I first realised that my never-quite-abandoned adolescent taste for heavy metal had a political edge in – of all places – the Jaballya refugee camp in Gaza. I was interviewing teenagers about their strangled lives and expected to hear the usual Hamasnik lines reeled back at me. But instead, they kept using words from Metallica and Slipknot to explain how they felt. "I am dying to live/Cry out/I'm trapped under ice," one of them said. They showed me their carefully-stashed CDs and T-shirts – liable to be seized by Hamas-militia at any time – and begged me to send more.
At first sight, this seems bizarre. How did a style of music midwifed into the world by Ozzy Osbourne in the old English industrial town of Birmingham in the mid-1960s become an enemy of jihadism? How did a hard, brutal sound designed to mimic the factories of the Midlands become the soundtrack for the children of the Islamic revolution?
In a region controlled by senile dictatorships and fundamentalist faith, the unemployed young – who make up 65 per cent of the population – have very few windows through which to yell their rage. Metal gives it to them. Reda Zine, one of the founders of the Moroccan heavy metal scene, explains: "We play heavy metal because our lives are heavy metal." The point of the music is, he says, to rage against "the vampires of intolerance and superstition". The guitarist of Iran's hottest young metal band, Tarantist, agrees: "Metal is in our blood. It's not entertainment, it's our pain, and an antidote to the hypocrisy of religion that is injected into all of us from the moment we're born."I wonder whether the dominance of metal (rather than, say, rap or industrial or any other musical genre suitable for expressing anger and grievance) among youth in the Islamic world also has its roots in the history of Asian Muslim migration to England's industrial heartland. Most people know that Birmingham got curry out of the equation, but what if the cultural trade was a two-way street, with Birmingham metal making its way to the underground bazaars of the Islamosphere via Pakistan and Bangladesh on a million bootlegged cassettes?
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