The Asian Today Interview
‘Violent resistance is always and always will be justified’ – Aki Nawaz
When Fun-Da-Mental front man Aki Nawaz signed and sealed off his latest album, he was aware his selection of songs would cause controversy. From suicide bombers to Bin Laden, ‘All is War’ is an album that epitomises the extent to which current political issues have driven some young British Muslim to harbour elements of mistrust against Western policies.
From label boycott to threats of imprisonment, Aki Nawaz was on the receiving end when mainstream newspapers picked up on the content of the album. Speaking to The Asian Today, he reveals why he won’t be bullied on issues affecting Muslims across the world…
‘All Is War’ has caused quite a stir in the mainstream press with some newspapers saying you “support suicide bombers”. Did you envisage yourself having to defend the album and its content?
The album was intentionally made to provoke debate and for those who are bigoted to the extreme even though they come across as liberal. I was fully aware that it would touch their sensibilities. They mostly are consumed by their own misinformed racism and an old (or present) colonial mentality. I am sick to the teeth of the audacity of this society which continually attempts to imprison us within its own parameters and conditions of debate and to be debating the same issues which my parents’ generation were proof in its reality. We have now skipped into 3rd and 4th generations but everywhere I meet people they still voice the same concerns. I know that if an indigenous Lord were to create a report then it would report this, what really gets me is that people do not listen to the people from the communities and we are still at the whim of whites attempting to tell us when, what and where we stand.
The media coverage must have had an effect on your family. There were talks of you being arrested under the anti-Terrorism Law. How did you all cope with it?
My family found it really difficult after a few days and to be honest I also did as the enormity of it was magnified in the “gutter press” and globally. There was no will on their behalf to even give me half a chance but they had found their headlines for a few days before 7/7. However I had learnt a lot within a space of days to know where we stand with the gutter press and not be taken in by the sensational elements of their writing. I did arrange a lawyer and had discussed with the family what to do and not to do should the police arrive however I also did tell them that in the event that I get arrested they should not stay at home but demonstrate outside the police station 24/7, even if it was just them alone. I had an army of 2 year old, 4, 8, and 10 and they had no problem with that. I wanted to use the same press media which vilified me to keep it in the headlines as too many people are getting arrested and it all goes quiet and most are rotting in custody.
Do you think the timing of the albums original release (a week before 7/7 anniversary) invited the negative backlash against you? Was it unfortunate timing, or has Britain become a country where any debates about radical terrorism provoke an instant fear reaction?
A question with a hundred answers, firstly and for the record 7/7 was not even on my radar however say it was – what does it say about society that chooses when to weep and when to sow the seeds of discontentment. Everyday is a day of sadness and murder, when people celebrate some Victorious Day when on the same day you could easily find genocide and conflict even in the same land. 9/11 was a good day many years before when Leila Khaled hijacked a plane but now it’s a day of international emotion. It is embarrassing that humanity does not come out of its petty mindset and move on instead it dictates days it chooses to make people feel nationalistic and patriotic and that comes with all its repulsive contradictions and hypocrisy .Maybe USA on 9/11 in the 19th century committed genocide against the Slaves or native Americans – all an illusion for me. Also if you really get into the album it does not touch certain sensibilities it rejects them and destroys them –someone said to me the problem is the album is actually far more intelligent than it should have been but also it delivers in a physiological manner that it insults those that really believe they have the upper hand. Maybe also the “benefits of g-had” as a sub-title creates conflict as one of the directors had a problem with this although even his secretary pointed out that the term Jihad means a lot more. However his liberal and stubborn attitude refused to listen to common sense because it was a woman telling him! I think the overall assault on me can be viewed from many angles as my provocation is also addressing many issues and not one, the sum is all things that I find repulsive some people find exciting and acceptable. Those that love War do not like war upon them, those that are racist do not like racism against them, those that exploit do not like to be exploited, those that kill do not like to be killed, those that value economic terrorism do not like the thought of been poor, it goes on and on and for me ALL IS WAR. It is frustrating to see people in the West mainly coming up with comments which do not make sense in the context of times and yet most of the injustice could be undone in matter of moments if they had the will to activate themselves. Once I witnessed at the World social forum in Mumbai some Western activists encouraging poor Indian people to continue fighting and sacrificing themselves against Coca-Cola and its exploiting of natural resources in their locality. A woman in the crowd from the area they were referring too stood and said “we are doing everything we can, our children, our husbands our family members are dying in their dozens, but what are you doing? Have you protested outside the London Headquarters? Have you lost a family member? Have you thrown a brick or been arrested? Have you lost your income and job for your cause? What have you done? Tell Us?” The activist dare not stand up and she was absolutely right, what does the West sacrifice for Justice and Equality? For me the answer is absolutely nothing in the real scheme of things. If Peace cannot stop War then let War bring Peace.
Did you receive any support from the Muslim community in the aftermath of the press coverage?
A lot of people who know me thought I was doing great at exposing issues and hence thought there was no need. I had no support in real terms although e-mails of support were flying in. Some e mails from old friends were rather troubling as it was obvious they had also bought the news wholesale however they did also display a form of ignorance that troubled me. They were also thinking along the same lines I was fighting against. As time went along some strong people emerged and that was helpful but as for many musicians who I thought would say something, not a whisper. But that’s cool because generally musicians play their cards very cleverly or passively when it comes to politics, me I have no problem crossing the line, in extreme times extreme steps have to be taken. It has always been a concern of mine when people give too much credit to artists when they speak out because essentially for many it’s a romantic peg to attach themselves too however the peg is not bolted in. I got support from some Muslims who could relate to the manner I was speaking out but on the general many Muslim organizations are extremely conservative, suit driven, Londoncentric and very safe which is fine but in times of serious issues they seem to out of touch and very apologetic. As time went along Muslims and non-Muslims came out in support and I thank them all.
In an interview for the BBC earlier this year, they quote you as saying “We [the band] actually appeal more to non-Muslims – lefties, anarchists, skateboarders – than we do to Muslims.
This is true that Fun-Da-Mental represent something which is outside the conventional parameters of music within the communities .I know if I was just a normal Muslim I would find FDM shocking but outside of this community peoples immune system and sensitivities towards artist and creative anarchy is far wider especially in terms of performance. However there are forms of Muslims expression especially around religious ceremonies which are far more extreme than FDM could be. Its people’s ability to be able to challenge their own mind sets but this is a society issue not exclusive to Muslims. A lot of the non-Muslims also are shocked but energized by FDM, the funny thing is they expect a really kind of Ghandi approach (he was never peaceful he was at verbal war with the colonialists) and then when they see us they think Rage against the Machine was a kids programme.
Your current album seems to speak for the Muslim cause but you have in the past admitted you get questioned about your music because it’s not ‘Halal’, that is to say it’s not permitted in Islam. Can you expand on this?
The issue about music and Islam I find fascinating and I have dwelled deep into it. You have to review history and how music became powerful and then was abused for certain agendas in different contexts. To explain this is complex but it has substance to a certain degree. Firstly there is nothing in the Quran that’s says Music is forbidden categorically however Music as a form or career is not outside the norms of other practices in relationship to other forbidden attitudes or practices. It all depends on its intention and mostly as in all things the true judge of this can only be Allah. For example real music lovers despise shoddy and commercial music and always air their anxieties about it well music does have different roles it plays out and all Islam asks is that you represent yourself for the good and not for the bad. We can debate all this but it would be foolish to attempt to explain this quickly however in the bigger scheme of things Muslims made such astonishing progression to music that it still is used as the template for most music around, accepting that people are not aware of this but it is true. I have and can stand my ground with any scholar and happy to discuss things at any time, it has also become an art because I have immersed myself in the issue and up to this day I know the most stubborn of scholars after discussion see my position clearly, merely because I do not over exaggerate the importance of music. We should never judge anyone on external looks or expect anyone to be of a certain image, if I do not have a beard I may have one tomorrow or maybe I wear mine on my head .Its amazing how many liberal Muslims I meet who constantly demonise those with beards and how they have ruined everything when I remind them that most Muslim leaders do not even have beards and its those that have been running things for so long, it all goes quiet.
You talk about the government’s role in today’s terrorist climate in ‘Parasites’. How accountable should they be for the current situation?
The world has changed over the last 70 odd years, it is absurd and repulsive that the old guard can even think it can continue to carry out its policies thousands of miles away and not have an effect locally. We all have dreams and aspirations of justice and equality, all done in a peaceful way and humane, I would wish this absolutely and it’s the root of my struggle but there is a sick reality out there and history shows that peaceful change comes with a big cost. Those that wish to stand strong against violent methods should be respected but those wishing to fight physically against blatant injustice have as much right as those waging injustice. Violent resistance is always and always will be justified; people talk about Gandhi and his peaceful stance which is fine however outside his house the murderous colonialists were only brought to their knees when they were met with violent resistance. If this had started far quicker than it did than certain atrocities committed during history could have been avoided. If I tied a bomb belt around me to kill Hitler would you love me or hate me? To some people we have arrived at desperate times and the notion and thought that by killing 50 people may save the lives of thousands has arrived on our doorsteps, whether you like it or not, it is all to do with foreign policy which is still activated with the same process and ideology it was back in time. People say but you are giving into “Terrorists” –NO you are giving in to your own terrorism! We need to dismantle the foreign policy immediately.
There was heavy backlash to ‘Cookbook DIY’ and your take on suicide bombers. What was the concept behind this track?
There seems to be a very bizarre approach to “suicide bombers” and the concept. Would it be acceptable they just plant their bombs and walk away? What is it that drives a person to kill people but also kill himself –yes kill himself- what does it say? Are they the same as the cowards that drop bombs from thirty thousand feet, then get back to base, get patted on the back, go back home, kiss their wives and children and go to adventure playing grounds and the cinema? Wake up the day after and do the same, get medals, pensions and invites to lay wreaths every year-come on people! Will the suicide bombers get 40 virgins? No-one can prove it and who says that is what they wanted and what basis are such aspirations based on? Most of them are leaving behind beautiful families and children and life unlike the legitimate bomber who we all pay for through our taxes and usually he lives on. Off course it cannot be justified and neither am I approaching it from that simplistic position, all innocence is valuable, wherever it is and whatever it is, but you cannot morally say that the wholesale slaughter of innocence by the State is acceptable but the resistance and blowback is not. It is absurd and an absolute arrogant omission of history, sacrifice is the keyword and however far away that is from the Western Psyche (although I think it is not far away) it is in abundance in countries where injustice is rife and you wake up and go to sleep with it. If the Muslim countries had the spine to fight back against this “democratic Nazism” imposed on them you would not have one suicide bomber in this context. It’s precisely because of the absence of such State resistance and complete humiliation it has become the only weapon for those that choose to cross the line. It is better that in the state of things as it is at the moment we say direct your anger against the guilty ones, that may save innocence but then they come back (suicide bombers) and say “is our innocence worth less?”
What’s next on the Aki Nawaz agenda?
I never plan things long term especially with the current climate of political issues, I think there is a long battle ahead for me but the one that I am not prepared for my children to also battle- I either get somewhere or I will leave the country and burn my passport and citizenship with great pride. Visit the website to download the album and help to support dissent.
Log onto www.fun-da-mental.co.uk to download ‘All Is War – The Benefits of G-Had’
Interview By Zakia Yousaf