Jazz and Jihad: The Discourse on Solidarity

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Afghanistan, Iraq, United States Of America Channel: Opinion Views: 3787

Ladies and Gentlemen

For many years I considered America as my promised land. As a young jazz musician I was pretty convinced that sooner or later I would end up living in New York City. My Jerusalem was Downtown Manhattan and of course my holy scriptures were the old Blue Note vinyls. My Rabbis were named Coltrane, Bird, Miles, Duke, Dizzy, Bill Evans and naturally, there were many others. I was convinced of this reality for a while, and in fact, it took time before I realized that jazz was far more than mere music. It took a while before I gathered that jazz was something else, that it was actually a form of resistance. Nowadays I realize that jazz is no different from Jihad. Accordingly, playing jazz is my personal Jihad. I do grasp that some people in this room may already find my ideas nostalgic, some may even be convinced that I am either totally deluded or just out of my mind. I can live with it. I do realize that 'things have changed', they've changed for you as much as they've changed for me. I do realize that jazz is not exactly a form of resistance anymore. May I mention that America isn't my promised land either. In fact, at the time of writing this talk, I wasn't even sure whether I would be allowed entry into your country. As much as jazz, the classical music of America, has been a call for freedom, America is not a free place anymore. I often argue that before liberating others, it is the American people who should first liberate themselves. I am pretty sure that sooner or later they will. 

Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine

I have been participating in some public debates lately concerning the common denominator between Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm glad to mention that it is rather noticeable that more and more people are now happy to admit what some of us realized years ago. The Palestinians, the Iraqis and the Afghanis are paying a very dear price for the Ziocentric shift within the Anglo-American decision-makers circuit. Seemingly, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are just the aperitif for an endless feast. The Ziocons have some big appetite to satisfy. The same lobbies that led America towards this disastrous invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan are now doing whatever they can to push America towards intervention in Iran and Syria. For those few who still fail to realize it, America has been operating officially as an Israeli mission force. It currently fights the last sovereign pockets of Muslim resistance. 

Often enough, the true aim of the Zionist lobbies is concealed. Instead the Zionist lobbies promote some righteous phony humanitarian alternatives. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), for instance, is aggressively lobbying against human rights abuse in Iran and Darfur. Since human rights issues are really close to my heart, I find myself wondering whether the Jewish organization shouldn't rather be concentrating on the colossal war crimes that are daily repeated by Israel in Palestine. Rather occasionally we read about AIPAC equating Iran and Syria with Nazi Germany. Again, someone should remind the Zionist lobbyists that actually it is Israel, the "Jews Only State", that happens to be the one and only ideological remnant of racist nationalism. 

Three weeks ago the Palestine Chronicle made an on-line poll. It asked the following question: Does the Israel Lobby control US policy on the Middle East?' Needless to mention, no one would even have dared raising such a question five years ago. Now this question is asked repeatedly and as it seems, people aren't shying off from telling what they really think. 80 percent said yes, 15 percent said no, and 4 percent were not sure. Looking at these results points to the reality many want us to deny. The vast majority of English-speaking Palestinians, Palestinian solidarity campaigners and anti-war activists are now ready to admit that the Israel Lobby controls US policy in the Middle East. We are ready to accept the fact that America operates as an Israeli mission force. America straightens the line with Israeli interests and sacrifices its sons and daughters maintaining Israeli regional hegemony. 

But here is an interesting twist. I do not intend to talk to you about Zionised America. I want to believe that the majority of Palestinian supporters and anti-war activists in this room know far more about it than me. I would like to try taking the discussion further. I would like to elaborate on the notion of solidarity and empathy. 

Those who are familiar with my writings know that I am not exactly a political scientist. I am not interested in politics and I am even far less interested in politicians who, generally speaking, evoke nothing but a strong sense of repulsion in me. 

Rather than politics per se, it is humanity and the notion of humanism that I am interested in. Often I find myself wondering what being in the world may entail. And I better admit it; I am puzzled by the fact that as a society, as a collective bunch of individuals, we have managed to continuously fail to act for the people of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. I think that this very collective failure is in itself an alarming message. Thus, rather than looking into the crimes committed by Blair, Bush and the Ziocons, I am becoming gradually interested in the general Western apathy. To be more precise, I would argue that the common denominator between Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine is our collective indifference to a crime that is committed on our behalf and in our names.

As some of us may remember, in the days leading to the doomed illegal invasion of Iraq, the anti-war movement was extremely successful in mobilizing millions of people into protest. We saw them in every capital. They were calling Blair and Bush to withdraw their military plans. Millions of people questioned the sickening Anglo-American intelligence hoax. We could all see through the lies, we could all foresee the emerging crime, we were outraged, and we were convinced that we were doing the right thing. Yet, strangely enough, just four years later, with hundreds of thousands dead, with millions of casualties, with many millions of displaced people. When it is clear that everything went as wrong as it possibly could, when it is openly established that "the danger of Iraq's WMDs" was nothing but a lie, not very many care about it all anymore. Now when the grim prophecy turns into reality of genocide with no end, we are collectively sinking into apathy. What are the logos behind this collective indifference, why did we lose interest? Why don't we fight? Why aren't we a mass movement? 

I am not so sure whether I have the exact answers at my disposal, yet, I may be able to throw some light on the issue. 

Cultural Clash 

I am inclined to admit that the notion of Cultural Clash has indeed some deep meanings especially when it comes to the discourse of solidarity. Naturally, we tend to expect the subject of our solidarity to endorse our views while dumping his own. As much as Blair and Bush insist upon democratizing the Muslim world, we, the so-called left humanists have our own various agendas for the region and its people. In Europe some archaic Marxists are convinced that 'working class politics' is the only viable outlook of the conflict and its solution. Some other deluded socialists and egalitarians are talking about liberating the Muslims of their religious traits. The cosmopolitans within the solidarity movement would suggest to Palestinians that nationalism and national identity belongs to the past. Noticeably, many of us love Muslim and Arabs as long as they act as white, post-enlightenment Europeans. In other words, we love Muslims as long as they stop being Muslims. 

For those who fail to realize, I may as well mentioned that 'working class politics' has nothing to do with Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan. For those who fail to see the obvious truth, I may as well mention that the industrial revolution has never made it to Gaza. Furthermore, the landslide victory of the Hamas proves beyond doubt that Palestinians are not exactly on the verge of dropping Islam. The million Shias that protested in Najaf last Monday were not exactly secular Arabs either. It is crucial to mention that the Palestinian struggle is a national struggle. The million Iraqi Shias who followed their Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr last Monday were overtly burning American flags while raising their own Iraqi ones as high as they could. In other words, we have good reason to believe that they may hold a consistent and genuine nationalist vision of their conflict and its resolution. Again, to expect Palestinians or Iraqis to become secular, cosmopolitan and working class ideologists is to expect Arabs and Muslims to act as European Marxists. It has noting to do with solidarity; it is actually nothing but projection. We project our solipsistic worldviews on others. 

Self-centered Activism 

In Lacanian terminology, love means loving oneself through the other. At large, our notion of solidarity is not much different: we run a constant risk of performing solidarity with ourselves through the suffering of Palestinians and Iraqis. We are at risk of using Palestinians and Iraqis as an approval of our greatness. Alternatively I would suggest that to support the other means to accept otherness, to accept that which you may never grasp. To accept otherness is to let in the unknown and the unfamiliar. To support Palestine is to back the Hamas and to support Iraq is to back the Iraqi resistance and liberation struggle. Simply speaking, to show solidarity is to support and accept other people and their will.

But somehow, instead of doing just that, in most cases we happen to transform our subject of solidarity into a fetish. We self indulge with peace ideologies at the expense of other people's pain. We instrumentally use the cry of the other as a reassurance of our own goodness. This may explain why so many of us have lost interest in Iraq and Palestine. If all we are interested in is just making love to ourselves, Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran and Syria are more than replaceable. As it happens, once in a while we may show up in mass demonstrations and then just fade away into apathy for a decade or so. 

We get away with it 

Why do we fade away? Because we get away with it. Legally speaking, America and Britain are responsible for the colossal carnage in Iraq. Bearing in mind the fact that America and Britain are democracies and adding the embarrassing fact that the people of these two 'great democracies' have re-elected war criminals, leaves no other option but admitting a collective guilt. To a certain extent, every American and British citizen is liable for the crimes in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Yet this state of criminality means very little to most of us. Americans and Brits at least for the time being simply get away with it. America has lost 3,000 of its sons and daughters in the Iraqi war. As much as I feel sorry for those who lost their beloved, for a superpower the size of America, such a scale of loss is nothing but a negligible casualty rate. In comparison, on D-Day, America lost more or less the same number of combatants in a few hours. In modern warfare, superpowers are mainly engaged in killing innocent people from afar. America doesn't risk its soldiers. It doesn't provide occupied Iraq and Afghanistan with even elementary security. Seemingly, the American Generals realize that this would cost lives of their troops. How come the Americans fail to provide security? They simply get away with it. Why are we sinking into apathy? More or less because of the same reason, we get away with it. 

A bridge too far 

As I am getting to the end of my talk, I may conclude that supporting Muslims and Jihad is probably a bridge too far for most Westerners. The typical Westerner doesn't know how to bridge the gap between 'materialism' and 'Jihad' or between 'self-loving' and 'martyrdom'. We happen to regard our lives as a precious gift with an immense value. We submitted to the post-enlightenment notion of individuality and individualism. Succumbing to the school of orthodox rationalism we believe in the ultimate power of reason. We adore science and admire technology. We are libidinally aroused by electronic gadgets. 

Seemingly, spirit and beauty means very little to us unless attached to a commodity. In our Americanized reality, existence means market value. Yet, spirit of resistance and beauty are invaluable. I may suggest that we will never be able to fully understand what the Palestinian and Iraqi struggle means to its people unless we liberate ourselves from our narrow material vision of reality. We can never grasp people who sacrifice the ultimate unless we acknowledge that there is far more to life than just life. We can never understand Iraqi insurgency and the Palestinian liberation struggle unless we try to understand what soil may mean to people who refuse to get drunk on Coca-Cola.

The search for the meaning of solidarity is a personal issue. I believe that the meaning of solidarity is probably a very dynamic notion. I am starting to realize that within the current structure of affairs, the left who was pretty effective in mobilizing anti-imperial campaigns for years, may not provide anything for Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. The left, being a rational, post-enlightenment outlook, has its problem to solve with Islam and religious devotion. I hope that I am wrong here. I can see some isolated islands of left dialectic thinkers are ready to acknowledge that Muslim resistance may as well convey an alternative vision of reality and resistance. 

I can speak for myself. For me, Jihad and jazz are very similar forms of commitment. For me, the generations of Black Americans who sacrificed everything for the sake of beauty and resistance were actually engaged in a holy war. For me it was Bird, Max Roach, Dizzy, Coltrane and others who went far beyond the American dream of materialism and market value. Jazz was their voice of freedom. Jazz was their call for a change. Jazz was an ideology, a spirit, and a way of living as well as dying. To be a jazz musician is to fight for beauty, to create and recreate, to construct and deconstruct, to question while knowing that answers may not be available for a while. To play jazz is to get lost deliberately. To play jazz is to leave the self behind.

Gilad Atzmon is a London-based jazz musician, writer and activist. His books have been translated into 22 languages. <gilad.co.uk>


  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Afghanistan, Iraq, United States Of America  Channel: Opinion
Views: 3787

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Older Comments:
Assalamualaikum and greetings,

I wish to correct Brother Fahad F Ansari, i do not think that the Jews are the choosen people. Nothing in the Quran states that.

In fact in al-Baqarah Allah Decrees that HE would create men to be HIS vicegerent on earth and when the angels asked HIM why he would entrusted men, who would commit mischief in this world, ALLAH replied " I know what you do not...."

In other chapters of al-Maidah, I think, ALLAH has ( note that I use present tense ) decreeed that " And We have created men and women, nations and tribes may that they know and love one another. And the best of you in the sight of ALLAH is one most righteous....".

This concept of the choosen ones is also mentioned in other chapters notably in one verse " And We have made you the best of mankind. And that you are to enjoin good and forbid evil..." That is amr' ma'aruf and forbid the mungkar.

Thus the choosen ones are the righteous people, i.e the group of people who believes in ALLAH, and those who are patient and who would presevere in all wheather of conditions and circumstances.

I do not think that naming Albert Einstein or Steven Spielberg is a point to note for anything. In fact if Albert Einstein knew that among the many of his inventions who be abused to annihilate the human race, then he would surely regret so. And Steven Spielberg is a media entertainer, a mogul among producers, and is nothing more than that. Please, what has he contributed to mankind other than his fertile fiction of imagination.

But having said all these, I am not at all anti Jew. I have Jewish friends since childhood and I respect their strong sense of identity, and their beliefs too.


Dear Fahad F Ansari,

When you said "Jihad is not the solution, and the modern-day Jihad is trash.".. are you saying it based on the Quran and the Sunnah? Or are you just saying it out of your emotion and own opinion. Because if you see how much Allah's messenger insist for Jihad, your statement actually contradicts the hadiths:

"Jihad will continue until the Judgment Day" [Bukhari - Muslim]


"The top of the Islamic building is Jihad" [Bukhari]

The Prophet (PBUH) said: "Anyone who dies without going on a Ghazwah (military expedition) and without having thought of himself as going on Ghazw has died with a characteristic of hypocrisy." [Muslim]

You gotta be careful of falling into the trap of disbelief for saying something which is disagreeable with the hadith. Na'uzubillah.

Please dont be too quick to lash out your tongue and condemn the blessed Mujahideen. They are not cowards and they are not afraid of death as you and me are afraid of death. They are not the ones who scurry into the woodwork like cockroaches, when the ummah are under attack, they are the defender of the ummah against the global tyranny. They are just being elusive as is expected in fighting a strategical war.The enemies are the real cowards as they are not even willing to get out of their fortified compound and face the mujahideen in the open. If they do they would've already been defeated a long time ago. They are relying so much on their superior air power, which they use indiscriminately and they are the one who are killing all the civillians (sometimes even their own side!) NOT the mujahideen as the biased mainstream media make people like you believe.

Please get your facts from sources of the Mujaahideen or their supporter. Because other than that they are just propaganda (fitnah) to brainwash and twist the mentality of the muslims.





To Faisal Farooq,

In Hinduism, nudism and sexuality are NOT prohibited. Read Kamasutra and act of some Hindu deity (e.g. Indra Bhagwan, Krishan Bhagwan etc.)

Dear Gilad Atzmon! We Muslims should greatly respect the Jews as the Chosen People of Allah and the followers of Prophet Moses (elayhiss selam). My mother, a Muslim, used to say once that it is because the Jews are Chosen People that they have produced such great minds like Einstein and Steven Speilberg, and that they control most of the world's economy. This is very much like saying that Whenever some thing bad is done to the Jewish Diaspora of the world, some calamity hits the world, such as the Holocaust started the Second World War. That Islam refutes that Allah is anymore pleased with the Jews is our personal-private issue which should not interfere with our relations with the Jews. Jihad is not the solution, and the modern-day Jihad is trash. If we want to make the citadel of Islam stronger, we should do it by loving and respecting Jews and Christians (and other world religious) and by winning their love and earning their respect in return: and in this way, we Muslims should live with dignity and respect. We should say to them "I love and respect you" rather than saying "I tolerate you". We also should make Islam stronger by acquiring the light of modern education. If the Jihadis are brave enough they should quit hiding in the gutter-caves using innocent civilians as shields, and face the enemy in the open. Is Islam a religion of the gutters? I think it is much less the duty of non-Muslims to prevent Islam being misunderstood, than it is the duty of Muslims to let the light of Islam's love shine on the Jews and Christians and other non-Muslims and help them to realize that Islam is indeed a respectable world religion whose followers believe in the same God as the Jews. You, Gilad Atzmon, are the living testimony that it is possible to make the Jews love us if we try loving them!

To Romesh Chander...
We burnt CD of Indian movies and audios because they are promoting nudism and sexuality which are prohibited in both Islam and Hinduism. Also these CDs are not copy-write protected which are damaging your industry.

Shaukh YusufAl-Qardawi states:
There are some conditions and terms that should be observed regarding listening to singing:

1. Not all sorts of singing are permissible. Rather, the permissible song should comply with the Islamic teachings and ethics. Therefore, the songs praising the tyrants and corrupt rulers disagree with Islamic teachings. In fact, Islam stands against transgressors and their allies, and those who show indifference to their transgression. So, the same goes for those songs that imply giving praises to such attitude!

2. Also, the way the song is performed weighs so much. The theme of the song may be good, but the performance of the singer - through intending excitement and arousing others' lusts and desires along with trying to seduce them - may move it to the area of prohibition, suspicion or even detest. The Glorious Qur'an addresses the wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) saying, "O you wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft of speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease aspire (to you), but utter customary speech." (Al-Ahzab: 32) So, one has to show caution to music when there is softness of speech accompanied with rhyme, melody, and special effects!

3. Singing should not be accompanied with something that is prohibited such as alcohol, nakedness, mixing of men with women that is common in pubs and nightclubs, etc.

4. Islam has declared excessiveness as prohibited in everything. The same goes for excessiveness in leisure and recreation even though these things are permissible ! This indicates that the emptiness of the mind and heart has to be observed and tackled during man's short-

Assalamualaikum and greetings.

Brother Gilad, just continue to enjoy your jazz. I like jazz too. But jihad has a far greater meaning than just jazz. I wouldn't be prepared to call it another jihad but nevertheless jazz is indeed entertaining.

Jihad is every good act that we do in the path of ALLAH. The moment we wake up in the morning, after the dawn prayer, once we set foot to leave our homes to do provide the bread and butter or ricebowl for our families, that's jihad. The fact that we do our best in bringing up fine children who shall be God fearing individuals, that's jihad.

When we preach the word of God, that's a better jihad. When we seek to improve ourselves, even materially, be honest and decent in our dealings and undertaking, that's another jihad. And the greatest jihad is the jihad bil nafs or the jihad against unholy desires, as mentioned in one hadith of our Prophet Muhammad.

And in regards to music, I do not believe that it is anywhere haram or unlawful as long as the music does not astray us from the path of our Creator.

Good luck to your jazz and enjoy it, always !


Salam alaikum to all,
Excellent article. I really got lost in the beauty of these words. I wanted to stop reading this article, and could not. As an African-American muslim, I could really relate to the struggles of the Palestinian people and the Iraqi peoples struggles as well. I really liked his last sentence, to play jazz is to leave self behind. That's deep!!
To worship Allah, and to live by the Sunnah is the same thing, isn't it?
Loved this article!!!

Please visit www.muslimhiphop.com; it is run by muslims and for muslims.

If music is allowed, then why are Taliban and other fundamentalists in Pakistan are burning CD's in Pakistan and Afghanistan?



I don't think so. Gilad is a wonderful person. I have had a few email exchanges with him. He is always like a breath of fresh air, just like his music, jazzy and witty. Btw, sometimes he include Palestinians and Muslim musicians in his ensembles.

How I wish most Jews were like him. Together we would have sung in delight to our ONE Creator. Yet in truth one person like him is enough. He makes up for the rest.

Salam Gilad.

Crazy much?