One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

If you play M.I.A.’s songs backwards, they reveal a secret terrorist plot!

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Belting out terrorist ballads, to be sure

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s clear that NYT reporter Thomas Fuller, for whatever reason, is promoting some sort of agenda that the work of artist M.I.A. has “dissonant undertones” supporting Sri Lankan terrorists. Perhaps it just makes for a more attractive headline to claim that a famous pop artist sympathizes with a little-known (in the West, at least) rebel outfit, but regardless, his article makes a good case study of both journalistic bias and an inability to parse the distinction between “separatist” and “terrorist.”

It should become clear to the reader right away how Fuller feels about M.I.A. when his lede describes her as “the very pregnant rapper who gyrated across the stage at Sunday’s Grammy Awards.” Umm…I can think of slightly less condescending ways of describing a woman who almost won a Grammy (okay, meh) and who defied the reigning stereotype that pregnant women should cover up their bodies and sexuality (props).

That, however, turns out to be better than how Fuller portrays M.I.A.’s reputation in Sri Lanka: “virtually unknown” or “an apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels,” who have also been designated a terrorist organization — by governments, including Sri Lanka’s (of course) and the United States’, as well as by a conveniently chosen Sri Lankan songwriter who describes them as “perhaps the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.”

Look, I am not an apologist for the Tamil Tigers. They are indeed ruthless, having perpetuated more than their share of horrific murders and abuses. They may even be the “most ruthless” in the world, though I, no songwriter by any stretch, am not going to get into the game of ranking the world’s terrorist organizations by their ruthlessness.

No, my only point is to describe the stage set by Mr. Fuller. The evidence he musters in playing up M.I.A.’s alleged terrorist sympathies is weak at best: a tiger in the background of one of her videos that “looks like the rebels’ logo,” M.I.A.’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Sri Lanka, and the nameless opinions of “Sri Lankans who have seen her videos.” Fuller’s contention that M.I.A.’s use of the notorious “g-word” puts her on the “outer fringe of opinion” may come as news to many rather mainstream activists, for whom the country is typically on “alert” lists of potential genocide. That “at least” ethnic cleansing has occurred or is occurring in Sri Lanka is on even more solid ground, given the notoriety of the Sri Lankan military’s disregard for civilians and use of sweeping ethnic-based tactics to root out Tamil Tiger rebels.

Moreover, even if Fuller succeeds in proving M.I.A.’s Tamil sympathies (aha! an ethnic Tamil sympathesizes with the people of her homeland!) — surely following up on those of her father, a shadily described “leader in the Tamil separatist movement” — that is a far cry from supporting Tamil Tiger terrorists, as Fuller rather crudely suggests. Tamil separatist movements preceded the Tigers, they existed at the same time as the Tigers, and they will likely endure beyond the Tigers’ demise. To conflate the two is an insult to both peaceful Tamils and to the entire principle of clamoring for autonomy.

Not at all incidentally, it is only in the third-to-last paragraph of the piece, juxtaposed rather lamely with one about a sickening video of “of people being blown up by Tamil Tiger bombs and subtitles about M.I.A. being a terrorist,” does Fuller include this short acknowledgment.

M.I.A. responded that she did not support terrorism.

Good to have her side of the story.

Personally, I think the worst M.I.A. can be accused of is riding on the trainwreck that was Slumdog Millionaire. But here’s this anyway.

(image from v e. under a Creative Commons license)


February 11, 2009 - Posted by | Foreign politics, media | , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Well in Sri Lanka anybody who questions the Government is a terrorist. The Defence minister stated that in a BBC interview.

    “We are being labelled terrorists by state media for expressing concern for civilians killed in a warzone” – Sonali Samarasinghe (widow of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the crusading Sri Lankan editor who was shot dead last month)

    Sri Lanka on the road to Dictatorship

    Comment by Sunderapandyan | February 11, 2009 | Reply

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