All around the world, same song.
President Obama’s announcement that the “troops will be home for the holidays” marked a bittersweet moment in the collective psyche of the American people. The measurable achievements of Operation Iraqi Freedom (the toppling of a sadistic dictator, the implementation of a fledgling democracy, perhaps the ripple effect of the the Arab Spring) are dwarfted by a litany of detraction’s (high rates of post traumatic stress disorder, staunch religious and tribal divisions, 4500 American lives lost, and $1 trillion divested from the American economy).
As American soldiers prepared to come back home after an arduous 8-year war that has left the world reeling, both turmoil and promise mark the destiny of youth culture in Iraq. The United States and its allies have paid a major toll in blood and in treasure and will continue to for the foreseeable future. But as the American presence is wound down in Baghdad, the interpersonal affects soldiers have had on the world view of Iraqi youth are starting to bud.
With so much at stake in Iraq, the American people seemed to treat the war as an outsourced conflict where only soldiers and their families are asked to sacrifice while 99% of Americans continue their lives–they are the 1%. As President Bush said in the months and years after declaring the Iraq mission “accomplished,” only time will tell what lasting affects the American-led invasion will have had on Iraqi cultural institutions.
In the nine years since our invasion, 8 million people, 25% of the population was born during the American occupation of Iraq. During these crucial years, the military has had time to set up small cities, dismantle the Iraqi Army, and leave Iraqi youth with a vague view of what American identity looks.
Their greatest import has been Hip-hop music, style, and cultural values based in community and individual dignity. The relationships built between soldiers and youth through games, soccer, and dance was tethered by their ability to enthrall young Iraqis with Hip-hop culture. The attraction young people had to American soldiers has called them to rap in Arabic and eventually develop lyrics in English.
What has translated most to Iraqi youth as they build their understanding of Hip-hop culture is the importance of telling a personal story that gives voice to listeners who are experiencing similar struggles, and a “hustlers ambition” derived from the American Dream.
The destruction and blood that the country in the last decade has created a need for youth to express their thoughts in therapeutics ways. These messages and elements Hip-hop resonate with Iraqi youth because it helps to fill the vacuum for youth to practice their freedom of expression in the most liberal of ways.
It is a delicate balance to toe when an imperial force comes into a sovereign nation that was previously insular. There are many potential detriments that introducing Hip-hop to Iraqi youth contain: the abrasive, confrontational style of Hip-hop, the sense of entitlement that is found in the culture, and its affinity for prestige. These ideas have the potential to lead young folk to emulate misguided rappers to become successful in the same way. However, the benefits of Iraqi youth immersing themselves into Hip-hop culture is a movement toward a more perfectly free society.
This model has played out in many former Soviet satellite countries that had previously been cut off from the outside world and suddenly gained access to outside pressures–including Hip-hop. Following the Romanian Revolution of 1989, many activists actions were fueled by protest/activist Hip-hop music of the early 90s. The introduction of Hip-hop music gave Romanians the power and the means to question inequalities that persisted even as they were no longer under the thumb of the Soviet Union. They began to question social inequality and the wealth gap through protest, rebellion, and social agitation; as learned from the likes of KRS-One, Public Enemy, and Ice Cube.
The openness and general acceptance that Hip-hop culture exhibits has the potential to open the minds of Iraqi youth and set the foundation for a more liberal society where gender, birthplace, and economic status do not determine one’s trajectory for success. The inherent rebelliousness that is found throughout Hip-hop lends itself well to create the space for them to change by opening up their periphery of what is possible.
Just as it did i many of the former Soviet Satellite country’s, it will be amazing to see the results the seeds laid by Hip-hop in the wake of the opening up of countries during the Arab Spring. Still Iraq is unique in their introduction to Hip-hop culture is taken from a legitimate American source that had the capacity to give new listeners an fill understanding of the culture. Thank God for universality. Thank God for Hip-hop.
*This is The Word, govern yourselves accordingly.