Sunday, February 22, 2009

M.I.A. ain’t giving up the Tamil cause


While she was in labor, barely a week ago, M.I.A. was getting criticized harshly by major newspapers (yes, this one too) for her Tamil sympathies, which are often simplistically equated with “glorification of terrorism.” The logic, apparently, is this: If you are a Tamil (as she is), and you sing about war (as she does), and if you evoke the images of that war (as she does, with tigers and tanks), and you don’t take a side (as she doesn’t), then you are guilty of taking the wrong side.

She fans the flames by claiming a Tamil “genocide,” which is inaccurate and irresponsible. But she has the right to sing what she wants to sing, and to call the world’s attention to the war that has been destroying her homeland for the better part of 30 years, taking 70,000 lives.

Did N.W.A. “glorify” gang violence with “Straight Outta Compton”? Did Charles Dickens “glorify” poverty and child labor in Oliver Twist? Intelligent people should be offended by these questions. Smart and politically engaged artists raise difficult questions and direct their audience’s attention to injustice and pain. Listen to her fucking music: she’s not glorifying anything and she’s no terrorist.

She responded to this most recent salvo of criticism with information to corroborate her point of view. On Friday — nine days after giving birth — she posted the following to her MySpace blog:


The first link is about a Tamil man who burned himself in front of a U.N. building Switzerland, with a note saying: “We Tamils, displaced and all over the world, loudly raised our problems and asked for help before (the) international community in your own language for three decades. But nothing happened.”

The second quotes Human Rights Watch in saying that the Sri Lankan government is indiscriminately “slaughtering” civilians in their attacks on the Tamil Tigers.

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