Conversation With an Iraqi Metalhead: Politics, Paganism and Metal
(This is the album cover of Risala’s “Patterns of War,” a band containing Tony Aziz Yaqoo, former member of Iraqi Thrash Metal Band Acrassicauda)
On this blog I like to get opinions about all things metal and pagan from different corners of the globe. I have a fan in Iraq who has been a very helpful supporter of this blog, so I decided to have a conversation with him and get his opinion on some things. Also (as a U.S. citizen myself) I thought it might be interesting to get some of his opinions on America’s increasingly bat-shit-crazy-political situation with President Trump and his travel ban.
MG: Hey there, I was curious…you said you were from…Iraq? I’m just asking because I like seeing what people in other parts of the world think about some of the topics that I discuss.
AA: Hey. Yes, that is right. I’m from Iraq. I would be glad to answer any question you may have. Although you shouldn’t count me as a typical Iraqi since most my education and culture is very western oriented.
MG: Are you still living in Iraq? And did you study in a Western country, or that’s just your interest?
AA: Yes i still live in Iraq. Depends on what you call study. I didn’t go to college outside the country but I speak English ever since I was 15. Most books I read are in the English language.
MG: If you don’t mind me asking, what part of Iraq do you live in?
AA: I live in Baghdad. So the very middle hahaha.
MG: This might be a dumb question…but in that part of Iraq are things relatively stable now? Or is there violence as an after effect of U.S. involvement and current violence in Syria and what not?
AA: It’s not a dumb question at all. Yes things are relatively stable now. Which seems to be the perfect way to describe it. Most cities are being taking back from ISIS, but because of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, many things are now broken and seems to be beyond repair. Not in the short run, anyway.
MG: Agh that sucks. But yeah I heard that ISIS was losing ground, so that’s good.
Do you know anyone who was stuck living in an ISIS taken city like Mosul?
AA: No, they moved before things went REALLY bad. And good thing too since everything happen over night.
MG: That’s good!
AA: ISIS was never that strong but we made it so ourselves. Our government did by giving it land and making it the bogeyman that it is now.I remember not knowing anything about it. However, saw large billboards on the streets with a text saying “No for ISIS”. Which seems to be a free ad campaign for them made by the government. That and the fact that the military left in one night without any battle or anything.
MG: What are your thoughts on Trump’s travel ban?
AA:We have people who are misinformed and call it a Muslim ban. Which is not. Since over 700 million Muslims are excluded from it. They seems to be going crazy about it. On the other hand, we have those who believes it’s very well-intentioned and harmless, which is far from it. Because Trump have always had it for Muslims and talked about it across his campaign. The fact that also affects those who already have green cards. They don’t know if they left the US, they’ll ever be able to go back. Not to mention that most of those countries haven’t had anything to do with any terrorist act in the US. Even though this list been made by the Obama, not Trump’s administration. It wasn’t as absolute and as strong as it is now.
I’m personally against immigration. We should stay and try to fix our country instead. So I might think it’s a step in the right direction. It’s just the fact that it was like this. And from someone like Trump, makes me uneasy. And we have those who prepared their whole life to leave and sold all their belongings. Only to be put on hold for 90 days.
MG: Yeah, that’s harsh. I feel bad for the people who are stuck in limbo because of this. Or the people who went to Iraq to go visit their families and now can’t come back. Trump should have at least given people a few weeks to prepare for this instead of just springing it on people. But yeah…what a mess. But anyways…to take things in a completely different direction…I wanted to ask, how is the metal scene over there in Baghdad?
(Iraqi Thrash Metal Band, Acrassicauda)
AA: It’s not very common. But it DOES exist. Metal has always been misunderstood and simply not for everyone. I guess you know that better than anyone. I don’t know if you heard that few years back there was a phase where people were killed in a very horrible way for dressing, hair style and tattoos that got to do with metal. The main attack was against gays. But it also included all that isn’t considered “Good” For social standards.But with all that, we still have many die-hard fans here.
MG: Wow. Yeah, you definitely have to be hard-core to be able to face that kind of threat.
AA: Hahaha yeah. My look, and some of my friends, still haven’t changed. Not because we are metal fans, but we simply don’t want change by following people who have no idea about what’s considered a good taste. We rather die than to live their lives, not ours.
MG: That’s awesome. Power to you, man.
MG: Was that the government killing people? Or just some crazies who took matters into their own hands?
AA: Little of both. The people who took things to their own hands, had a lot of influence in the government and they are well known. People are just too afraid of saying it. The government says, “We are unable to protect you if you keep dressing and behaving like this.” So the government isn’t literally doing it. But they aren’t doing anything to stop it either.
MG: Ahh that sucks. Just curious, are bands able to play shows anywhere or is that just…impossible?
AA: Yeah that’s impossible. Just so few people that it’s not worth it. Maybe for the best, if too many people, it will bring a lot of attention to us. It’s very different to our culture. The closest thing to it that people interested in it is rap. So you can imagine.
MG: Can people actually gather to listen to rap, or is that impossible too?
AA: Yeah they can. We have people who go drinking and whoring and no one beats an eye. We also have bars and parties and all that. It’s not as grim as it might seem. It’s just that, people like us (excuse the expression) , the fewer, and the more strange to society they are, they are easiest as a target.
MG: Ah I see. So among you and the people you know, what metal bands are pretty popular?
AA: Depends. For me, Eternal tears of sorrow, not saying they are the best, has always had a place in my heart. Metallica, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Death, Black Sabbath and Megadeth are the most common. For good reason too.
(Metallica fans in Abu Dhabi, Dubai)
MG: Hell yeah!
MG: So I was also curious about something else. I obviously post about ancient Earth religions on my blog like paganism. How common is it for people to talk about or explore things like alternative spirituality over there?
AA: Not very common. To tell you the truth, I’m yet to find someone who’s interested in spirituality and the old religions as I am. When society is at it’s weakest point, they turn to religion. When they get comfortable with their lives, they tend to move away from it and from the concept of god, and it always seems to be one of the reasons of their downfalls. It’s like they lose their reason to live. As in example, you know how things ended in Rome. You can also see it in Europe today . I always try to find a place in between.
MG: Yeah. That’s very true. [After much further discussion about religion and what not I asked] What do you see yourself as?
AA: Well, for me I left Islam or simply stopped caring much about it years ago. Even though I studied it more than the average Muslim. And memorized almost half of the Quran. But there were things I noticed made no sense. Other are simply too harsh. Aside from stuff in the Quran and Muhammad’s life that I simply rejected all together.
About 6 years ago, I went through clinical depression. Didn’t like the proscribed drugs at all and the way it made me feel. So as I was looking for an alternative treatment, I stumbled on meditation. Maybe it was just me but, it worked great. From it, I started to learn more about Buddhism and Hinduism. As much as I loved their teachings, didn’t want to follow them but rather learn from them. After that I got into witchcraft and self-empowering. Didn’t practice any black magic, but I continued to clean my chakras, empower them, my aura and heal myself as god knows I have a lot of emotional baggage and can see how broken my soul is. I got to a point where it’s very hard to explain. I know it seems crazy but, I feel very connected to higher powers than ourselves. Don’t know what it is. But I know it’s guiding and helping me. I’m still looking to this day to recognize it. Maybe it’s just like Michelangelo’s creation of Adam’s painting. That god is in our mind all along.
“The Creation of Adam.”
MG: That’s awesome! Maybe this just shows my ignorance, but I know in some parts of the Middle East there are pretty harsh apostasy laws that can punish or even kill people for leaving Islam. Is this something you have to worry about?
AA: Yeah, but. I don’t mind. Not many people know about me anyway. But those who follow my posts and got close to me, might notice. But there is nothing I can do about that.
MG: That’s pretty badass.
MG: Do you think things will ever change in Iraq…like people will eventually be more open to these ideas that we’ve talked about, metal and alternative spirituality…or that people may embrace a more secular form of Islam that permits more freedom of expression and so on?
AA: Little bit of both. If things got better like it did before, some people will turn to science, others will follow spirituality or a form of it. Like the Sufi, for instance. But never Paganism or Hinduism. They have a very strong reaction toward it. Because it’s the main thing Islam is out to destroy. I’ll just be happy to reach a point where we have freedom and tolerance like in the US or the West. Where no one cares about what you do or believe as long as you keep it to yourself.
What I told you about civilization rise and fall. History repeat itself. I’m very afraid for Europe and the US. Because when they strayed away from religion, they didn’t make up for it with spirituality or philosophy or maybe both. I’m sure you see it yourself. People lack direction and morals. But with the internet, where it’s so easy to share knowledge, I believe there is hope. That’s why I love your blog. I believe it’s a form of what the world need. A form of mindset and understanding I mean.
(Scenes from Baghdad)
MG: I guess in your opinion, what do you think needs to change in the Middle East — or at least just Iraq — for people to move toward a more secular, less religiously extreme direction?
AA: Every era comes to the country; it puts its mood on it. Right after the fall of Saddam, there was a strong movement toured a secular direction. That quickly changed after Shia religious fundamentalists took over.
To answer your question, the policy and the parliament needs to change. They are all thieves and killers. Most of them hide behind religion to command their followers. As we are neck-deep in ignorance and the lack of objective thinking, we come to Islam for the solution to all our problems. And that’s where politicians get their votes, thus their power.
And so, we should either change the whole system because democracy only work as well as people’s education and common knowledge. Alternatively, wait for things to slowly change as it doing now since we have something we never had in a very long time. And that is the freedom of speech that the internet provides. Which gives us the power to criticize Islam and show its true face. ISIS, as bad as it was, it did us a favor. It showed the people the elephant in the room. And that’s Islam is NOT unrelated to terrorism and jihadist.
Other ways I don’t see how we can convince people in doing it. People need to read in order to have an argument with them. It works both sides, you see. You can’t play football with someone without legs. The problem is they only read school curriculums, the Quran and dream explanation books. They also need to speak English. As it will give them, a prospective they never had before and show them the world outside their sphere.
MG: Wow, very well thought out answers. Thank you!
AA: Hahaha you’re very much welcome.