You can buy jihadi rap on iTunes, but is that a good thing?

I didn't think it would be hard to find "9 Disturbingly Good Jihadi Raps" online, but it was. There were, of course, the stylings of al-Shabab's rapper laureate, Omar Hammami, and the music video for "Dirty Kuffar," which was designed to go viral on social media sites like YouTube and Dailymotion.

But the most professional-sounding jihadi raps weren't on YouTube or SoundCloud -- they were tracks off M-Team's album "Clash of Civilizations." And to listen to them, I bought the songs on iTunes. They're also available for download from and Google Play, and they can be listened to on Spotify.

M-Team (that's short for Mujahideen Team) offered some bold thoughts about violent jihad in their debut album:

SPOKEN: Today is the day of retribution!
Today is the day of jihad!
Today is the day of victory or martyrdom,
so all you who believe, raise your hand and ready your weapons...

SUNG: Bust your weapons, take off oppression,
take their lives and right-hand possessions,
snatch a politician out the election,
give him injections, lethal infections...
The revolution, kaffir execution,
the true solution, the day of retribution!

"It's certainly very provocative," Rolling Stone associate editor Simon Vozick-Levinson told me when I asked him what he thought of it. "Rap and hip hop in particular are effective ways of getting a message out to a broader audience. If you have a strong conviction, putting it to a catchy beat is a good way to get your message across. To a Western audience, it's going to be pretty shocking."

It's also hardly the first time music has encouraged violence. And it's not just rap; before songs like "Cop Killer" and "Fuck tha' Police" in the early 1990s, there were controversies over groups like Black Sabbath and Twisted Sister. But is there a point where musicians go too far for mainstream music outlets?

Graham James, a spokesman for Spotify, said they were looking into M-Team's work and pointed out that Spotify, in its company policy, "reserve[s] the right to remove content that, in Spotify's opinion, is likely to incite hatred or discrimination of any kind, be that race, religion, sexuality or otherwise, or content that is deemed offensive, abusive, defamatory, illegal, pornographic or obscene in anyway." But he also expressed concern about using the policy for anything other than exceptional circumstances. "It's a very slippery slope. If you start taking down things you find objectionable, where do you ultimately draw that line?" he told FP. (Representatives from iTunes did not respond to requests for comment.)

Vozick-Levinson agrees: "Artists test boundaries, like Ice-T's song 'Cop Killer.' But that song didn't lead to an epidemic of violence; that song is a work of art. Time has shown that censorship isn't the answer. The better choice is to discuss these things and why they're objectionable rather than try to censor them."

And its worth noting that, like Ice-T, who went from rapping about shooting cops to playing a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, M-Team took a decidedly more moderate tone in their sophomore album, "My Enemy's Enemy." As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and jihadi rap critic, described it on Twitter, "M-Team's later deviations diminish their jihadi cred. Kind of like how Katy Perry's later music diminishes the credibility of her early work as a gospel singer."



Billionaire sheikh scrubs name from private island

Back in 2011, I wrote about a story that seemed way, way too good to be true: Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan -- a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family famous for owning rainbow-colored cars, the world's largest truck, and a globe-shaped motor home that's roughly one-millionth the size of Earth -- had carved his name, "Hamad," into an island he owns in the United Arab Emirates, forming waterways so massive that the letters could be viewed from space. But it was true -- and Google Earth satellite imagery proved it.

Now the story's getting even more epic. According to a Wall Street Journal report today, the name has since disappeared with no explanation -- as you can see by comparing this 2011 Google Earth image with a more recent one taken in August 2012 (in the latter, the icon where "Hamad" used to be is a Google annotation linking to a Daily Mail story about the sheikh's exploits). 



The Journal has more on the mysterious vanishing act -- including what it learned from a trip to the largely uninhabited island:

A recent visit to Futaisi Island revealed only a flat expanse of sand stretching over the area where the canals had once snaked their way through the desert. A few excavators -apparently used to pile sand back into the canals - were scattered around the site. Only the main inlet of the canals, the base of the "H" where they emptied into the waters surrounding the city, has been spared the filling-in operation....

"We deleted it," said a man named Waleed, who works in Sheikh Hamad's Abu Dhabi office. But he wouldn't say why or when.

An engineer at Abu Dhabi's National Marine Dredging Company, which handled the construction of the canals that spelled out the sheikh's name, said he was hired to do a job, not to ask questions about it. A former business partner of the sheikh pled ignorance: "I don't know what happened," he said. "I have no idea and I don't think I will come into that information."

Efforts to contact Sheikh Hamad via his office or his business associates were unsuccessful. Even his whereabouts is hard to ascertain. Some say he lives in Morocco, others in Europe.

One possible explanation for disappearance of Sheikh Hamad's name is that someone in authority decided that the vast carving in the sand didn't fit the modern image of Abu Dhabi, which is using its vast oil wealth to position itself as a cultural capital by building branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums and hosting campuses of New York University and the Sorbonne.

Apparently, spelling your name in canals doesn't qualify as Louvre-level art these days.

Atlantic Wire/Google Earth