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The Senator George J.Mitchell Institute
for Global Peace, Security and Justice

Sounding Resistance: Hip Hop and Rap in the Syrian Conflict

In this part of the comparative research project, Professor Beverley Milton-Edwards focuses on the role of music, rap and digital media in the manufacture of a ‘counter-narrative’ (including Hip Hop and Jihad Rap), which is being produced by a generation of Arab/Kurdish/Muslim activists in the Middle East and Diaspora to engender resilience and resistance to ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Building on existing scholarship on rock music, resistance and Islamism, it addresses participant and audience impacts in terms of the extent to which they counteract violent, extremist jihadism and conflict. 

By general agreement the outbreak of the Arab Spring across the Middle East and North Africa gave rise to new forms of protest and resistance. A generation of young citizens (who account for the majority of the population in most countries) employed and utilised forms of culture and expression in ways that resonated with them in protest at those who were in power and those that would fill the power-vacuums in the ensuing regional chaos and instability.

Within this milieu Hip Hop and Rap has acquired an important function of resistance and protest. It has also emerged, in contexts like the civil war in Syria, as a means of expressing displacement. Syrian lyricists, performers, and producers have begun to produce an increasingly distinct genre of Hip Hop and Rap music that functions to frame rebellion, identity, life in refugee camps, displacement and asylum seeking.

Social media is the vital transmitter for these messages of commonality, solidarity and pain. Social media allows Syrians to unite across borders of displacement, conflict zones, curfews, destruction, political and ethno-sectarian dispute. Social media is the platform.

The narrative of resistance has emerged in Syrian-generated Hip Hop and Rap not only to counter Islamist movements like ISIS whose doctrine prohibits such arts but literally to record and narrate the tumultuous journey of Syrian youth who have risen up in protest against tyranny, sacrificed life, home and work to be forced into exile as internally displaced or refugee. 


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The Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice
Queen's University Belfast
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