Over Memorial Day weekend the New York Times Sunday magazine did a full-length feature article on British/Sri Lankan Tamil singer Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (M.I.A). The timing of this story coincides with the one year anniversary of the end of the 26 year conflict in M.I.A.’s home country, Sri Lanka. Although the article could have provided a space for an important conversation about Sri Lanka, conflict, and M.I.A’s past, response to the article has centered around whether M.I.A. eats truffle french fries.
Even though M.I.A. is not an expert on international relations, diplomacy, or human rights, people (myself included) pay attention when she talks about Sri Lanka. Maybe we listen because she tells the New York Times things like, “I don’t want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I’m a terrorist.” Or maybe it’s because she adds a crucial individual perspective on the ethnic violence in Sri Lanka, on the experience of displaced persons, and on the way we perceive international conflicts.
As M.I.A. promotes her new record, questions inevitably turn toward the conflict in Sri Lanka and her support of the Tamil Tigers. In addition to supporting humanitarian missions to Tamil regions of Sri Lanka, M.I.A. consistently works to increase global awareness of violence in Sri Lanka. The Sunday New York Times piece quoted M.I.A. on genocide, terrorism and concentration camps in Sri Lanka. M.I.A. knows she has a special opportunity to highlight human rights in Sri Lanka. She told the New York Times, “The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”
In just two weeks, I’m headed to Sri Lanka- a place M.I.A. hasn’t been able to visit in years- as a fellow with The Advocacy Project. I’m especially excited to work in the post-war period where advocates on both sides are calling for answers, accountability, and justice. I’m also excited about the opportunity to develop a more nuanced view of the conflict, to use this blog to discuss human rights in Sri Lanka, and to raise awareness.
For now, M.I.A. represents the only remotely personal connection many people have to the conflict Sri Lanka. She is so compelling because of her personal story, her creativity, and her willingness to speak her mind. For me, M.I.A. demonstrates the importance of context, of individual narrative, and of the immense impact one person can have on a situation. During my fellowship, I hope to contribute to the rights advocacy at HHR and to add equally compelling individual narratives to the conversation on Sri Lanka.
Posted By Kerry McBroom
Posted Jun 5th, 2010