“Let me be the voice, and your strength, and your choice
Let me simplify the rhyme, just to amplify the noise
Try to amplify the times, and multiply it by six-
Teen million people are equal of this high pitch
Maybe we can reach Al-Qaeda through my speech …
Let the President answer on high anarchy
Strap him with an AK-47, let him go
Fight his own war, let him impress daddy that way
No more blood for oil, we got our battles to fight on our own soil.”
“Allah willing, the streets of America will run red with blood, matching drop for drop the blood of America’s victims.”
– Azzam al-Amriki (Azzam the American), on the new purported al-Qaeda video
Unleashed only one week before the US presidential election and already the No 1 video on MTV, Eminem’s “Mosh” is a stunning piece of political hip-hop. When a millionaire white-trash rapper and his posse hit the polls calling for regime change in the White House, America can’t help but listen.
The video was produced, directed and edited by Ian Inaba of the Guerrilla News Network (see the video at www.gnn.tv/content/viewer.html ). Inaba and a crack team in animation, illustration, 3-D and motion graphics had just five weeks to dress up the song. The lyrical Jesse James power is Eminem’s, but the video concept is totally Inaba’s.
The video – more than 90% animation – starts with a cartoon Eminem in a suit reading My Pet Goat upside down to a classroom full of children. Only a few frames later we are immersed in his thinking process post-September 11, 2001, and before the war on Iraq. We literally see Eminem thinking and conceptualizing his rage as he shadowboxes in front of a wall plastered with crucial newspaper headlines – such as “Bush knew”, “Bush declares war”, “Congress OKs US$87 billion”, “Bush tax cuts help rich” and “Blechtell” (sic). The wall, as a symbol, is a powerful hip-hop quote of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.
To the sound of Mosh’s hypnotically funereal beat, anti-war sentiment fuses with classic class struggle. Eminem’s persona merges into the character Private Kelly, who is also thinking hard, trying to conceptualize his rage. After watching Eminem rapping live to the troops in Baghdad, Private Kelly goes back home to his family and is greeted by a “re-enlist” letter. He becomes a deserter, hoods up, joins the mosh mob of the angry and disfranchised and follows the Leader (Eminem himself) toward a new, crucial mission.
In this bleak atmosphere about to be transformed, Osama bin Laden is nothing but a cardboard cutout issuing fatwas from a sound stage. When the fake cave wall falls, the happy chattering duo of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld take center stage.
Get out the vote
“Mosh” may have tremendous cultural and political impact on the youth vote before the US presidential election and beyond. There are more than 55 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 35 – they make up 36% of the total of eligible voters.
On the surface, Eminem’s political move is inscribed in a larger battle between a Hobbesian world view – the predominantly urban black, disfranchised, fight-for-your-rights crowd – and the Rousseau contingent – the more hipped-out, peace-and-love, environmentally conscious dance/trance/chill-out crowd. But Eminem transcends it by channeling the feelings of disorientation of trailer-park America, suburban-mall America and, especially, urban black America – which is anti-Bush with a vengeance, as this correspondent recently attested in Memphis, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles (see Free at last? May 28). The urban black vote might always have been Democrat: but the key point of Eminem’s video is to force the desperate masses, all kinds of desperate masses, not to urban guerrillahood, but to the polls, “to disarm this weapon of mass destruction that we call our president”.
For an 18-year-old voting for the first time, “Mosh” provokes the same impact that the barricades of May 1968 in Paris did on the “children of Mao and Coca-Cola”, as film genius Jean-Luc Godard put it. The esthetic of the video may be cartoon teenage wasteland – a code easily identified by Eminem’s core audience – but hardly could there be a better metaphor for the current US political nightmare than “moshing”. The thing is, Eminem and director Inaba use “moshing” to organize a strategic, political response to alienation and dystopia. Voting, in this case, is only the first, necessary step toward a society of real free speech and informed, participatory democracy.
Blood on the tracks
Rabid right-wingers and apocalyptic evangelicals are likely to compare Eminem to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But there are more ominous things on the horizon when we’re not talking about MTV but – allegedly – real life.
Compare Eminem’s get-out-the-vote message with the man with his face covered by a keffiah and sunglasses saying, in English, “The streets will run with blood.” The man, Azzam al-Amriki (Azzam the American), is the alleged new face of al-Qaeda, revealed on a tape delivered to the ABC News office in Islamabad last Sunday by a courier who got paid US$500. The courier said he collected the tape in Peshawar the day before, and assured that the video was filmed in the Pakistani tribal areas.
The 75-minute digital tape comes with the As-Sahab logo – al-Qaeda’s video-production company. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are assuming the man in the tape is white, college-educated, and maybe not born in the US but raised there. He speaks with a slight accent. He could be one of hundreds of jihadis holding US or European Union passports operating along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Some US intelligence sources believe he could be Adam Yahiye Gadahn, born Adam Pearlman in Orange County, California, whom the FBI has pinned as an al-Qaeda translator. His nom de guerre is Abu Suhayb al-Amriki. The al-Amriki in the tape quotes the Holy Koran in Arabic, also speaking with an accent. The rhetoric is classic al-Qaeda.
After what is supposed to have been extensive examination by both the CIA and the FBI, ABC News finally decided to broadcast parts of the tape on Thursday. Both the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and al-Jazeera say the tape is the genuine article in terms of jihadi media, with good production values such as Arabic subtitles and a scrolling message across the bottom of the screen a la CNN and Fox.
ABC News officially was not sure if this was a very well-crafted hoax or a big story. By airing the tape, it has shown it believes it is a big story. But the most troubling thing was that someone in the US Department of Homeland Security was heavily leaking to gossip website Drudge Report to pressure ABC to run the tape. Until very recently, any al-Qaeda videos broadcast by al-Jazeera were considered a threat to US national security – because they could contain “secret codes” to al-Qaeda operatives, according to the Bush administration narrative.
This is the first time that an alleged al-Qaeda video features an English-speaking actor, and the first time neither Osama bin Laden nor Ayman al-Zawahiri shows up. As much as As-Sahab engages in psy-ops, the CIA also does. If authentic, the tape confirms – as this correspondent has been arguing – that al-Qaeda votes Bush: al-Amriki says that “what took place on September 11 was but the opening salvo in the global war on America”. And the next attacks, he adds, “could come at any moment”. Whoever concocted this psy-ops – al-Qaeda or the CIA – wanted to provoke the same effect: fear. This tape could well have been scripted by Darth Vader Dick Cheney.