The Kominas' "Freedom" video makes a mockery of the TSA's racist profiling
"So when you say you're in a group... you mean a jihadist group, right?"
"I mean a musical group," bassist and vocalist Basim Usmani answers with a stunned sigh.
It's one of many such questions the band fields over the course of the video, directed by Omar Majeed and on Mic, spliced into footage of a riotous punk show. This entirely unsubtle form of discrimination is something that the band — frequently hailed as leaders in the Muslim punk Taqwacore movement, a combination of the Arabic word for "God-consciousness" and hardcore, mispronounced as "Tackwhacker" by the agent in the video — has been finding new and creative ways to illuminate for over a decade. They confront it throughout their most recent album, 2015's Stereotype, where "Freedom" appears.
As absurd as they might seem, the questions are not unlike those that the band — all of them men of color, most of them Muslim — have actually had to answer in screening rooms, and in journalistic interviews, in the past.
"Most of the questions they would ask me would be this 'good cop, bad cop' stuff, where they were throw in a couple of, 'Oh, you play in a punk band? What do you think about CBGBs closing down, man?'" Usmani said in a phone conversation of the four-hour screening sessions he would frequently face returning to the United States after visiting family in Canada.
Immediately following the chummy punk question comes the bad cop's poorly timed hammer drop: "'On a scale of 1 to 10, how Muslim are you?'"
It's either an extremely dumb question, or one so profound it would take a lifetime to truly know, Usmani jokes, snuck right in with all the unassuming questions about one's personal life.
"It's always like, 'Oh, yeah, I was a punk too' — whatever you are, they are as well," Usmani said. "They're not legally required to tell you the truth. It's a lot of lies to relate to you and then a lot of inane questions about whether you're Muslim, how often do you pray, have you ever shot a gun in Pakistan. None of the questions tie to each other. They must make sense on the weird piece of paper that they keep away from you."
It worth noting that this profiling is not new. The band hasn't taken many trips since Donald Trump was elected president; these screening protocols are likely remnants of the Patriot Act, or even older prejudices. Trump deserves none of the credit for instituting this new level of scrutiny, or for the direction the Kominas' music and videos have been taking in recent years.
"It almost feels too easy to write about this administration or to put Trump in a song," Sunny Ali, the band's guitarist and vocalist, said. "We have an album that we just finished, and one of the first comments we get is, 'Can't wait to hear your anti-Trump song.' And we're kind of like, 'There isn't anything that specific.'
"It's almost insulting because I feel like we've been making great music and anti-establishment music. Trump didn't trigger us dissenting ... People try to give him credit for every negative thing that people react to, like, 'Trump has brought us all together.' That's not really the case. It's just that some people are finally showing up."
Along with their new video, the Kominas have announced a new tour alongside riot grrrl band Giant Kitty, who will be promoting their coming album Rampage. A press release describes their new album as their "most aggressive, timely, and personal piece of work yet," featuring "songs raging against the status quo as well as celebrating their identities." Check out the dates below.
June 8: Richmond, Virginia — Banditos Burrito Lounge
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