Aki Nawaz is the main creative force behind the British hip-hop act Fun-Da-Mental. He spoke to Anindya Bhattacharyya
Being radical is one thing - being radical and Muslim is quite another, as Aki Nawaz discovered last month.
The media went into a frenzy following news of the forthcoming release of Fun-Da-Mental’s new album, All Is War, while Aki from the group became the focus of an Islamophobic hate campaign.
The Labour MP Andrew Dismore called for Aki to be prosecuted for glorifying terrorism. The Sun and other newspapers joined in the calls for his head, while anti-Muslim websites accused this long standing left winger of “fascism”.
The immediate trigger for the hysteria was an article in the Guardian describing some of the album’s lyrics and detailing how two directors of Beggars Banquet, Fun-Da-Mental’s record label, had threatened to resign if it was released.
Aki has been with Beggars Banquet for over 20 years. Starting off in the punk scene, he served as the drummer in Southern Death Cult in the 1980s, before leaving to form Fun-Da-Mental, which fuses hip-hop, political militancy and Islamic imagery.
“The Guardian phoned up and said they really wanted to cover the album and interview me,” Aki told Socialist Worker. “I was expecting something on the arts pages, but when I opened the Guardian the next day I found I was taking up the whole of page three! I couldn’t believe it.
“Then my phone started going off constantly, the whole of the media trying to interview me. That’s when it clicked - I realised that I was being used as a way into the coverage of the anniversary of the 7 July bombings.”
The press hysteria has died down, but Aki is still having problems getting All Is War released to the public, despite a glowing recent review in the Observer. “The manufacturers all pulled out. I had to go out of Britain to manufacture the CD - nobody would touch it here,” he said.
“I’m also having trouble with my distributors. They love the album and back what I’m trying to do. But they say the media frenzy made it too hot to handle - shops and warehouses were refusing to stock it.”
Having been dropped like a hot potato by the music business, Aki has had to handle the design and artwork aspects of the album himself. The cover is by regular Socialist Worker illustrator Leon Kuhn.
The album itself is an angry, moving and intelligent exploration of the issues surrounding the “war on terror”. It traces the links between present struggles and those of the past, and how so called “terrorist” violence is inextricably linked with the imperialist violence of the system.
One track, “Che Bin” caused particular controversy by allegedly comparing Osama Bin Laden to Che Guevara. In fact if anything the track contrasts the two figures, juxtaposing speeches from them about their differing attitudes to terrorism.
Another track, Cookbook DIY, has been accused of justifying suicide bombing. The first verse certainly does describe the thoughts of a would be suicide bomber - but the track moves on to talk from the perspective of a military scientist developing bombs for governing powers.
Far from glorifying suicide bombing, the track asks what the moral difference between the two bombers is. But such subtleties were lost on much of the media.
“I ended up doing hundreds of interviews, trying to explain what the album was about. But they weren’t interested in any substance,” he said.
“Thankfully I haven’t been arrested yet. But there is an absolute fear out there - and a reluctance among good people to challenge that fear.”
Aki is certainly bitter at what he sees as a failure by parts of the liberal left to stand up against the new imperialism and the Islamophobia that accompanies it. “People are not speaking out,” he said. “I was right in there with all the left struggles - now I’ve found my struggle is not anyone else’s struggle.”
Nevertheless, Aki acknowledges that there has been solidarity from the anti-war movement. “I love people like George Galloway when he rants on, or journalists like John Pilger. But why is it that when we Muslims say something, the reaction is so much worse. A lot of this is down to racism, I believe.
“Go back in time and you’ll see that when a black person opens their mouth it’s perceived in a certain way, and those racist perceptions have been institutionalised in the media.”
Ultimately Aki believes these invisible lines that mark out what Muslims are “allowed” to say should be challenged. “I reject the parameters for debating these issues,” he says. Fun-Da-Mental’s new album certainly does that - and it deserves the support of every anti-war activist.
To find out more about All Is War (The Benefits of G-Had) go to Fun-Da-Mental’s website at www.fun-da-mental.co.uk. The album will be available to download from 7 August.