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Using Hip-​​Hop to Promote Peace

After a Dialogue trip to Israel, alumna examined hip-hop as a means for easing social conflict in the Mideast
May 11th, 2011

From the Sug­arhill Gang to Sean “Diddy” Coombs, hip-​​hop has not only influ­enced fashion and cul­ture throughout the world, but may even have the power to ease decades of social con­flict, says recent North­eastern Uni­ver­sity alumna Karin Heim, AMD’11.

In the paper, “Beats Not Bombs: Hip-​​Hop to Create Peace in the Israeli-​​Palestinian Con­flict,” Heim inves­ti­gates how artists use rap as a tool to help the people of Israel find common ground in the con­flict. The paper was pub­lished recently in Nota Bene, an inter­na­tional under­grad­uate journal of musi­cology at the Uni­ver­sity of Western Ontario.

“If musi­cians want to build a better Israel, a more peaceful Israel, it really starts with them set­ting a good example for young people lis­tening to their music,” said Heim, who majored in music his­tory and analysis.

Heim wrote the paper as part of Northeastern’s Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram to Israel where, a year ago, she studied social con­flict at Ben-​​Gurion Uni­ver­sity Be’er Sheva and Haifa Uni­ver­sity. The pro­gram requires par­tic­i­pants to research a topic relating to the curriculum.

“I knew I wanted to incor­po­rate my music back­ground into the research, but knew little about the music scene in Israel or how it could pos­sibly relate to the con­flict,” Heim said about the paper.

Asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology and anthro­pology, Gor­dana Rabren­ovic, who runs the Dia­logue in Israel in part­ner­ship with the Brud­nick Center for the Study of Vio­lence and Con­flict at North­eastern, helped Heim to define her research topic.

“Karin’s paper is a great example of how expe­ri­en­tial learning and aca­d­e­mics come together in a mean­ingful way,” she said.

Heim found that Middle East hip-​​hop artists — like the musi­cian Sub­lim­inal, who has been described as Israel’s Eminem, and the Arab-​​Israeli group DAM — are using music to con­demn vio­lence, a notion that appeals to young Jewish-​​Israelis, Arab-​​Israelis, and Pales­tinians. Like the artists them­selves, Heim found these youths use hip-​​hop to define their reli­gious, ethnic, and social group identities.

Through hip-​​hop, Arab-​​Israeli rapper SAZ and Jewish-​​Israeli rapper Sagol 59, have been able to col­lab­o­rate in an open dia­logue about their frus­tra­tions with society and hopes for a peaceful coexistence.

They per­formed together at a pop­ular Tel Aviv night­club as part of a “Hip-​​Hop Sulha,” a series of globe-​​spanning per­for­mances fea­turing Jewish and Arab artists,which aimed to create a musical plat­form for dis­course and understanding.

“These exam­ples show us that artists can use hip-​​hop to pro­mote dia­logue and create under­standing between dif­ferent groups in Israel,” Heim concluded.

Rabren­ovic agrees, “Through the shared interest in music, people of dif­ferent back­grounds con­nect to each other as human beings, and from there can begin to work together.”

But, in the end, both Heim and Rabren­ovic say it would be too much of a burden to expect musi­cians to bring peace to Israel. Rather, it is a process that requires a mix of polit­ical, eco­nomic, social, and cul­tural cooperation.

- by Kara Shemin


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