Songs of RUF Fighters in the Sierra Leone War

I just discovered this interesting article by Cornelia Nuxoll titled “Borrowed Tunes. Commando and Morale Booster Songs of RUF Fighters in the Sierra Leone War”

The abstract: 

This article explores the role of commando and morale booster songs among Revolutionary United Front (henceforth RUF) combatants in the Sierra Leone war of the 1990s. Based on recent research findings, it looks at the tunes that accompanied military training and combat activities and more generally examines the role of music to help generate social cohesion and sustain collectivities. The article examines how songs elicit beneficial physical and emotional responses advantageous for soldiering and it analyses the diverse ways in which songs have been reworked from other performance contexts and placed into a conflict setting. Most of the songs dealt with are (partial) contrafacta of Liberian Gio [Dan] songs, which were incorporated from other cultural practices and contexts and already played a role as motivational songs in the Liberian civil war. Special focus lies on the use of, the fluidity and formability of the songs, as well as the ingenuity of its performers to recontextualise these songs. By fitting the songs into their war experience, combatants render them meaningful despite obvious language barriers and beyond their textual properties. 

The article is part of a very interesting special issue on music and armed conflict which is worth exploring in its entirety. In fact, the whole journal (Transposition) seems worth following, as it covers the intersection between music and social science.

“Hymnen des Jihads”

Last year the German researcher Behnam Said published what may be the first monograph devoted specifically to jihadi anashid. It is based on his PhD thesis on the same topic. You may know Behnam’s work from the several excellent articles on anashid he has published in recent years. Behnam works in the German security service

Verfassungsschutz, and he was recently interviewed in the CTC Sentinel’s “View from the CT foxhole series”.

The book is in German, and I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but Joas Wagemakers recently published a useful review of it in English. Joas writes that Behnam sets out to provide "a comprehensive (and perhaps even the definitive) treatment of the subject, a task in which he has largely succeeded.”

MMA fighters enter ring to jihadi anashid

Last weekend, the audience at a mixed martial arts gala in the Swedish city of Umeå were in for a surprise. A fighter entered the ring accompanied by the famous Islamic State nashid Salil al-Sawarim. An Arabic-speaking member of the audience alerted the organizers, who proceeded to report the incident to the police. The organizer said they had reviewed the clip in advance without realizing that it was a jihadi battle hymn. 

When I first saw this report, I thought it was a funny instance of inadvertent nashid use. According to press reports, the fighter was a Latvia-based man who had expressed “shock” at learning where the song came from. He said a friend had sent it to him. Latvia is not known for its many IS sympathisers, so it must have been an accident. Or so I thought. 

On closer inspection, it may not be that simple. According to the list of results, there was only one Latvian competitor, a certain Edgars Skrivers. In this video  from the weigh-in on Friday, we can see

(at about 2′25′’) Skrivers posing for the camera with his index finger raised while his opponent raises his fist. 


On the way off the podium, Skrivers addresses the camera, raises his index finger again and says “al-hamdu lillah, Allahu akbar” before going into the wardrobe. 


I cannot know for sure, of course, but it it possible that Skrivers knew exactly what he was doing when he played Salil al-Sawarim upon entering the ring. 

This, by the way, is not the first time something like this happens. At another MMA event in Poland in May this year, a fighter named Aziz Karaouglu did exactly what Skrivers did, though with a different nashid. He was fined £150,000 and excluded from his club. After the event, Karaouglu, who is of Turkish origin, issued a statement saying it had been a mistake. 

For context, it is worth noting that martial arts is quite popular with radical Islamists. There are several examples of European Islamist militants who trained martial arts, and the French sports educator Médéric Chapitaux has written an entire book about the problem of radicalization in French gyms. The incident in Umeå may therefore not be as innocent as it seems.

The jihadi origins of an Arab spring protest song

The BBC did a story yesterday about one of the most famous Arab spring protest songs, Sawfa nabqa huna (We will stay here). The song originated in Libya, where it basically became the anthem of the anti-Qadhafi protests in 2011. Here’s a full version with English subtitles for those interested.

According to the BBC, the song was written back in 2005 by the Libyan singer and activist Adil al-Mshiti. However, it turns out that it is actually a complete rip-off from an older jihadi nashid.

It was the British activist Moazzam Begg who pointed this out earlier today on Twitter:


Begg would know, because he was active in jihadi circles in the 1990s, fighting in Bosnia and training in Afghanistan among other things.

Listening to the original, there is no question that Begg is right. Not only is the melody is the same, but almost the entire text is lifted straight from the jihadi original, including the refrain with the title phrase sawfa nabqa huna. Other phrases are mere adaptations, such as the swapping of “ummati” (my umma) for the more secular-sounding “mawtani” (my homeland). You can hear for yourselves here:

The point of the BBC story is that the “protest song” is currently experiencing a revival in Germany, with a choir in Dresden – consisting of refugees and locals – performing the song as part of an effort to fight xenophobia. It’s a great project, but I can’t help thinking: ouch.