x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Victory and loss for Libyan-American rapper Khaled M

The Libyan-American rapper has been making a name for himself at home and overseas.

The Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. Courtesy Khaled M official website
The Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. Courtesy Khaled M official website

When Libya's revolution began, Khaled M was a minor rapper and activist from Lexington, Kentucky.

More than nine months later, he has become one of the go-to Libyan commentators in the US, not to mention he has raised his profile as an emcee within Libya.

It hasn't happened, however, without a price.

From his base in Chicago, the 26-year-old Khaled Ahmed has been actively supporting the Libyans since the first non-violent protests against the Qadaffi regime began. During that time, his Twitter and Facebook accounts have been glowing from posts applauding the Libyan protesters, debunking the Libyan state propaganda and raising awareness about the Qadaffi regime to Qadaffi sympathisers.

But for Khaled M, the uprising against Qadaffi didn't start on February 17, when Libyans in large numbers took to the streets to protest against the regime. It began long before he was born, when his father and grandfather were imprisoned for their activities in the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (the NFSL). When Khaled M's father, Mohamed Ahmed, after months of careful planning, managed to escape his cell before his planned execution and flee to Tunisia on foot, it was with the Libyan intelligence tracing his footsteps. So Khaled M spent most of his childhood on the run from Qadaffi's hitmen until the family settled in Kentucky, creating a community with about 100 other exiled Libyans.

Tragically, Khaled M's father died in 1994 in a drowning accident at the beach while saving his sons from a strong undercurrent.

"All the Libyans from across America came to Kentucky to visit," Khaled M recalls. "I kept in touch with everybody since then and have always been active for the cause."

Active is perhaps an underestimation. Because of his vocal criticism of Qadaffi and his extensive knowledge about the country, the regime and the opposition front, Khaled M has been featured in most of the American mainstream and underground hip-hop media, commenting on the development. Suddenly, the Kentucky-based Muslim found himself forecasting the end of the Qadaffi regime on media channels that included CNN, ABC, NBC, National Public Radio and the BBC.

But while all that exposure may have boosted his music career, his politics also lost him many fans - which he could quantify through Twitter and Faceook.

He has more than 10,000 Facebook fans and almost 3,000 Twitter followers; but every time he gained 50 new fans, he lost 100 - many who seemed to oppose his support of the Nato-led intervention in Libya.

In August, one blogger called Khaled M "a faux-revolutionary poster child of The CIA-Mossad NFSL". These kinds of accusations and uncompromising stands against Nato were a blow to the passionate activist, but they also served as an eye-opener.

"I learnt a lot about other people and about myself through this whole situation," he said.

He explains that there were foreign leaders in the past who he would have empathised with just because they had been vilified in the US.

"But now I realise it's the same thing people are doing about Qadaffi, they don't know the first thing about Qadaffi, but they know America didn't like him."

Although, he adds, Qadaffi since 2004 "has been a puppet of the US".

"It wasn't until the writing was on the wall that America jumped on board. Same thing with Mubarak in Egypt."

Khaled says he believes that the US will always work for its perceived best interest.

"But for me to support an end of a massacre doesn't mean that I wholeheartedly support the whole US foreign policy or Nato as an organisation."

This month, the rapper's International Freedom Tour took him to California and Arizona in an autumn that also has seen him performing in Cairo and Montreal.

Although the rapper has been to Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia, he has so far never visited Libya. After the liberation his mother was able to return to visit relatives, and Khaled M says he is leaving as soon as his current tour is over - most likely to continue it inside Libya where he now has a large fan base. He will also meet another Libyan hip-hop artist, Ibn Thabit, with whom he has a collaboration project on the way. The first place Khaled M will visit is a mountain on the border of Tunisia where his uncles have told him his father had carved his name.

"It seems almost arrogant to put myself on a stage and perform, he said. "But hopefully I will be able to touch some lives and inspire - of course, as well as being inspired."