these Taqwacores.

“He thought it was all real,” Knight says. “I told him there weren't any Taqwacores. He said, ‘but I'm Taqwacore.'”

So the scene became real. Kourosh started a band and named it after one of the bands in the book: Vote Hezbollah. Soon came more groups, such as the Boston-based Kominas, whose achievements include penning the catchiest song ever to work the phrase “Suicide-bomb the Gap” into the chorus.

(Cough) Losers!

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