By Sonja Sharp
BROOKLYN–If you read us regularly or if you’ve ever glanced at the header, you probably know how 3rdWorldImagineer feels about the enormously pregnant Ms. Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., the South London Tamili grime star. As I wrote back in December, M.I.A. is the real thing when it comes to imagineery sampling and all-world street cred (she hopped from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nad to South London to Bed-Stuy, for crying outloud). So you can imagine how stoked we all are to see her performing at the Grammys and nominated alongside A.R. Rahman for the Oscar. And how completely disappointed when the Times freshly minted Colombo correspondent uses this moment–the deepening of a humanitarian crisis so severe that the world can no longer turn a blind eye to it, and the ascent of an exceptionally talented artist to whom, until the awards season, the Times had been equally deaf–to pen a hackish, one-dimensional piece on her radical personal politics, as though it were revelatory.
(I’m linking the piece here, just so we have a frame of reference going forward)
Are you just now picking up Arular, Mr. Fuller? (M.I.A.’s debut album is named for her father, Arular Arulpragasam, who joined the Tamili separatist movement in northern Sri Lanka in the 1980s). Do you miss Guragoan? No air-locked malls in Colombo, innit?
There’s lots to say about M.I.A’s politics and her amusing incoherence in expressing them, but the fact that the Times JUST dumped somebody in Colombo last week is so apparent, its ugly.
And what started all this Tiger-gate hullabaloo in the first place? Apparently, nobody gave a shit that M.I.A. was a radical back in JANUARY, when the Daily Beast published this (pretty good) article, including this snippet of interview: “The situation is systematic genocide, ethnic cleansing,” she says by phone from L.A.
“I want my fans to know I’m not tryin’ to be like Bono. Someone Irish talking about what’s going on in Africa. I actually come from there and the fact is that this is happening now. The war has been going on for a long time, but it stepped into the genocide bracket recently with the new President. I lived in Sri Lanka when the campaign for ethnic cleansing started and if I could stop it and see the end of it in my lifetime that would be amazing. I can’t justify my success otherwise. I can’t justify getting nominated for an Oscar or a Grammy, that to me wouldn’t mean anything if I don’t actually get to speak about this. It’s not like I’m trying to sell records, I’m trying to stop the death of 350,000 people this month.
Ok, Arulpragasam’s mouth is kind of a mess sometimes, and yeah, there were those troubles with her American visa back in 2007 and maybe 360,000 refugees does not a genocide make, ans sure, THIS is not the most coherent thing ever written about the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, but are you serious? The fact that exactly 1/2 of all the features to come out of Sri Lanka since the Times finally parachuted in a reporter are about a rapper living in Brooklyn is just disgusting.
You don’t have to be a journalist or following Sri Lanka to know that Mr. Fuller really had his head up his ass on this one.
Just look how Randeep Ramesh (the Guardian’s Sri Lanka Correspondent and my current journo crush) handles the EXACT SAME SUBJECT. And again. His liberal use of the double-quote tiptoes on the absurd, but the Hurculean effort at fairness ultimately pays off.
Or check out the Hindustan Times, who managed to get a hold of Grandfather-to-be Arulpragasm in London for fluff piece (which is all Tiger-gate should have warranted in the first place) that is succinct, coherent, and lacks even vaguely racist cricketing metaphors.
Arulpragasam may not be politic about her politics, but at least she comes by them honestly. When did we start expecting refugees to be unbiased about the countries and the conflicts they have fled? When did we start asking artists to show us the world we look for on CNN? And when, sweet G-d, did we start asking our rappers to be special envoys to the United Nations? Anyone who knows anything about covering conflict knows that nobody lies like an eye witness. Anyone who thinks M.I.A. should keep her her radicalism under wraps and her big mouth shut misses the MOTHER FUCKING POINT.
The fact that it takes an emphatically pregnant young rapper who samples Bollywood and AK47s, writes songs about Bird Flu and does Day-Glo animal-print schizophrenia as an ethos rapping with Jay-Z on her due date to make us stand up and take notice of a conflict an order of magnitude more deadly than the one in Gaza should say something about us, not her.
In the words of the lady herself:
THE TRUTH TO WHY I LEFT TO SRILANKA WAS …
A. I COULD , I WAS BORN IN LONDON.
B. EVERY TOWN AND VILLAGE MY MOTHER TOOK US TO WOULD GET BURNED DOWN BY THE ARMY. IN THE END EVEN THE TAMILS WOULDN’T LET US STAY THERE AND AFTER MY SCHOOL WAS SET ON FIRE BY THE ARMY, I HAD NOTHING TO DO THERE, AND WAS REALLY FUCKING BOARD.
C. FUCK YOU TO ALL THESE EVIL PEOPLE TWISTING THE TRUTH. YOU DONT SPEAK FOR ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I CAN SPEAK FOR MY SELF.
D.WHAT PEOPLE NEED TO UNDERSTAND IS THAT YOU DONT HAVE TO BE A TAMIL OR A LTTE SUPPORTER TO KNOW THAT BURNING DOWN A SCHOOL WITH 800 KIDS IN THE NAME OF FIGHTING TERRORISM IS NOT COOL. I AM NOT A LTTE SUPPORTER. I WAS JUST AN 8 YEAR OLD THAT DIDNT GET KILLED ON THAT DAY, THATS ALL. I’M A MUSICIAN WHO DOESNT WANT TO TALK ABOUT THIS AGAIN AND AGAIN, ESPECIALLY IN THE MUSIC PRESS.
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR HEARING THIS
EVERYTHING IN ME WAS KILLED BUT MY ART IS NOT DEAD!
i love you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx m.i.a