As an avid reader of the UK weekly music press in the 1990s, I remember Fun-Da-Mental from way back. They were part of a wave of dreary politico-rap/Asian-hybrid bands that were vaguely popular circa 1992-1994 (see also: Credit to the Nation – who were anything but – and Cornershop, way before they had a big hit with Brimful of Asha).
So it’s bizarre to see them back in the national news in 2006 (as opposed to a half-page interview in Melody Maker), with group leader Aki Nawaz defending their new album All Is War (The Benefits of G-Had) which, some have claimed, glorifies terrorism. Nawaz, who used to perform using the stage name Propa-Ghandi (geddit?), says he is prepared to be imprisoned under anti-terrorism laws and, if need be, promote the album from Belmarsh Prison. And what’s this? Two executives from the record label have threatened to resign if this record is released? Sniff. Sniff. I smell an enormous publicity stunt.
The story in yesterday’s Guardian goes into a little more detail about some of the lyrical themes of this album, which makes for an interesting read. One song, Che Bin, draws parallels (unsurprisingly, given the title) between Che Guevara and Osama Bin Laden. I suppose the point that Mr Nawaz is trying to make here is that, to some Muslims, Bin Laden is a revolutionary icon just as Guevara is treated like some kind of deity by many on the left. Sure, but Che Guevara was a psychopathic bandit who said that he would have no hesitation in dropping a nuclear bomb on the United States if given the opportunity. So the parallel runs deep – they are both deranged lunatics and would-be murderers of millions of innocent people. Another song predicts the demise of America at the hands of Islam, one chronicles the inner dialogue of a suicide bomber and another condemns the immorality of the west. Toe tapping stuff, I’m sure.
Interesting that he should consider the west to be immoral though. Nawaz was born and raised in Bradford, so is a fully fledged citizen of a country that tolerates the opinions of just about everybody, even hypocrites like himself. And let’s be clear about this, he is a hypocrite of the highest order: while perfectly happy to label the west as ‘immoral’ and ‘disgusting’, I bet he wouldn’t dream of ever actually leaving somewhere that allows him to be critical of the country he lives in and to make a living from it too. Try doing the same in Iran or Saudi Arabia, Aki. I suspect you would soon find yourself with one less hand with which to write your polemic or, perhaps, one less head with which to vocalise your inner rage.
Music, of course, was forbidden under Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Having been treated to a snippet of this album on the Today Programme this morning, one can only have sympathy for such action. Not for political reasons, you understand, but for reasons of quality. Controversy aside, it’s not particularly good music and since when has British rap ever been worth listening to anyway?
In addition to playing an extract from the album, Nawaz was also interviewed about the controversy. He’s clearly not a stupid man and I daresay may even be making some valid points somewhere, although I suspect I would disagree with him on nearly everything. I sincerely hope he is not charged with ‘glorifying terrorism’ – it would be illiberal and counter-productive to do so. More importantly, by allowing him to speak openly about these issues, no matter how wrong he might be, it undermines the very points that he is trying to make. Far from being immoral, western traditions of tolerance and free speech reinforce our civility. Again, that quote from Voltaire sums it up best: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” (Even when it’s presented as piss-poor Agit-Pop.)
In any case, the only person who can possibly benefit from all this fuss is Aki Nawaz himself. Let’s face it, without this national coverage, you could probably have counted the number of sold copies of this album on Abu Hamza’s fingers.