By Ramin Mazaheri
Last month I was in Tehran for the end of Ramazan, and the night before Eid e-Fitr my family and I went to a public street food festival downtown.
It might surprise many non-Iranians, but the array of live music included electric guitars and rock and roll. The rockers did not draw a bigger crowd than an excellent, traditionally-dressed Sufi singer playing the daf (a Middle Eastern hand drum).
It will likely not surprise non-Iranians, however, that there was not any performer who resembled Nicki Minaj.
Saudi Arabia provoked indignation across the Muslim world by inviting Minaj, an American rapper known for her nearly-naked live performances and profanity, to perform in public at a cultural festival in Jeddah.
Saudi women fairly complained: How can the government (and probably also their grandmothers) compel them to wear modest clothing in public, but then give a stage to Minaj?
Saudi women who support their dress code – and credible polls show that Saudi women overwhelmingly support both the code as well as the most modest forms of female Muslim dress – fairly screamed that Mohammad Bin Salman is helping Minaj break a rule which they truly treasure.
Minaj’s concert would have come just ahead of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, adding another layer of democratic disapproval at home and shock across the Muslim world. The Minaj invitation provided yet another reason why Muslims are openly boycotting Hajj like never before: The Saudi monarchy clearly does not respect the values of Islam, and they are committing horrific crimes against Muslims.
Minaj has just pulled out of the concert, saying that she did not want to perform in a country where “women have no rights”, adding that her decision was not intended to “disrespect” the Saudi government. Minaj shows her lack of political modernity by declaring her respect for the reactionary and outdated form of government of monarchism, but MBS is sure to be very sad-faced about her decision – this puts him at odds with the average Saudi person’s morality, yet again.
Our headline does not equate the death of (psuedo-dissident) Jamal Khashoggi with the now-cancelled performance of a stripteasing rapper – it points out how both are cases of the Saudi monarchy evincing no respect for humanity nor for the democratic will of Saudi Arabians.
Minaj and her values are embraced and encouraged in the US, and that is their decision – it is not for Saudi Arabia to impose their choices on the US, any more than the average Saudi wants the US to decide how they should live. However, it seems rather obvious that the average Saudi woman and man absolutely disagrees with Minaj’s values, and it is the obligation of rulers (we cannot use the phrase “civil servants” in the Saudi context) to respect their own people (subjects, in the Saudi context).
Yet we should never be surprised that MBS – or any Arab monarch – so blatantly defies public opinion, because these Western-propped governments lack anything resembling modern democratic structures. Who knows what whim possesses them to do anything? What is certain is that they act with zero accountability, zero democracy, zero notions of post-aristocratic ideals, and in a manner which is totally unbecoming of the custodians of Islam’s most important sites.
The goal of the Minaj invitation seemed obvious, and we see Israel do the same thing: it was an attempt to whitewash the regime’s crimes within the Western public: By slavishly showing the West that they embrace Western pop culture, they are trying to “normalize” reactionary, murderous and apartheid-like conditions.
This is why the Saudis promised fast-tracked electronic visas for international visitors: they want the West’s 1% taste-makers to visit, and then return home saying, “Saudi Arabia is just like us – our Western government is right to support them.”
Their governments are not right.
The show would have been broadcast by MTV, which would have furthered the reach of this attempt to normalize an abnormal government. MTV would have surely billed Minaj’s performance as a “step forward for female empowerment in Saudi Arabia”, which is preposterous.
If Minaj truly wanted to empower the average Saudi Arabian woman she could have considered performing in local clothing – that would say, “Saudi women have a culture worthy of admiration, emulation and respect.” Minaj performing could show young, impressionable MTV viewers that Islamophobia is wrong, and that the anti-hijab laws across Europe are racist, anti-democratic and produce violent attacks on Muslim women. But fighting Muslims – not fighting Islamophobia – is the goal of the West’s leadership, from their political leaders to their cultural elite.
The Saudi monarchy is also not right in supporting Minaj’s brand of rap. I reviewed some of her lyrics, as I am unfamiliar with her music: her lyrics openly glorify her pride in exchanging her beauty for money and luxury; they glorify criminality and drug-dealing; they are ragingly capitalist and obsessed with asserting her self-importance and your inferiority.
When I read Minaj’s lyrics I don’t see an artist, but I do occasionally see an attempt at art: Minaj deserves credit for also talking about how her African-American community has been absolutely devastated by the incredibly racist policies of the United States at all levels of their government.
It is no wonder that the vast majority of Minaj’s lyrics are so debased – she is from a community which has been degraded for 400+ years simply because of their color. The recognition of this degradation is why during the occupation of the US embassy in 1979 the modern Iranian leadership freed not just the embassy’s women but also the African-Americans.
But, excepting their slave era, it is now worse than ever for African-Americans: Since 1980 their imprisonment rates have skyrocketed by well over 300%, a community-crushing experience which may only be paralleled by Palestinians. This has devastated African-American families, and thus gutted their culture and music of peace, hope, harmony and love.
Compounding this sadness is the fear and violence they live with – guns and gang warfare are permitted to flourish in the African-American part of town, whatever town that is, and this is expressly by American cultural design. The US government, at all levels, has no interest in providing African-American citizens and taxpayers with safety or law and order. Even Europe’s Roma don’t live with such violence, at least.
Adding to all that: The economic and political power redistribution efforts finally begun in the 1960s were killed by the Democrat Bill Clinton, and thus endemic poverty in the African-American community adds yet another level of hardship and tremendous suffering to their daily lives.
Therefore, considering how often she has seen her fellow African-Americans die young, and spend their lives in prison, and spend their lives in poverty, then I can understand why Minaj’s lyrics are so unconcerned with consequences and so concerned with immediate, greedy acquisition. After all, acceptance of these degraded concepts have been been violently forced upon the African-American community, just like drugs, guns, poverty and familial dissolution.
Minaj is thus just another raging American capitalist – with all the depravity that implies – because African-Americans are given no other way out. She sells her body just as violently as a Black American football player from the ghetto does in the hope of acquiring a university education.
Given this reality, when Washington’s officials and NGOs try to lecture Iran about human rights, I wonder if they have ever even set foot inside the entire African-American-majority cities of Gary, Indiana, or Flint, Michigan, or most of the west side of Chicago, or any of the thousands of “American Apartheid” towns and neighborhoods. The systematic oppression of African-Americans may be ignored by them, but it is not going unnoticed by the rest of the world. When Iranian officials say that the values of Washington make diplomacy impossible – and this was heard long before the JCPOA – this is certainly one of the situations they are referring to.
All these things cannot be admitted in the United States. The oppression, delusion and total hypocrisy in the US regarding this abomination is so extreme that I find it hard to conceive that African-Americans could acquire justice before Palestinians do.
Minaj has certainly not been elevated by their mainstream media for her prideful lyrical defenses of her besieged community, although I can imagine that does explain part of her popularity among the African-American community. No, Minaj is elevated as a “liberator” and “model example” by the Western 1% expressly because of her vulgarity, both romantic and ideological.
Minaj actually serves an important function: she injects this culture of desperation, violence and self-centeredness – which is required to survive in a US ghetto – into the culture of the middle and upper classes, which have no need to resort to such desperate tactics, and this helps perpetuate US neo-imperialist culture at home and abroad. US capitalism-imperialism first requires, of course, domestic indoctrination of their own people.
But the problems of the African-American community are not the responsibilities of MBS and the Saudi monarchy – reflecting the moral standards and public opinion of the Saudi people is.
Minaj victimizes everyone with her lyrics, probably because she doesn’t realize that she has been victimized herself by US culture. While it technically could depend on the song she chooses to rap and the manner in which she would have appeared on stage to rap it, barring some sort of immediate and drastic conversion she would have certainly victimized impressionable Saudi Arabians as well.
I personally respect Nicki Minaj a great deal – she is a human being and a woman, and she deserves much better than being paid to gratify leering, murderoussheik.
I also personally respect the people of Saudi Arabia and their wishes for democratic empowerment – I hope they finally realize that their reactionary monarchy do not, and never will.