The first third of “Rock the Casbah” offers a history of the recent upheaval in the Middle East; the middle profiles the region’s novel artistic and cultural developments; and the last part looks to the future. For those unfamiliar with the Middle East revolutions, Part 1 acts as a one-stop shop, tracing the events in the Islamic world that have captured global attention. Little of it is based on original reporting, however, and none of it is new.
Part 2, however, is terribly fascinating as Wright details unfamiliar, subversive currents of music, literature, comedy, and entertainment throughout the Middle East. Here, original interviews and observations are interspersed with analysis, all of it relayed in Wright’s sober, judicious tone. “Hip-Hop Islam” reports on the youth embracing the Bronx-born art form in places as unlikely as the Palestinian territories and Morocco. “Satellite Sheiks and YouTube Imams” covers Islamic clergymen who are offering alternatives online and on television to the hard-line preachers the West is so familiar with. “Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes” investigates Muslim-created plays that feature sex and homosexuality. All of this forms what Wright calls a “counter-jihad,” the attempt to win the war of ideologies away from extreme Islamists. She cautions that these developments are still far from dominant but suggests that history is on their side.
Not only do democracy and freedom offer most individuals in the Middle East a more attractive path than that of religious politics or autocracy, but young Muslims in particular are openly rebelling against the stultifying ways of their parents. The late scholar Samuel Huntington predicted soon after 9/11 that the Islamic world’s youth bulge – a full one-third of the entire Arab world is between the ages of 15 and 29 – would be a source of terrorism for years to come. “Young males are the principal perpetrators of violence in all societies: