Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 November 2020

Beats not bullets: meet the man using words as 'weapons' to spread the message of Iraqi protesters

MC Anhar is using his position of safety in Sweden to stand up for fellow Iraqi citizens

Photo provided by MC Anhaar
Photo provided by MC Anhaar

The frustrations of Iraq’s anti-government movement have found many artistic outlets incuding murals, cooking and poetry. The latest expression of Iraqi citizens' plight has come from the lyrics and beats of refugee artist MC Anhar.

The 22-year-old rapper, who currently lives in Sweden, is striving to give a voice to those who are afraid to speak up during one of Iraq's worst political and public crises in years.

“My voice is the voice of people. My lyrics carry the words that people want to say out loud but are afraid of doing or expressing their opinions,” MC Anhar told The National.

The young artist said he felt he had a duty to send a message to the world about what has happened to his country since the US invasion of 2003.

"My responsibility is to convey the ideas of Iraq's young generation through music," he said.

MC Anhar started to gain attention on social media after speaking about the troubles the country's youth have endured over the last decade.

For the last two months, the country has been shaken by deadly protests that spilled across the capital and southern provinces.

Protesters accuse the government of being inept, corrupt and beholden to neighbouring Iran. Their demands have been met with a brutal response from the country's security forces.

More than 400 people have been killed and 19,000 wounded since the protest movement started in early October, the UN has said.

“The world has failed to support Iraqis in their uprising against the ruling political elite,” MC Anhar, who would not reveal his real name, said.

“No-one has reacted to the death of hundreds of innocent people," in the protests, he added.

MC Anhar, who is of the Mandaean religious minority, left Iraq in 2007 with his family after his mother was held at gun-point by masked men.

“We were told to either convert to Islam or leave Iraq because this country is not our place,” he said, adding “Of course these gunmen do not represent Muslims but only themselves,” he said.

His family settled in Syria before moving to Sweden in 2011. Despite his geographical distance from the protests, he says his heart is with those on the streets.

“It is our duty and the duty of all Iraqis including those abroad to be the voice of people who are afraid to speak out,” he said.

MC Anhar's videos on social media have gained the attention of thousands on Instagram and YouTube but his new found fame has also attracted unwanted attention.

In his latest song, MC Anhar raps about the anti-Iranian sentiment seen in the protests that have rejected Tehran’s brand of Shiism.

In a message directed at politicians in Baghdad, MC Anhar says "you are all complicit and responsible..only taking orders from the Marjaiya [senior Shiite clergy] whilst brushing aside a martyr's mother's scream."

Often explicit, MC Anhar's music is dripping with anger and sarcasm about the way his people have been treated.

"History has shown us that sarcasm can create revolutionary movements,” the artist said.

The most prominent aspect of this is the Iranian backed political parties and armed militias. To those protesting they are viewed as corrupt and implicit in extreme violence against Iraqi demonstrators.

“This is our weapon. This is the real revolution. We want a civil Iraq, a secular Iraq with freedom of expression where no one can be forced to accept a faith, ideology or thoughts,” MC Anhar said.

He conveys this Iraq in his songs.

“If someone has an opinion then he should be free to say it without having any restrictions,” he said.

During the day the young artist studies architectural engineering and aspires to return to Iraq to reconstruct the war-torn country.

“A famous lyric of mine says ‘to build my country, I have to study engineering’ I’m optimistic that one day I’ll be able to rebuild Mosul and the rest of the Iraq,” he said.

Mc Anhar is part of a growing number of Iraqi artists who are addressing this issue. Fellow rapper, Narcy, became the first major hip-hop artists to come from the Arab world.

Narcy dropped the “Bigger than Baghdad” song which is a salute to Iraqi protesters rallying against corruption and violence.

The song begins with a segment from a patriotic tune by singer Abdallah Jasim, in which he says “Oh, Iraq! I want to see and you are on my mind. I want to wipe your tears, my dear.”

Updated: December 24, 2019 01:48 PM

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