The Curious Case of M.I.A.

If you hadn’t heard of M.I.A. before the Grammy’s last week, then chances are you have now.  She made headlines with her risque performance of “Paper Planes” on her due date! That’s right folks.  There was a chance of her water breaking right there on stage with the “Rap Pack”.  Anyway, the performance was amazing, there was no doubt that it created a huge spike in word of mouth and TV ratings, and that it either pissed off or impressed mommys around the world.  Probably not too much of a middle ground there.  But did you know that many people have called M.I.A. a terrorist?  Check out this video.

M.I.A. the performer.

For this post, I want to focus less on M.I.A. the performer but more on M.I.A. the person.  In light of a very interesting New York Times article entitled, The Dissonant Undertones of M.I.A, I was intrigued and did some research.

She was born in London to parents of Tamil descent.  At six months of age, she and her family moved back to their native Sri Lanka because her father wanted to fight for the Tamil Tigers, a group that has been waging a violent secessionist war with the state since the 1970s.  The Tamil Tigers are considered to be a terrorist group by the American and Canadian governments (as well as 30 other countries worldwide).  M.I.A. is a staunch supporter of the Tamil Tigers, with their cause and imagery flowing through all that she touches.  When her father joined the Tamils back when she was just a child, he changed his name to Arular, which ended up being the title of the her first album.  The government army, with whom the Tamils are fighting against, destroyed her school in a government raid.  It wasn’t even until the late 1980s, when M.I.A. was a teenager, that she started to learn English.  Before that, it was only Tamil.  It was at this time that her and family (father stayed behind to fight) moved back to London where they were housed as refugees.

Now, M.I.A.’s past and her seeming support for the Tamil Tigers does not sit well with many.  The Tamils are responsible for waging violence in the form of assassinations, suicide bombing, kidnapping, and recruiting child soldiers.  They are purported to have assassinated numerous high-ranking Sri Lankan politicians as well as the former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Ghandi.  To be fair, the other side of this seemingly never ending civil war has been just as willing to use extreme violence to get its way.  And they have India on their side.  This is why the Tamils are often seen through a sympathetic lens as the clear victim in this ongoing story.

M.I.A. the person?

Back to M.I.A.  Should we care?  Maybe it was inappropriate for her to refer to the Tamil Tigers as victims of genocide, especially when her new country lists them as a terrorist group.  More importantly, genocide tends to be extremely one-sided whereas in this case, this is clearly not true.  The numbers show about 70,000 casualties on both sides.

Apart from that, she should absolutely continue to show pride and passion for her fellow Tamils.  Personally, I feel that M.I.A., from birth, had no choice in the matter.  I think I would be more disappointed in her if she didn’t than if she did.  From the moment of her birth, she has been on the Tamil side, receiving the Tamil propapanga, hearing of their struggles and of the evilness of the enemy; their side of the story.  Her adolescence was shaped by the courage of her father who was brave enough to fight for the survival of a people and a culture (her people and culture).  Her father was clearly very inspiring for her, as the title of her first album suggests.  To put it briefly, it is part of who she is.  This identity can be found in the title of her debut album, in her videos, in her live shows, in her lyrics, in her constant use of tiger imagery, and in her whole being.  I would never want her to renounce that part of her life because it would result in her losing a big (if not the biggest) chunk of her self-identity.  It’s what makes her M.I.A.


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