Maria: Jil Oslo: Palestinian Hip Hop, Youth Culture, and the Youth Movement
Jil Oslo: Palestinian Hip Hop, Youth Culture and the Youth Movement, by Sunaina Maira. Fairfax, VA: Tadween Publishing, 2013. 199 pages. $16.00 paper.
REVIEWED BY LOUBNA QUTAMI
Sunaina Maira, author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City and Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire After 9/11, has brought us a stunning display of ethnographic research that is timely, nuanced, and fruitful for reimagining the limitations of national politics, as well as cultural and youth studies.
Jil Oslo: Palestinian Hip Hop, Youth Culture and the Youth Movement provides a powerful illustration of the vexed relationship between new Palestinian youth initiatives and the dominant political paradigm of the Oslo era. The book examines the intersections and overlapping spaces of Palestinian youth culture—specifically hip-hop and political activism as a point of departure for re-imagining national politics and future vision, remaking the public sphere, and expression of social identities. Through ethnographic research completed primarily during the popular Arab uprisings of 2011, the analysis is based on focus groups conducted in university classrooms and interviews with youth who are involved in both the production and consumption of hip-hop, students, and political activists in both the West Bank and Israel proper. In addition, ethnographic notes collected from participation and attendance at numerous political protests and public cultural events in the West Bank further contextualize the broader social, political, and economic conditions of the Oslo paradigm in Palestine.
Maira’s attentiveness to the details of context illustrates the political backdrop through which these youth are re-thinking alternative frameworks to what many identify as a fatigued and exhausted existing political paradigm and vocabulary. Maira has critically etched out a picture of the conditions, struggles, and challenges for Palestinian youth of the Oslo generation— everything from youth not being represented in the decision-making and leadership of the Palestinian national movement to “the ambiguity of legal identities and profusion of spatial categorizations [which] has also generated hierarchies among Palestinians based on associated distinctions about who can live where, who can marry whom and who can travel across which borders” (p. 40).
Maira’sargumentthat “Palestinian rap is a poetics of displacement and protest which simultaneously settles and re-creates national culture imaginaries” can be seen as a lynchpin foreachsub-argumentthroughout the text (p.14).However,itis Maira’s dislodgment of the notion of the social category of youth as an empty signifier that is among the most important of her interventions. Rather, Maira looks to the particularities of the Palestinian child and youth’s condition, born into severe circumstances of violence as a result of settler-colonialism, to deconstruct the romanticized and polarized perception of youth as being either “alienated and apolitical or agents of radicalism and hyper-politicization,” (p. 20). Instead, she thoughtfully resituates them as critical agents to social transformation by looking at the ways they are “thinking deeply about their role in a larger political field mired in skepticism and political paralysis” (p. 185). Hip-hop, is a vehicle through which this thinking and conversing is taking place.
Maira examines youth actions and perspectives on civil disobedience, the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, anti-normalization initiatives, campus movements, youth movements, the resistance villages initiative, protest to Israeli policies of militarism and racism, and responses to the 2011 Palestinian Authority (PA) bid for statehood to the United Nations, as well as other forms of expression and political critique through art and culture. Though the work is ambitious in scope, it is meaningful in depth. In addition to navigating the complicated socioeconomic terrain of the post-Oslo moment, she magnifies how an increasingly neoliberal and globalized world takes form in occupied Palestine.
Three main themes emerge throughout this research. First is that youth are searching for an alternative to the status quo of politics in the post-Oslo moment. Through the axis of hip-hop and political mobilization, many youth have expressed a desire to resuscitate an older discourse of liberation that predates the Oslo period, the split in national unity between Fatah and Hamas, and accounts for the cohesion of the Palestinian nation. Maira describes a t-shirt worn by a young 1948 Palestinian activist at a hip-hop concert which read “48+67=1,” exemplifying that “Palestinians within the ‘48 and ‘67 borders share a common root in the vision of these young activists and artists, and are part of an indivisible Palestinian entity that includes also East Jerusalem and the diaspora” (p. 59).
The second theme addresses the tensions between new mediums, such as hip-hop and national culture and cultural authenticity. For example, Maira’s facilitation of focus groups in the classrooms at Birzeit University and interviews with Palestinian youth citizens of Israel illustrates how discussions on hip-hop are loaded with tumultuous debates of defining and locating it in relation to Western and Arab/indigenous culture, modernity and authenticity or tradition, morality, (im)propriety, gendered representation, and much more. Furthermore, hip-hop had become a catalyst for youth to undertake matters of gender and sexual politics as part of the broader political landscape. “Young people’s concerns about gender, sexuality and female behavior cropped up in many conversations about the resistance to, as well as the appeal of hip-hop” (p. 93).
The third theme that emerges is the ways through which youth politicization has been cultivated in light of the Arab revolutions, with particular focus on the March 15th youth movement, the series of political actions that emerged in different Palestinian cities in the spring of 2011 and the various groups and initiatives that have splintered from it. Here, the challenges in cultivating consensus-based politics and strategies among youth coalitions come to the fore, illuminating a difficulty in agreeing on a political platform, creating broad support, strong structures, and long-term vision, as well as a desire to do something based on the political moment despite these limitations. Even those youth critical of the movements tell Maira, “young people feel lost, and they feel their whole life has been lost, so they are trying to do something” (p. 127). Thus the very act of publicly protesting the PA’s policies and economic agreements with Israel was a driving force for many who saw such mobilization as only possible outside of the dominant party-based model.
For those academics engaged in indigenous, youth, and feminist studies, Jil Oslo provides a compelling articulation of how the national politics paradigm cannot fully account for the conditions and aspirations of Palestinian youth. Many of the youth who attribute deteriorating conditions to the Oslo framework are “grappling with how to rethink resistance in a deeper way” (p. 184) and express a desire to reconstitute Palestinians of other geographic and social locations in the body politic and collective consciousness of this process.
Loubna Qutami is a PhD student of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside. She is also general coordinator of the Palestinian Youth Movement, and former executive director of the Arab Cultural and Community Center of San Francisco.