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The US Hip-Hop Diplomacy

by on May 17, 2013

The word “culture” expresses complex features that characterise a social group; language, arts, music, history, customs, traditions and lifestyle. In other words, it is culture through which we get to know other social groups or nations.
The US State Department denotes culture as the “linchpin of public diplomacy”. Indeed the culture of the United States has played a vital role in building their image throughout the world. American art, movies, literature and dances proved to be influential throughout the world and managed to attract millions of people, yet culture as a political tool has been somehow undermined. However, the recent events, commencing the War on Terror wrecked American image significantly. Ever since the recent events, commencing the War on Terror, wrecked America’s image, and antipathy towards America surpassed American popularity the US government has been using any available tool to repair what has been broken (1).

Similarly as in the Cold War, when the USA used its most prominent Jazz musicians as Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gilespie to improve the relations with non-aligned countries, the US government reached for music to improve its image again (2). The so called “jambassadors” from Cold War were replaced by Muslim Hip-Hop envoys that have been touring around Middle East and Africa with one aim; to help improve the broken American image.

As well as performing on the stage, the Hip-Hop ambassadors hold workshops in order to promote democracy and equality. Those who are adherents of Islam speak about a life of being a Muslim in the US (3).

Indeed hip-hop has proven to be powerful even in the Arab Spring. Ever since the revolutions began, North African artists have written a number of songs that represent the situation in their countries.

However, choosing hip-hop to promote America carries some irony within. While hip-hop has been blamed for promoting violence, disrespect towards women and consumerism within US, it is supposed to boost America’s image abroad and possibly improve its national security (4).
The strategy itself remains a bit blurry. Is an artist who is of African-American origin of a Muslim faith supposed to de-radicalise Middle Eastern youth and motivate them to look upon the USA as a role model of democracy and equality?
It seems that the US still does not get it. Muslims around the world do not blame the US for a lack of diversity within their country. They criticize America for the lack of coherency between their foreign policy actions and between what they claim to promote, democracy and freedom (5).

The connection between hip-hop and American diplomacy has been a subject of discussions among musicians too. Scepticism and negative opinions have been expressed. Maybe we should prevent the little that has not been influenced by power politics. Maybe music should remain music and its only purpose should be to entertain.

(1) (The U.S. Department of State (2005) Report of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy, pp.1-2.)

(2) Aidi, H. (2011) The Grand (Hip-Hop) Chessboard; Race, Hip-Hop and Raison d’Etat, Middle East Report, pp. 26-27

(3) Aidi, H. (2011) Leveraging Hip Hop in US Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/10/2011103091018299924.html (accessed 16.5.2013)

(4) Sullivan, C. (2003), Why hip-hop must take its share of blame for spread of violence among teenagers, Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/jan/06/arts.politics, (accessed 17.5.2013)
(5) Rashid, Q. (2012) Why Muslims Hate America, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/qasim-rashid/why-muslims-hate-america_b_1905081.html

(6) 2011, The US Government’s Hip Hop Diplomacy in the Middle East, Black Youth Project, http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2011/11/us-gov-hip-hop-diplomacy/ (accessed 17.5.2013)

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