Jihad Love Squad: Radically Redefining Jihad

If he hasn’t already, American producer Sam Spiegel is about to blow your mind. Spiegel, who is famously associated with the band N.A.S.A., has recently collaborated with KRS-One to hit the world up with a single showing his interpretation of what “jihad” really means.

The colourful dust seen in the video exploding from the woman’s chest is meant to symbolize love and positivity spreading and affecting the bodies around her. This, Spiegel wants to stress, is the meaning of jihad; the struggle within one’s self to create goodness on a wide reaching scale. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that the video itself is an act of Sam’s own jihad.

While Spiegel is not an Indian or a Muslim, he was inspired to make this video to put a personal twist on how Western media is portraying Muslims across the globe. In essence, Spiegel is challenging an image that has been created by people of his own cultural background. Jihad is a controversial issue mostly because few understand the root of the word or how jihad should actually be employed.

Sam Spiegel talked to MuslimGirl about his video and all the controversy that it’s garnered thus far.

MuslimGirl: So who is Sam Spiegel and what was his purpose behind Jihad Love Squad?

Sam Spiegel: I’m an artist … Music is my favourite medium. Writing music is one of the more intuitive and emotional art forms. It’s much more about the heart than the head, so when i wrote “Jihad Love Squad” i was just in the zone and creating, and not really conscious of why I was making it. In hindsight, I think it probably came from having this image of Muslims and Arabs as violent extremists, terrorist, and suicide bombers tirelessly shoved down my throat by the western media. I was so tired of that rote stereotype that I wanted to counteract it and flip it on its head by doing a song about a jihad of love.

How did the idea of Jihad Love Squad evolve?

Spiegel: I’ve been exploring the music of the Middle East, India, and North and East Africa a lot on this album. This song started with a sample that a friend, Kool Kojak, had recorded with a vocalist while he was visiting Israel. We built a track around it, and while we were writing the track, the idea surfaced of doing a song about a love-terrorist: a man so full of love that his heart exploded love on everyone around him, rather than hate or death. This is when the idea for the video came about.

Did you receive any support for this project — in particular, from any Muslims?

Spiegel: Yes, I consulted a good friend of mine who is from Pakistan who used to wear a ring that bore the word “jihad,” and mostly by cold-emailing Muslim websites that I felt might be aligned with my intention, or asking friends and friends of friends to watch the video and to give me their feedback. I was lucky enough to speak with several Imams and religious Muslims, which alone was a great experience I never would have had if it weren’t for this video.

The word “jihad” stimulates various reactions, but what was your reaction from when you first heard it to the final point of using it as the main title of your music video? What type of response did you want it to trigger?

Spiegel: The first time I really put some thought into the meaning of the word “jihad” was when I spoke to my friend who is Muslim and whose family is from Pakistan. He explained to me how deeply the word has been misappropriated and stigmatized by extremists from its original meaning.

He has Sufi leanings and was the first to tell me of the Sufi view of the word, which is much more about the inner struggle. Since then, and I think partly inspired by him, I’ve grown to really love and appreciate Sufi writing and poetry. They have such a beautiful way of looking at the world, and finding poetry and meaning in everything.

How do you feel about the way the media depicts Islam? And how do you think the world will perceive a non-Muslim addressing an Islamic controversial issue?

Spiegel: It’s obvious that the Western media paints a one-dimensional, sensational and violent picture of Muslims. I’m not saying that there aren’t violent Muslim extremists out there. They do exist… as do extremists from many other religions, ethnicities, etc., but I think what we see in the West is clearly not a fair representation.

My hope with “Jihad Love Squad” is that people receive it with an open mind and an open heart. I know I’m dealing with some sensitive issues here, but the intention behind the video is one of love and unity. That’s a sentiment that most everyone can get behind, no matter what your belief system is.

What stimulated the idea in the video of a woman who leads a perfect life, and is a mother herself, and turns into a jihadist? More importantly, why did you choose a woman instead of man?

Spiegel: Originally, our love terrorist was going to be a man. As I got deeper into writing the video, I decided it would be more interesting to have a powerful woman being in charge of her love-terrorist cell. Again, almost all we see in the media are violent Muslim men, and there is a stereotype that is also pervasive in the West that all Muslim women are subjugated. I loved the idea of having a woman running the show!

Last December’s terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 100 children remains a very sensitive issue. Were the parallels to this scene that were shown in your video intentional? Did you want a deeper reaction from your audience or did you simply want to convey a message?

Spiegel: We are so over-stimulated with content: art, messaging, advertising, social media, etc., that it can be hard to get people’s attention. Particularly in the realm of social change and politics, if you are conveying a positive message in a vanilla or uninteresting way, people often won’t pay attention, or even if they do, they won’t REALLY FEEL your message in a deep way.
I made a video about a very sensitive subject that I knew would make people uneasy. By touching on people’s fears, I could engage them on a more visceral and emotional level. I think it helped to drive my message of positivity, love and unity home in a powerful and effective way.

Were there any sort of risks you encountered while making this music video?

Spiegel: I knew that people might react in a negative way to the video because it’s such a sensitive subject. I was afraid that people wouldn’t understand the intention behind the video, and might hate me for it. Because I love making stuff so much and collaboration is such an important part of how I work, I was also afraid that people wouldn’t want to work with me and that someone might even want to hurt me or my fans if I released it.

Were there any obstacles you faced in going ahead with the Jihad Love Squad project?

Spiegel: Yes, because I also had to part ways with my management. It was really tough, because I’ve been working with them since the beginning of the N.A.S.A. project five or six years ago, and I have so much love and respect for them.

When they told me that they couldn’t work with me any longer if I released “Jihad Love Squad,” it really made me reconsider whether releasing the song was the right thing to do. After all this, my heart was still telling me that I had to release “Jihad Love Squad.” I deeply believed in this song and video. I knew that it had to come out, and I also felt like part of my creative soul would die if I shelved it.

 What sort of reaction did this video get from the Muslim community? Did it seem to bother anyone that you come from a Western background? 

Spiegel: This is so interesting!

Almost all of the people who were so afraid of how this video would be received were scared of how the Muslim community would react to it. With a few exceptions, these were mostly Westerners who don’t understand much about Islam or its culture.

We’ve just released the video. It’s been out for a week, and we’ve just started sending it out to the press, but the place that it’s spread most quickly and has had the most viral traction has been with Muslims! They love it! So many people in India and in the Middle East are seeing the video and really enjoying it. And most importantly, they’re understanding it and feeling the love and positive intention behind it.

What aspect of the Jihad Love Squad project did you enjoy the most?

Spiegel: I was doing something that I deeply believed in with all of my soul. My heart told me to make the song and video, and ultimately to go through with releasing it. So it’s been a beautiful experience. I’ve learned so much about Islam, Sufism, and Indian culture. I’ve spoken to imams and met new people I never would have known if it weren’t for “Jihad Love Squad.” I wouldn’t change a single part of this journey.


Image: NASA