Regardless of the reality behind details in this story, my reactionary piece is not meant as an endorsement of, or personal agreement with, the actions described therein. The core of this piece is intended as a commentary on the value in exploring reasoning behind stereotype associated choices, which can be contemplated even if only in a hypothetical space.
**Note: In correlation with the discovery of “repurposed imagery” used in The Atlantic post on which this reactive commentary is based, one such image has now been removed from this post, which first went live at 3:04PM this afternoon.
When I attended the EMP Pop Conference back in March, I expected to meet lots of new people. I expected to hear lots of new music. I expected to be given lots of insight on music I already love, from lots of enthused academics. All of these things did indeed happen. There were moments of intrigue and moments of laughter at the inevitable music related jokes that would come up in conversation among panelists. There were also moments that would halt audience murmurs and genuinely make everyone think because different cultural constructs around various genres of music created situations or reactions that were so unlike the American music mainstream, that occasional, deep levels of contemplation were the only possible results. Nonetheless, nothing I gleaned from hearing doctoral research gave me serious shock or emotional discomfort. It was all in the pursuit of knowledge and not for jolting value.
When a headline mentions metal music and anti-religion, it’s attention snatching but not entirely press stopping. This, and similarly negatively-passioned sentiments, have been dancing on a bed of flames with the metal genre for decades; implications of metal’s occupation in a person’s library biasing views on listener behavior and their overall moral code as an individual. (Not to mention other elements like sub-cultural dress and lexicon.)
Further complicate the blanket statement of anti-religion with a laser-focused opposition to Islam and the question of heavily weighted seriousness becomes a question of quantity of radical statements, rather than if it will be radical.
Author of the piece, Kim Kelly, carefully gained insight that breaches each of these areas, when she was able to converse (via Facebook,) with one very secretive woman on a metal fueled mission. This woman is known only as Anahita. The stories spun about, and by, Anahita threw both my first and second impressions for a complete loop. Though I just stated above that discussion mixing metal and anti-religion isn’t new and that American mainstream music can act like a vacuum to music’s international differences, to hear that someone is composing and exposing songs that viscerally declare, “Burn the ***ing Quran!,” and have the explanation not be rooted in adolescent rebellion or general addiction for attention…sheer curiosity demands an explanation.
As with many (at least regionally) diminished behaviors (e.g. calling out racial slurs at passersby in broad daylight) when one or a few individuals break one such diminished norm, it can be cause surprise -if for no other reason than it seems almost unbelievable in that moment, that someone would revert to widely ‘dead behavior.’ Kelly gets right as the not-so-descriable heart of this sense when she explains,
“There’s something different about [this music.] This is real.”
Augmenting emotional associations to almost palpable levels of hate seems to stretch Anahita’s belief in the music beyond that of even the most fervent of underground subcultures in the darker and/or more overtly aggressive branches of metal; to the point of its significance and meaning not being one facet of her life or characteristic of her life but the state of her existence entirely: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Well, by now one might be inclined to just perceive Anahita as any number of things: purely disturbed, severely intolerant/ignorant, soulless and the more obvious, hateful. An open and shut case of an extremist and ‘bad seed’ among the genre’s populous and someone to either pity or despise. Someone who clearly knows nothing of Islam and acts out of lack of understanding…
Continue to advance forward in Kelly’s article though, and your budding conclusion arrives at loop number two. Anahita is leading a black metal band in Iraq and as an adult who was raised a Muslim, by parents who, as Kelly cited from Anahita, were “described as “open minded” and “not strict.“.” An implication of cultural ignorance suddenly becomes irrelevant. Does this just leave Anahita in the category of the disturbed bad seed? After all, plenty of children are raised to follow particular ways by their parents -religious or otherwise- and not everyone keeps the values of the parents once they reach adulthood.
This is where things become quite paradoxical and ironic. Anahita’s hatred doesn’t come from a singular desire to non-conform or because she would simply rather take up a different set of religious values. She was raised with an understanding of Islam but presently carries true hatred for it, communicated through her black metal band, Janaza, because a “Muslim guy of course,” as Anahita explained to Kelly in their exchanges, was behind a suicide bomb attack that left her younger brother and both parents dead. Combine this tragedy with similar assaults that impacted other friends and Anahita’s motives are clear cut. The deaths of her family members and risk to those she cares for, propel her to speak out against the religion that ‘defends’ these
One begins to wonder about and contemplate the odd mixture and balancing of emotional justifications that must be swimming around in Anahita’s mind, as well as the minds of those who express themselves in alike ways through metal. (Elaborated on in Kelly’s piece.) The ongoing quest for understanding and a quelling of fear since 9-11 has shown portions of the American-Muslim population trying to shed light on the ‘true meanings and values of Islam’ and not to align an entire faith with the actions of marginalized terrorists who distort the faith in the process. It’s understandable, in the face of what she has lost, that Anahita could be angry and feel hatred toward suicide bombers and toward extremists distorting Islam, while still holding onto her faith. However, additional investigations and thinking by Anahita, over Islam’s writings, incited the opposite effect of total denouncement and created Janaza.
What brings everything together and caps off this paradox, is the fact that Anahita ultimately expresses a desire for safety and “freedom of speech,” as she tells Kelly -things that she justifiably wants, most likely, because at the present, she is stuck in living in a world absent of these things in war.
“The goals of Janaza and [side project] Seeds Of Iblis are to show the world that Islam is dangerous…and [that] even the people who live in the Middle East get hurt by [Islam] and seek for freedom of speech[;] just like the other people from all over the world.”
So there is a deep love for family, love for friends and hate for war that hurts those family and friends. Positioned in this light, these qualities frame Anahita as an experienced, caring and positive idealist -hardly someone one would shun or avoid, unlike the venomous musician her genre of choice can make her out to be. Chasing love and and freedom with hate and judgement. It’s impossible not to think on that.
Without peeling back the layers of the story behind this woman’s raw displays and words, she absolutely sounds and speaks like someone who would perpetuate violence using black metal, rather than actually wanting to end it. (Regardless of the way in which she believes the violence will end. I am not here to judge her feelings on Islam.)
Despite the fact that people may be shocked when ‘radical/dead behavior’ randomly rears its head, Anahita embracing black metal’s sub-cultural roots as fully as possible, as a mirrored response to equally disturbing, current events shaping history, serves as a rare reminder of one genre’s complex issues and real events that create the “kernel of truth” on which many music genre stereotypes are based; long after their respective historical origins have been forgotten or watered down. It’s important to know the substance behind things that jolt or unsettle us. Not because all random, radical behavior has a deep, justifying story but because without some amount of enduring substance, reactions to stereotypes become as ignorant as the stereotypes themselves and neither can ever be overcome.