Seth Cohen PR recently sent me an e-mail entitled “Hip-Hop in Iraq” that I clicked on with interest. Generally I’m all in favor of Americans learning more about the cultural scenes in countries we’ve bombed the shit out of. Actually, I’m in favor of us learning about them before we bomb the shit out of them, but to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to hell with the foreign policy you have, not the one you wish you had.

I don’t doubt that there’s probably some really intense underground hip-hop acts in Iraq, even if they have to deal with martial law and no electricity (just like the metal band I blogged about a few months ago). But the e-mail wasn’t about that stuff at all. It was a plug for American Voices: “The U.S.-based non-profit organization American Voices literally transported a faculty of U.S. and European music, dance and theater instructors into Erbil to create a nine-day educational opportunity for nearly 300 aspiring, young Iraqi artists. This was the first such initiative of its kind in the history of Iraq.”

Nice, but am I missing something? Is there some way in which this is not blindingly naive head-patting at best and imperialist propagandizing at worst? “See, Americans aren’t so bad! We’ll hold a concert in the Green Zone with a small invited audience (per this interview with founder John Ferguson), play some Duke Ellington for you, and you’ll see we really do care! And look: hip-hop dance workshops!” Way to brown-wash the White Man’s Burden, guys. Workshops for Iraqi youth, great. But I tried to find a way in which the “cultural diplomacy” didn’t seem ridiculously one-sided, and I just wasn’t finding it.

By the way, a quick google of “Iraqi hip-hop” brought me links related to Euphrates, an Iraqi group currently based in Montreal, Timz, an Iraqi-American rapper, and an Iraqi’s blog that mentions hip-hop on the soundtrack of the ‘Voices of Iraq’ documentary. Not a lot of info on the Web. That’s a real shame: I worry a lot more about homegrown artists who might want to get out of a war zone than well-fed ones wanting to get in.