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.