Heavy Metal Islam
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wingsStarred and Boxed Review: Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2008

With a jolting arrangement of images and voices, LeVine powerfully upends received notions about the Middle East by exploring one of the area's least-known subcultures. Interviewing and jamming with musicians from Morocco to Pakistan—including rappers and trip-hop artists as well as metalheads—LeVine (Why They Don't Hate Us) presents Muslims, Christians and Jews who, in the face of corruption, repression and violence, use their music to speak truth to power and carve out a space for individual expression and a new form of community. The degree of independence the musicians enjoy varies widely—from Israeli band Orphaned Land who are free of restrictions (and widely admired in the Arab metal world) to Egyptian metalheads who fear arrest and possible torture for sporting long hair. Each artist in this book struggles, on some level, for cultural and political reform, and LeVine argues that if these musicians could find a way to cooperate with progressive religious activists and the working class, they could trigger a revolution. This is a tall order, but the author's warm and intelligent examination of a reality few in the West have experienced suggests it may yet be possible.

Wings Freerepublic.com, July 9, 2008

Heavy Metal Islam is a pop culture book written by the incomparable Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle East history at the University of California-Irvine, and it provides the intellectual chops that [other works] lack. LeVine is an
expert on the Middle East and spent years traveling throughout six Muslim nations while researching this book, along the way meeting goatee-wearing guitar gurus and berkha-wearing punk chicks. "If we want to understand the peoples, the cultures and the politics of the Muslim world today," writes LeVine, "we need to follow the musicians as much as the mullahs." LeVine has a rare talent for taking personal, comprehensible subjects and connecting them to much larger
issues. The result is a careful study of a group of young Islamic men and women who (surprise, surprise) have many of the same hopes and fears as young American men and women. This is one of the most important nonfiction books written in the past decade, and I would strap a sandwich board to my back in order to promote it.

wingsKirkus Reviews, May 15, 2008

Heavy metal embodies the rage of young people in rigidly controlled Muslim societies, offering a surprising message of hope and solidarity that contrasts sharply with its reputation.
That’s the conclusion of Levine (Middle Eastern History/Univ. of California, Irvine; An Impossible Peace: Oslo and the Burdens of History, 2007, etc.), who traveled extensively in the world’s major Muslim countries interviewing members of the unique but growing subculture of metalheads. His stories reveal that in several countries where death and violence have become commonplace, music with morbid, violent themes can provide an outlet for negative emotions and a potential avenue for cultural critique from within. The Jewish-American author used his proficiency in Arabic and hard-rock guitar to maximum advantage during his many encounters with metalheads from Palestine to Pakistan.
            Each chapter features a different country from the Middle East or North Africa, encompassing a wide range of political and religious opinions. Despite the many cultural differences of their respective countries, metal movements throughout the Muslim world share a few key characteristics. Because metalheads risk harassment, imprisonment and police brutality simply for playing and disseminating the music, their concerts, festivals and recordings remain largely underground, sustained by bootleg copies and clandestine jam sessions. Beyond the book’s obvious appeal to metal lovers and hard-rock musicians, it’s useful to a much broader Western audience because it depicts creative, internal resistance to some of the most oppressive regimes within the Muslim world. It also promotes talented but obscure musicians. Given the complexities of a Middle Eastern cultural survey, Levine can only skim the surface of alternative music’s position within Muslim countries... but the project extends beyond mere description to a kind of empathetic activism.
            Alternately inspiring and disheartening—a solid work of cross-cultural analysis.

wingsLibrary Journal, June 18, 2008.

LeVine (Middle Eastern history, Univ. of California, Irvine; Why They Don't Hate Us: Lifting the Veil on the Axis of Evil), an academic and musician, journeys throughout the Middle East searching for black metal, death metal, gangsta rap, and hardcore punk. He travels to Morocco, Egypt, Israel (Palestine), Lebanon, Iran, and Pakistan, talking and jamming with the local leaders of extreme music. LeVine finds a complex cultural scene, where heavy metal rockers and rappers use Western music to attack growing capitalism, globalization, and varying degrees of political repression but still profess allegiance to local mores and religious values. Using music as a prism to observe social relations, he expertly describes the political upheaval and social confusion in the Middle East that Westerners ignore or seldom understand. This examination of the changing and evolving cultures in a key global region is highly recommended.

wingsPaste Magazine, July 2008

Headbanging in Hijab

A journalist tests his metal in the Muslim world

It's inconvenient but true that people, societies and religious systems are often more complex than we want to believe. Take Islam, for instance. In today's America, we're likely to presume that the violence and oppression we're told represents Islam is the entire story of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Many of us fail to consider that what we know of Islam is narrow and unnuanced-and that many Muslims struggle daily with the very extremism we fear. Plus, some of them really just want to headbang.

Heavy Metal Islam
is precisely what its title suggests: A turning-inside-out of conventional wisdom-by way of some really loud guitars-in an effort to get beyond Western stereotypes and perceptions.

Metalhead and history professor Mark LeVine knows there's a lot more going on in the Muslim world than most of us realize (see his earlier book: Why They Don't Hate Us). Heavy Metal Islam emerged from years of LeVine's travel across the Middle East and North Africa, headbanging and talking with members of one of the least-known subcultures in the region. LeVine chronicles and partakes, reflecting on and helping shape the reality he discovers. He produces a deeply felt, informed volume that's both hopeful and emotionally honest.

"The mullahs celebrate violence," LeVine writes of Iran, "the metalheads critique it. Being a metal fan offers-however paradoxical it might seem - a 'community of life'Š against the community of death and martyrdom propagated by
the Iranian government." Or, as Moroccan metal giant Reda Zine tells him: "We play heavy metal, because our lives are heavy metal."

From Morocco to Pakistan, LeVine encounters a huge range of cultures and traditions-and covers death-doom metalists Orphaned Land (actually highly regarded among Arab metalheads); U2-approved Pakistani Sufi rockers Junoon; and
Lebanese trip-hop duo Soap Kills. LeVine's interlocutors sing, rap and growl in Urdu, Arabic, Berber, English, and Hebrew; they're members of a movement spanning thousands of miles, and yet many live sharply limited lives, often risking arrest or even torture by going to a show. In fact, in some places, "going to a show" isn't even an option and YouTube replaces fan/artist interaction.

It's an enormous amount of ground to cover, but LeVine does a remarkable job, sketching not only the surprising realities of the musicians, but also providing excellent historical background Iranian condiment sabzi, to the claustrophobia of getting to a Palestinian Jerusalem home through four Israeli road blocks, and one 25-foot wall. And he does this all while managing the oft-forgotten trick of writing well.

LeVine is himself a Jewish-American and lived for some time in Israel. While there, he performed regularly with Palestinian oud player Ghidian Qaymari and Israeli world-music artist Sara Alexander: "It was the combination of Sara's acoustic guitar, accordion and gypsy-Middle Eastern melodies with my distorted guitars and Ghidian's oud, that inspired the journey that has produced this book," he writes.

Unsurprisingly, LeVine's vision goes well beyond musical cooperation. "The first political statement that I made was to get a rock band together," Junoon founder Ali Azmat tells him, and this sentiment echoes across the pages. For each artist, music is a light in the darkness of enormous pain and great loss, from the iron fist of dictatorships to the carnage of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Artists have devoted themselves "to creating an alternative system that builds an open and democratic culture from the ground up."

LeVine suggests that if these artists can bridge gaps with the working class and progressive Islamists, they may trigger desperately needed change-though he's smart enough to admit that it's a pretty sizeable 'if.' Inevitably, some will dismiss LeVine as naïve, but faith in our better angels is often dismissed.

There are absent stories that would've made thebook even stronger. Perhaps inevitably, much of the Muslim world is left out (from its largest nation, Indonesia, to America's own Islamic community), and as an American-Israeli Jew, I
was disappointed that LeVine barely addresses his own Judaism, or the path that brought him to Ghidian Qaymari. Still, anyone-regardless of musical preference-who wants an eye-level glimpse into the Middle East should pick up Heavy Metal Islam. Headbanging optional.

wingsGilbey Clarke, Guns N Roses, Rock Star Supernova, June 2008

Heavy Metal Islam is a fun read, and an important one. as an american, islam has been portrayed as the boogie man. So, I don't know much about their culture or musical influences. as a musician i can relate to the struggles they had trying to write and record their songs and the difficulty finding hard rock records where they don't exist. so this was a pleasant surprise that these young artists and fans from such a different culture can enjoy the same soundtrack of my youth. I guess lemmy is god in all languages.

wingsMike Davis, author, City of Quartz and A Brief History of the Car Bomb: "Roll over Crusaders. As Mark LeVine discovers during his revelatory journey from Fes to Dubai, the young people of the Arab world are rockin' their socks off, and, through their audacious musical subcultures, defining a future that rejects marginality, imperialism and intolerance."

wingsAnton Pushansky, tripple-Grammy Award winning producer, engineer and musician: "No one else alive could have written this book. LeVine has a great musician's ear, a scholar's eye, and an activist's sensibility for pulling unseen but crucial truths out of one of the world's most troubled regions."