Full Moon Fever

Sublime Reflections

Zapatista Code Red

Naomi KleinThe Nation,  January 7, 2008

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas

Nativity scenes are plentiful in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial city in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. But the one that greets visitors at the entrance to the TierrAdentro cultural center has a local twist: figurines on donkeys wear miniature ski masks and carry wooden guns.It is high season for “Zapatourism,” the industry of international travelers that has sprung up around the indigenous uprising here, and TierrAdentro is ground zero. Zapatista-made weavings, posters and jewelry are selling briskly. In the courtyard restaurant, where the mood at 10 pm is festive verging on fuzzy, college students drink Sol beer. A young man holds up a photograph of Subcomandante Marcos, as always in mask with pipe, and kisses it. His friends snap yet another picture of this most documented of movements.I am taken through the revelers to a room in the back of the center, closed to the public. The somber mood here seems a world away. Ernesto Ledesma Arronte, a 40-year-old ponytailed researcher, is hunched over military maps and human rights incident reports. “Did you understand what Marcos said?” he asks me. “It was very strong. He hasn’t said anything like that in many years.”Arronte is referring to a speech Marcos made the night before at a conference outside San Cristóbal. The speech was titled “Feeling Red: The Calendar and the Geography of War.” Because it was Marcos, it was poetic and slightly elliptical. But to Arronte’s ears, it was a code-red alert. “Those of us who have made war know how to recognize the paths by which it is prepared and brought near,” Marcos said. “The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has a smell. And now we are starting to breathe its fetid odor in our lands.”Marcos’s assessment supports what Arronte and his fellow researchers at the Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations have been tracking with their maps and charts. On the fifty-six permanent military bases that the Mexican state runs on indigenous land in Chiapas, there has been a marked increase in activity. Weapons and equipment are being dramatically upgraded, new battalions are moving in, including special forces–all signs of escalation.As the Zapatistas became a global symbol for a new model of resistance, it was possible to forget that the war in Chiapas never actually ended. For his part, Marcos–despite his clandestine identity–has been playing a defiantly open role in Mexican politics, most notably during the fiercely contested 2006 presidential elections. Rather than endorsing the center-left candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, he spearheaded a parallel “Other Campaign,” holding rallies that called attention to issues ignored by the major candidates.In this period, Marcos’s role as military leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) seemed to fade into the background. He was Delegate Zero–the anti-candidate. Last night, Marcos had announced that the conference would be his last such appearance for some time. “Look, the EZLN is an army,” he reminded his audience, and he is its “military chief.”That army faces a grave new threat–one that cuts to the heart of the Zapatistas’ struggle. During the 1994 uprising, the EZLN claimed large stretches of land and collectivized them, its most tangible victory. In the San Andrés Accords, the right to territory was recognized, but the Mexican government has refused to fully ratify the accords. After failing to enshrine these rights, the Zapatistas decided to turn them into facts on the ground. They formed their own government structures–called good-government councils–and stepped up the building of autonomous schools and clinics. As the Zapatistas expand their role as the de facto government in large areas of Chiapas, the federal and state governments’ determination to undermine them is intensifying.”Now,” says Arronte, “they have their method.” The method is to use the deep desire for land among all peasants in Chiapas against the Zapatistas. Arronte’s organization has documented that, in just one region, the government has spent approximately $16 million expropriating land and giving it to many families linked to the notoriously corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party. Often, the land is already occupied by Zapatista families. Most ominously, many of the new “owners” are linked to thuggish paramilitary groups, which are trying to force the Zapatistas from the newly titled land. Since September there has been a marked escalation of violence: shots fired into the air, brutal beatings, Zapatista families reporting being threatened with death, rape and dismemberment. Soon the soldiers in their barracks may well have the excuse they need to descend: restoring “peace” among feuding indigenous groups. For months the Zapatistas have been resisting violence and trying to expose these provocations. But by choosing not to line up behind Obrador in the 2006 election, the movement made powerful enemies. And now, says Marcos, their calls for help are being met with a deafening silence.Exactly ten years ago, on December 22, 1997, the Acteal massacre took place. As part of the anti-Zapatista campaign, a paramilitary gang opened fire in a small church in the village of Acteal, killing forty-five indigenous people, sixteen of them children and adolescents. Some bodies were hacked with machetes. The state police heard the gunfire and did nothing. For weeks now, Mexico’s newspapers have been filled with articles marking the tragic ten-year anniversary of the massacre.In Chiapas, however, many people point out that conditions today feel eerily familiar: the paramilitaries, the rising tensions, the mysterious activities of the soldiers, the renewed isolation from the rest of the country. And they have a plea to those who supported them in the past: don’t just look back. Look forward, and prevent another Acteal massacre before it happens.

Listen to Naomi’s speech in Chiapas. Please visit www.naomiklein.org to see photos from Naomi’s visit to Chiapas.

December 21, 2007 Posted by | Naomi Klein, News and Update, Social Movements, Zapatista | 1 Comment

About Facebook

By ARI MELBERThe Nation, January 7, 2008 

When one of America’s largest electronic surveillance systems was launched in Palo Alto a year ago, it sparked an immediate national uproar. The new system tracked roughly 9 million Americans, broadcasting their photographs and personal information on the Internet; 700,000 web-savvy young people organized online protests in just days. Time declared it “Gen Y’s first official revolution,” while a Nation blogger lauded students for taking privacy activism to “a mass scale.” Yet today, the activism has waned, and the surveillance continues largely unabated.Generation Y’s “revolution” failed partly because young people were getting what they signed up for. All the protesters were members of Facebook, a popular social networking site, which had designed a sweeping “news feed” program to disseminate personal information that users post on their web profiles. Suddenly everything people posted, from photos to their relationship status, was sent to hundreds of other users in a feed of time-stamped updates. People complained that the new system violated their privacy. Facebook argued that it was merely distributing information users had already revealed. The battle–and Facebook’s growing market dominance in the past year–show how social networking sites are rupturing the traditional conception of privacy and priming a new generation for complacency in a surveillance society. Users can complain, but the information keeps flowing.Facebook users did not recognize how vulnerable their information was within the site’s architecture. The initial protests drew an impressive 8 percent of users, but they quickly subsided after Facebook provided more privacy options. Today the feed is the site’s nerve center. Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said that when he speaks on campuses these days, students approach him to say that while they initially “hated” the feed, now they “can’t live without it.”Still, Facebook hit a similar privacy snag in November after it launched Beacon, a “social advertising” program that broadcast users’ profile pictures and private activities as advertising bulletins. When a Facebook user bought a product on one of dozens of other websites, for example, the information was sent to Facebook and distributed across the user’s network as a “personal” ad. (“Joe Johnson rented Traffic at Blockbuster,” for example.) Many users had their pictures and actions morphed into advertisements without their consent, turning private commerce into public endorsements. That could be an illegal appropriation, according to Daniel Solove and William McGeveran, two law professors who specialize in digital privacy and who blogged about the issue.MoveOn.org formed a Facebook group to demand that Beacon switch to “opt-in”–a default to protect uninformed users–and allow people to reject the program in one click. The group drew less than .2 percent of Facebook members, far less than during last year’s feed protest, but this time MoveOn helped the protest group press specific reforms, generate critical media attention and even rattle some advertisers, who backtracked on using Beacon.Facebook buckled, agreeing to make the ads opt-in and allowing people to reject the whole program, for now. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologized to users on the company blog, explaining the problem in the language of the new privacy. “When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends,” he wrote. “It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared.”Yet both Facebook and its privacy protesters largely operated within the same model of privacy control–opt-in versus opt-out, sharing versus concealing. The traditional concept of privacy was largely absent from the debate: the premise that what people do on other websites should never be anyone else’s business. After all, why would people want to browse the web with “lightweight” surveillance broadcasting their pictures and supposed endorsements of products they happen to buy? And why do people continue to give pictures and personal information to a company that reserves the right to use their photos–and their very identities–to sell more advertising, products and market targeting in the future?Growing up online, young people assume their inner circle knows their business. The “new privacy” is about controlling how many people know–not if anyone knows. “Information is not private because no one knows it; it is private because the knowing is limited and controlled,” argues Danah Boyd, an anthropologist and social-networking expert at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied the feed controversy for a forthcoming article in the journalConvergence. Facebook’s Kelly also contends that privacy is shifting from an “absolute right to be let alone” to an emphasis on control. “We don’t think [users are] losing privacy as long as there’s a control machine and access restrictions,” he said in an interview.The feed rankled because it plucked personal details that previously existed in a social context, limited by visitors’ interest in a person, and shattered any sense of concentric circles of control by broadcasting them across wider networks. (Students list hundreds of acquaintances as “Facebook friends,” assuming that people they barely know don’t check their profiles often.) Boyd compares it to yelling over loud music at a bar, only to find the music has stopped and everyone is staring at you.Neither controversy has slowed Facebook’s huge growth. It quadrupled its user base over the past year and is now the most popular website among Americans age 17 to 25. Facebook has achieved near total penetration of the college market, with more than eight out of ten college students registered. Older Americans are also flocking to the site: it draws 250,000 new members every day. Overall, it is the fifth most popular site in the country, ranking just behind YouTube. Young and old use it to divulge loads of personal information, often oblivious to the ramifications and ignorant of the basic features of the technology they use so effortlessly to socialize.One study at the University of North Carolina, for example, found more than 60 percent of Facebook users posted their political views, relationship status, personal picture, interests and address. People also post a whopping 14 million personal photos every single day, making Facebook the top photo website in the country. Then users diligently label one another in these pictures, enabling visitors to see every photo anyone has ever posted of other people, regardless of their consent or knowledge. Even if users terminate their membership, pictures of them posted by others remain online. But users can’t really quit, anyway.Like guests at the Hotel California, people who check out of Facebook have a hard time leaving. Profiles of former members are preserved in case people want to reactivate their accounts. And all users’ digital selves can outlive their creators. As the company’s “terms of use” explain, profiles of deceased members are kept “active under a special memorialized status for a period of time determined by us to allow other users to post and view comments.”Facebook’s 58 million active members have posted more than 2.7 billion photos, with more than 2.2 billion digital labels of people in the pictures. But what many users may not realize is that the company owns every photo. In fact, everything that people post is automatically licensed to Facebook for its perpetual and transferable use, distribution or public display. The terms of use reserve the right to grant and sublicense all “user content” posted on the site to other businesses. Facebook, a privately held company, rejected a buyout offer from Yahoo! last year and recently sold a 1.6 percent stake to Microsoft, which values the company at up to $15 billion. (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought MySpace, the other leading social network site, for $580 million in 2005.)Yet the same young people posting all this personal information and relinquishing their photos to corporate control still say they value privacy. A Carnegie Mellon study found that students on Facebook think privacy policy is a “highly important issue,” ranking above terrorism, and many would be very concerned if a stranger knew their class schedule or could find out their political views five years from now. Of the students who expressed the highest possible concern about protecting their class schedule, however, 40 percent still posted it on Facebook, and 47 percent of those concerned about political views still provided them. The study concluded there was “little or no relation between participants’ reported privacy attitudes and their likelihood of providing certain information.”Why would young people publicize the very information they want to keep private?Critics argue that privacy does not matter to children who were raised in a wired celebrity culture that promises a niche audience for everyone. Why hide when you can perform? But even if young people are performing, many are clueless about the size of their audience. That’s because the new generation is often proficient with technology it doesn’t fully understand. The Carnegie Mellon study found that one-third of students don’t realize that it is easy for nonstudents to access their Facebook profiles. And 30 percent of students did not even know they had an option to limit access to their profile.Most people don’t use the privacy settings to limit access to their Facebook profile. Four out of five simply accept the default setting, which allows their whole network to see the entire profile. In the UCLA network, that’s 50,400 people. The Boston network has 312,404 people. For comparison, the city’s tabloid, theBoston Herald, has a circulation of 201,503. Users may think they’re only sharing with the friends they can see, but they’re actually publishing with the reach of a newspaper.Social networking sites also induce users to disclose information in order to be part of the site’s culture. “Allowing users into your circle allows them to track your moves on Facebook and vice versa,” explains technology writer Michael Hirschorn. “Even more compellingly, it allows you to track, if you wish, their interactions with other users, all from your own user page. You can play with your privacy settings to prevent this, but as you become acculturated to the site, you realize that you have to give information to get information.”Facebook’s Kelly argues that the trend is broader than a single website. People know their actions are tracked online, he says, just as they’re tracked on streets filled with surveillance cameras, “whether privately controlled through an ATM or publicly controlled [for] legitimate anticrime or anti-terrorism purposes.” In an era of massive top-down surveillance, posting information on a website may feel downright redundant. Just as most consumers have acquiesced to companies collecting loads of data and private information about them, many Facebook users seem resigned to the company’s aggressive use of private information.In September Facebook launched a “public search” feature to list users’ profiles on search engines like Yahoo! and Google. The move could fundamentally shift the site from a (relatively) closed social network to a more exposed public directory. Students originally joined Facebook as a private campus hub, but now it touts some of their profile information to the world. (Diligent users can opt out, and visitors still need to be Facebook members to view people within networks.) The massive search function might one day make Facebook an indispensable part of Internet commerce–creating the “Google of people,” as blogger Jeff Jarvis puts it. The potential loss of privacy could ultimately beat the feed controversy by several orders of magnitude, but there has been no backlash so far.Ultimately, these privacy concerns do not turn on the decisions of one social networking company like Facebook, or what its future owners may do. The architecture of these sites already facilitates all kinds of surveillance of unsuspecting users by the public. Employers check Facebook to vet job applicants, for example, and some have advised users to change their profiles or photos during the application process, as the Stanford Daily reported last year. A 2005 survey found that one out of four employers has rejected applicants based on research via search engines. Campus police increasingly review social networking sites to investigate crimes. Arkansas’s John Brown University expelled a student after administrators discovered Facebook pictures of him dressed in drag last year, a violation of the school’s Christian conduct code. And a Secret Service officer paid a dorm visit to University of Oklahoma sophomore Saul Martinez based on a comment he posted on the Facebook group Bush Sucks.Even if this generation of Internet users is truly developing a “new privacy” concept that prioritizes nuanced control, they largely fail on their own terms. Most users do not exercise any real authority over their information; they accept default exposure settings, post to huge networks and transfer ownership of their social media productions to entertainment businesses. Thus “control” devolves to the thousands of people in their networks and the business models of ambitious companies. The entire social network ecosystem, with its detailed records, pictures and videos of formative years, can completely change on a company’s whim. Most users are left relying on the kindness of strangers and the benevolence of business.A simple way to address one of Facebook’s privacy problems is to ensure that users can make informed choices. Taking a page from the consumer protection movement, Congress could simply require social networking sites to display their broadcasting reach prominently when new users post information. Just as the government requires standardized nutrition labels on packaged food, a privacy label would reveal the “ingredients” of social networking. For example, the label might tell users: “The photos you are about to post will become Facebook’s property and be visible to 150,000 people–click here to control your privacy settings.”This disclosure requirement would push Facebook to catch up with its customers. After all, users disclose tons of information about themselves. Why shouldn’t the company open up a bit, too?Facebook’s invisible audiences should also stop hiding. Responsible institutions that choose to monitor users (and minors) on the site, such as schools and employers, have a special obligation to inform users and parents of the practice.In the end, social networking sites are wildly popular precisely because they disseminate information so effectively. Posting to a network is easier than e-mailing individuals, and usually more fun. One bright side is that these sites’ popularity dispels the recurring complaint that the web is merely an incubator for like-minded people to isolate themselves, associating only with the people and ideas that confirm their beliefs. Young people are doing just the opposite. Their favorite websites are about real people in the real world–not just their like-minded best friends but hundreds of acquaintances from different facets of their lives.The problem, of course, is that playing with reality online is riskier than playing with video games and anonymous screen names. Young people are recording their lives in minute detail, enabling unprecedented experiences, exposure and evidence that will outlast their youth. Social networking is a free service, but abdicating control of personal information, photos, writing, videos and memories seems like a high price to pay. 

December 21, 2007 Posted by | Cyber culture, Facebook, Online Social Networking | Leave a comment

The Kite Runner Hides U.S. Role in Afghanistan Occupation

By Laura Flanders, AlterNet 

Within the first five minutes of the newly released film The Kite Runner, the leitmotif is laid out in a Karachi-to-California telephone call. Come home to Afghanistan, the protagonist, a young writer “Amir” is told by an ailing uncle. It won’t be an easy journey, the uncle explains, but it’s not too late: “There is a way to be good again.”

At the level of metaphor, the film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel is right on target. Abuse of power, remorse, shame, grief, guilt and the dream of redemption: They’re exactly the right emotions to stir in a movie about the United States and Afghanistan. The Kite Runner is a tear-jerker for the politically conscious. Unfortunately, when it comes to real-life U.S.-Afghan relations, the metaphors hit more bases than what’s actually on the screen.

Scripted by David Benioff (Troy) and directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball), the Kite Runner mostly follows the narrative of Hosseini’s surprise hit, published in 2001. In 1970s Afghanistan, a wealthy widower’s son, “Amir,” romps through lush, cosmopolitan Kabul with his best (perhaps only) friend “Hassan,” the family servant’s son.

Clouds are gathering, of course, over the boys and their country. Afghanistan is slipping from a modern secular state into an internationally fuelled civil war. The elegant city of Amir’s affluent father “Baba” is crumbling. (Playing the aristocrat turned gas station attendant, “Baba,” Iranian Homayoun Ershadi turns in the standout performance of the film.) As ethnic tensions are stoked, loyal Hassan is brutally attacked by a gang of bullies while young Amir watches and does nothing. Soon afterwards, the Soviets invade Afghanistan, and the world does the same.

Hosseini has said that his story is about global indifference, “It foretells what happens to Afghanistan in the ensuing decade after the Soviet invasion. Afghanistan like Hassan, served a purpose. And once that purpose has been served, it is abandoned and brutalized and people just stand around and watch.”The symbolism is obvious. Hassan is loyal, adoring, obedient to a fault. He tells his master/friend Amir that he’d eat dirt if asked. Used, victimized and abandoned, Hassan is a transparent stand-in for Afghanistan, the buffer state brutalized in successive “Great Games” — first between the Russian and British, and then the Soviet and U.S. empires.

There’s just one glitch. Neither the Americans nor the British make an appearance. Religious zealots inexplicably emerge, cruel counterparts to cruel communists. Secular Kabul’s caught in between. “The Mullahs want to control our souls. The communists say we have no souls,” says Baba. There’s no third player in this tale. There’s no covert U.S. assistance to rebel Mujahadeen, for example, no paying of bullies to serve the Cold War.

We know from President Carter’s advisor Zbigniew Brzezinkski that the official version of Afghan history is hokum. U.S. intervention didn’t follow the Soviet Army’s invasion, it preceded it. In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled:

We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would … That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap … The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.

The only “American” in The Kite Runner is Amir, the guilt-ridden refugee who does as his uncle tells him. He goes to Afghanistan, performs an act of rescue and returns home redeemed. He gains his “manhood” while he’s about it, proving he’s not quite the pushover his father feared him to be.

Redemption for the United States will come harder.

In November 2001, Laura Bush promised rescue. “Our hearts break for the women and children in Afghanistan,” she told the world in the middle of her husband’s post 9-11 bombing campaign. “The fight against terrorism is a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” said the First Lady. The U.S. Air Force was dropping 15,000-pound “daisy cutter” bombs on medieval Afghanistan at the time. Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote in Time Magazine: “We, as the liberators, have an interest in what follows the Taliban.

“Ironically, or perhaps not so ironically, the talented child actors in The Kite Runner are now living in exile in the United Arab Emirates after their guardians voiced anxieties that they could be ostracized or targeted by ethnic and religious extremists. In the real world, what’s “followed” the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan are more heavily armed warlords, more theocracy and more Taliban.

Some will say it’s unfair to hold the movie of a novel to task for repeating the propaganda version of U.S. history, but the myth of the United States as macho rescuer is not only misleading, it’s deadly — for people in Afghanistan and around the world. Shed all the tears you like as you’re watching, but don’t leave the remorse in the cinema. Try as it might, Hollywood can’t purge our guilt, or dissuade us of the need to act.Laura Flanders is author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species.

December 15, 2007 Posted by | Film Review, Khaled Hosseini | 1 Comment

Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

By Doug Pibel*Commondreams.org 

Pete Seeger has been making music for 80 years. It should be impossible to do that justice in 90 minutes, but “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” does it. This tightly packed, but graceful, documentary tells the story through the voices of musicians, friends, family, and the man himself, along with a rich helping of music. Seeger’s story is full of subplots, all covered here: hoboing with Woody Guthrie, stardom with The Weavers, blacklisting and contempt of Congress, the civil rights movement, Vietnam War activism, Hudson River cleanup, and elder statesman of the folk movement. But the overarching theme is his unique approach to music. For Seeger, music is a tool to bring people together, and that, as much as the singing, is the point. As we see him leaving the stage of Carnegie Hall at the end of a concert when he was 84, he says in voiceover, “I’ve never sung anywhere without giving the people listening to me a chance to join in. As a kid, as a lefty, as a man touring the U.S.A. and the world, as an oldster. I guess it’s kind of a religion with me. Participation. That’s what’s going to save the human race.” What comes through most clearly is Seeger’s belief in his cause, his optimism, and his joy in living. There is no trace of bitterness as he recalls the years when his blacklisting was so complete that he “traveled from college to college to college” playing for whatever crowds would come to sing with him. His son asks whether he was afraid of going to jail. Seeger replies, “I’m probably very stupid, but I was not fearful. I really believed, and I think I was right, that in the long run, this country doesn’t go in for things like that.” As the film explores the story of the sloop Clearwater and the rehabilitation of the Hudson River, Seeger says, “We’ve all got to be involved in trying to put this world together. I think if the world is put together, it isn’t going to be done by big organizations. It’s going to be done by millions upon millions of little organizations, often local.” Watching this moving demonstration of the power of music and personal dedication leaves you believing it can be done.

Doug Pibel is Managing Editor of YES! Magazine. See the trailer for Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. Screening and DVD release information can be found at Jim Brown Films.

December 14, 2007 Posted by | Film Review, Pete Seeger | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: Force For Peace

By Mark LeVine and Salman Ahmed, Commondeams.org

Next week’s reunion of Led Zeppelin is among the most anticipated in rock history. And with good reason. In the 1970s, the British band was mesmerizing.But beyond unforgettable songs and legendary live shows, Led Zeppelin broadcast a powerful message to fans who tuned in to the right frequency. Bring the soul of the West and Islam together, Led Zeppelin told us, and you can produce a musical force powerful enough to break through the barricade dividing the two civilizations. In its way, this message is far more subversive than the Satanic themes the band was accused of “backmasking” into “Stairway to Heaven.”One of us – Salman Ahmed – is a Pakistani who was born in Lahore and spent his adolescence in Upstate New York. Led Zeppelin was a sonic voyage home for Salman. When he first saw the band at Madison Square Garden during its US tour in 1977, it was a spiritual awakening. There was something deeply familiar in the music.

Once he returned home for medical school he realized that the band had channeled the Sufi music of South Asia through the blues to create rock ‘n’ roll.Soon enough, Salman traded in his stethoscope for an electric guitar. If Led Zeppelin frontmen Jimmy Page and Robert Plant immersed themselves in the blues, Salman studied with the Pakistani musical legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who coming from the opposite trajectory offered a similar message of harmony and brotherhood.The other one of us – Mark LeVine – is a New Yorker born in New Jersey. For him, hearing Led Zeppelin as a young child initiated a lifelong love affair with the music and cultures of the Muslim world. Most rock legends mined the blues. But the bends in Page’s guitar solos and Plant’s vocal melodies stretched beyond the “blue” of such greats as Johnny Copeland and Dr. John (with whom Mark was fortunate to perform as a young guitarist).

In Led Zeppelin’s music, there were hints of the Arabic ruba’, or quarter tone, and Persian koron, or neutral third.Led Zeppelin’s self-described “tight but loose” musical philosophy had an impact on both of us. In blues, rock, and jazz, the function of the drummer and bassist is mainly to lay down a tight groove over which the frontmen can let loose. Rarely does the rhythm section have the space to take the music to a higher dimension.But Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham did just that. For Salman, the interplay between all four musicians linked the band to the great chain of improvisers inspired by Sufism, an Islamic mystic tradition. Salman has a special interest in that tradition; his band’s music is often classified as “Sufi rock.”It was this pedigree that separated Led Zeppelin from the rest of the rock ‘n’ roll universe, reminding those with the right ears of a time when the distinctions between East and West, Islam and Europe, were still fuzzy – often productively so. It’s no wonder the band was signed by a Turkish music impresario, Ahmet Ertegun, in whose honor they are reuniting once more. The soaring minor and major scales that Plant and Page embellish in songs such as “Kashmir,” “Going to California,” “Four Sticks,” and “Friends in the Light” are, to our ears, drawn from traditional vocalizations of qawwali, a Pakistani form of Sufi devotional music.

Led Zeppelin’s ability to move between Western and Muslim cultures was evident when Page and Plant went to Morocco to record songs for their 1994 “No Quarter” album and DVD. Finding musicians performing in a market in Marrakesh, Page and Plant were able to bond with them musically – and with an immediacy that produced some of the albums most alluring tracks, such as “Yallah” and “City Don’t Cry.”Today’s Muslim rock and heavy metal artists, in turn, have been powerfully influenced by Led Zeppelin. The band’s music echoes their own history and culture, helping them create new hybrids of rock, metal, and Islam, and through it, some of the world’s lushest, and most innovative and powerful rock ‘n’ roll.At its core, even the most extreme Muslim heavy metal carries a message of peace and harmony. This is an important counterweight to the sounds of clashing civilizations and endless jihads that assault the world’s ears today.It’s about time the world starts listening; the next Led Zeppelin is as likely to come from Casablanca, Cairo, or Karachi as it is from London or New York.

Mark LeVine teaches history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of the forthcoming “Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Religion, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam.” Salman Ahmed is founder and lead guitarist for the Pakistani rock band Junoon. A different version of this piece appeared at Aljazeera.net.

December 12, 2007 Posted by | Led Zeppelin, Music, Rock n' Roll, Video | Leave a comment