Writing for Al Jazeera, Mark LeVine explores the uncanny popularity of dinosaur metal band Iron Maiden amongst a young, Middle Eastern fan base and “asks if heavy metal music offers a blueprint for modernization in the Middle East.” I certainly hope LeVine’s geopolitical thesis is correct — reconfiguring staid Mideast nations using the tenets of Maiden as a basis sounds brilliant, for the resultant national flags alone.
I first saw Iron Maiden in Dubai in 2007, at the Dubai Desert Rock Festival, which although only three years old was becoming known as the “Mecca for Middle Eastern metal”.
This was pre-crash Dubai, in all its excessive splendor, and the festival was filled to capacity with 20,000 metalheads, mostly Arabs, Iranians and South Asians, cheering, screaming and even crying during Maiden’s headlining show.
The members of Iron Maiden still recall that first Dubai show fondly, but in reality Dubai represented the very antithesis of everything Maiden has always stood for – consumption without reason, style over substance, the pursuit of wealth and celebrity without a solid foundation or sustainable principles.
The group’s unique philosophy offers interesting lessons for its large fanbase across the Arab and Muslim worlds – a young generation that is struggling to define a new role for themselves and the region in a globalised system that, much like the music business, seems rigged against them.
First and foremost, do not play their game. Neoliberalism, the dominant system of globalisation, will never produce greater prosperity, democracy or sustainable development for the vast majority of the peoples of the region, precisely because this model of economic integration inevitably concentrates wealth, and through it power, in fewer hands.
Secondly, think historically, stay true to your roots, and “do it yourself”. One of the main reasons why heavy metal, and Maiden in particular, are so popular across the Middle East and Muslim world is precisely because the genre, and the band, represents a “DIY,” or do it yourself, philosophy that has allowed artists and fans to avoid the compromises that have plagued other genres like hiphop and mainstream rock.
For centuries the peoples of the Arab and Muslim world have been told that they had to follow someone else’s model. They have had to contend with policies imposed from above and outside – first through colonialism and then again, beginning in the 1970s, through the “structural adjustment programmes” that have been at the heart of IMF, World Bank and other Washington consensus policies towards the region.