No Superrappin for U.S. Hip-Hop Envoys in Lahore

So last week, the Chicago-based FEW Collective was briefly detained in Pakistan after one of the performers was alleged to have taken “sensitive photographs in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.” The US Embassy in Islamabad stresses that “The performer was not aware of restrictions placed on photography in or near the cantonment, and had no intention of taking photographs of sensitive Pakistani government or military installations.”

As part of U.S. Embassy’s cultural exchange programs,
F.E.W. Collective came to Pakistan to share their dancing
and singing talents with the world.
Photo from US Embassy Islamabad/Flickr

That was last week. Over the weekend the group traveled to Lahore for more performances. USCGLahore tweeted on Nov 19: “Hip Hop group FEW Collective is now in Lahore playing at universities & jamming with students!”

Today, the group was barred from performing at a state-run hall in Lahore for “security reasons.” Reports citing the local arts council director, Zulfikar Ali indicate that the scheduled performance had to be cancelled after “the local Al-Hamra Arts Council refused permission over its alleged failure to provide a no objection certificate (NOC) from the provincial home office.”

MSN India reports that Lahore Arts Council’s executive director Muhammad Ali Baloch says that “the band was not allowed to perform as it failed to provide a “no-objection certificate” issued by the Home Department of Punjab province.”

“We had requested the US Consulate in Lahore to provide the NOC but it didn”t give us the same,” Baloch told reporters. He said the NOC was a “mandatory legal requirement” for holding such a concert.

This was apparently contradicted by the US Consulate General spokesman Leslie Goodman who  told journalists that “all necessary documents had been provided to the Lahore Arts Council but its management did not allow the band to go ahead with its concert.”

US ConGen Lahore posted the following message on its Facebook page:

Sorry fans, due to circumstances beyond our control, the venue decided it could not host the American hip hop performance tonight.  We regret the inconvenience the cancellation has caused to you.

The group’s next stop is Karachi.

US Mission Pakistan: Hip-Hop Diplomacy Almost Hit the Wrong Note

Image via WikipediaVia the Express Tribune:

Pakistani military officials on Wednesday briefly detained a visiting US hip-hop troupe, accusing a performer of taking sensitive photographs in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, the embassy said. The nine American nationals were detained by the Islamabad police for allegedly taking photographs and making video footage of the Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

The six members of FEW Collective, a US officer, Pakistani staff from the embassy and Pakistani musicians were detained for around an hour on a military base in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

US Embassy Islamabad released the following statement:

“A performing arts group sponsored by the U.S. Embassy was briefly detained and later released by military authorities today in Rawalpindi. One of the performers was accused of taking photographs of sensitive installations. While one of the performers may have taken a photograph while travelling in an Embassy vehicle on a public road, no sensitive installations were visible from the vehicle. The performer was not aware of restrictions placed on photography in or near the cantonment, and had no intention of taking photographs of sensitive Pakistani government or military installations.”

Now, it is quite easy to get mad at this incident. However, I suspect that Pakistan has the equivalent of our “If You See Something, Say Something™ campaign.  Remember that one launched in conjunction with the rollout of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) (PDF, 2 pages – 545 KB)?  The Pakistanis are just late in coming up with a sassy name for their program.

Read this one and tell me which government put this out:

Every day, law enforcement officers at all levels of
government—state, local, tribal, and federal—observe
suspicious behaviors or receive such reports from
concerned civilians, private security, and other government
agencies. What might not seem significant (for instance,
taking a picture of a ferry during loading), when combined
with other actions and activity, may become a composite
indicating the possibility of criminal—even terrorist—


On a related note, Hishaam Aidi, editor, with Manning Marable, of Black Routes to Islam (Palgrave Macmillan 2009), and a fellow at the Open Society Foundation in New York recently had a lot to say about hip-hop diplomacy in Al Jazeera. Excerpts below:

Warning that Osama bin Laden’s associate Abu Yahya al-Libi has made al-Qaeda look “cool”, one terrorism expert recommends that the US respond “with one of America’s coolest exports: hip hop”, specifically with a “subgroup” thereof.
But it’s unclear how “Muslim hip hop” will exert a moderating or democratising influence: Will a performance by an African-American Muslim group trigger a particular calming “effect”, pushing young Muslim men away from extremist ideas? Nor is it clear what constitutes “Muslim hip hop”: Does the fact that Busta Rhymes is a Sunni Muslim make his music “Islamic”?  
For State Department officials, the hip hop initiatives in Muslim-majority states showcase the diversity and integration of post-civil rights America. The multi-hued hip hop acts sent overseas represent a post-racial or post-racist American dream, and exhibit the achievements of the civil rights movement, a uniquely American moment that others can learn from.
But it’s unclear how persuasive this racialised imagery is. Muslims do not resent the US for its lack of diversity. Where perceptions are poor, it is because of foreign policy, as well as, increasingly, domestic policies that target Muslims.

He may have hit the right note to ask here. Sometimes it takes someone from outside to bring up the right questions. 

Continue reading, Leveraging hip hop in US foreign policy.


Goodbye Foggy Bottom, Hello Oxford!

On Saturday, November 19, 2011, the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2012 was announced.  From a pool of 830 candidates who had been nominated by their colleges and universities, 32 students were selected to commence their studies at Oxford in October 2012.

One familiar name from Foggy Bottom:

Ronan S. Farrow | Washington, DC, graduated with double majors in philosophy and biology from Bard College in 2004. He was the college’s youngest graduate ever, at age 15. He is now its first Rhodes Scholar. He graduated from Yale Law School in 2009, where he edited the Yale Journal of International Affairs. He is currently Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, and before that was Special Advisor for Humanitarian and NGO Affairs. He has been a political commentator on three networks and in many national publications, and is a songwriter and guitarist. He grew up with fourteen adopted siblings from seven countries speaking six languages. At Oxford, Ronan plans to do a D.Phil. in international development.

Read the bios of the American Rhodes Scholars for 2012 | 11/20/2011 here.