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When Cyrus McGoldrick takes the stage, he’s not himself. McGoldrick raps as The Raskol Khan, often
'Just by being us'
Muslim rapper hopes American society would edge closer to acceptance, move away from hate.
By Madeline Dubus – NEW YORK
with the Freddy Fuego Sextet, an evolving group of musicians based in Harlem.
The name Raskol is based on the main character in Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. McGoldrick describes the first part of his pseudonym as “a rebellious force in society who’s trying to do the right thing but struggles with his environment and self.” Khan, Arabic for king or chief, “channels a vestige of an imperial mindset, a long history of conquest,” he says. It is a history McGoldrick hopes to cleanse himself of.
McGoldrick is not famous. He’s not revolutionary. He is a college student, a musician and a writer. He is also Muslim in America. McGoldrick is part of the first generation of young Muslim Americans to go through their adolescence and early adulthood post-9/11.
“9/11 was the first day of high school,” McGoldrick recalls. In the years since 9/11, he feels there has been a weakening of the Muslim identity.
When forced to identify in relation to others, “the identity loses its pride in itself,” he says. “The worry is that to be a good Muslim in America you need to not be something, as opposed to what you can be.” McGoldrick wants to serve others and foster a unified Muslim community in America.
The son of an Iranian mother and an American father of Irish descent, McGoldrick was born on 22 January 1988 in Newport, Rhode Island and raised in Perkasie, Pennsylvania. His mother was born and raised in Tehran; she left the country at age 17, just before the Iranian revolution in 1979.
McGoldrick doesn’t believe that one day people from every culture will get along, but he does believe that we have the potential for greater acceptance of the Muslim people.
The shift between coexistence and acceptance to fear and hate is evident. It should not even be a question in our society anymore, but McGoldrick hopes there is a way to restore balance. “Just by being us,” McGoldrick says, “[we could] make Islam a normal part of people’s lives.”
The misconception of Islam leaves those in the Muslim community feeling alienated for defining
themselves in their own positive terms. McGoldrick is not immune to this feeling; in fact, it seems to be the source of both his hope and uncertainty in life. “Sometimes I feel lost,” he says, pausing to look down at his hands. “I trust that I’ll see good come from this time – sometimes we don’t have time to pause and see where we are.”
He ultimately finds his music and The Raskol Khan to be the greatest forum for addressing issues he and Muslim Americans face today. “Music is part of my ministry,” McGoldrick says.
When he raps with the Fuego Sextet, as he often does, he speaks about his personal struggles and the political and social issues that resonate in him the most. After the Israeli Navy raided the largest ship in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla on 31 May, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens of others, the band organised an upcoming show into a memorial.
“Some people didn’t agree [with the message],” he says of the night, “but everyone was into [the music] and got something out of it.”
McGoldrick believes the power of hip-hop music lies in the opportunity to reach a more progressive audience which he believes are “automatically more receptive”, considering the genre’s history of confronting political, social and racial injustice.
And therein lies the purpose of The Raskol Khan: by honestly depicting McGoldrick and his history, he believes the audience can then see themselves more fully.
“Rappers represent themselves as the height of achievement,” he says. “But this character is the beginning.”
Madeline Dubus is a staff writer for Campus Progress and graduated from The New School University in May 2010 where she was named a writing fellow in journalism. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. The full text can be found at www.campusprogress.org.