Yesterday the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona, appeared on the Tavis Smiley show to refute what were allegedly “misinformed” remarks made by M.I.A. on Smiley’s show in January. “Being the only Tamil in the Western media,” she said then, “I have a really great opportunity to bring forward what’s going on in Sri Lanka. And there’s a genocide going on.” These comments, combined with a bunch of hilariously circumstantial and misunderstood evidence (such as a single image in the background of a music video that “looks like the rebels’ logo: a roaring tiger”), led the New York Times to brand M.I.A. an “apologist for the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels fighting in the country’s long-running civil war.” A claim without much merit, if you ask me.
Smiley, however, reached out to the majority Sinhalese government for comment. Their flack, Palitah Kohona, had this to say: “M.I.A. is a great artist, and we wish her well. But sorry–I think she is misinformed, and it’s best that she stay with what she’s good at, which is music, not politics.” Kohona proceeds to detail the ever-shrinking terrain into which his government has bottled the Tamil Tigers: roughly thirty square miles.
So I guess the argument being made here is that when M.I.A. starts talking about “genocide” in Sri Lanka, she’s unfairly equating government persecution of terrorists with government persecution of an ethnic minority.
This is where Amnesty International is at with this issue:
Amnesty International has called upon both parties to the conflict to immediately declare a temporary humanitarian truce and create humanitarian corridors. This would allow more than quarter of a million trapped civilians to escape the ongoing war and also let food, water, and medical assistance reach those civilians who cannot leave.
The organization also demanded that the Sri Lankan government ensure that displaced people who have fled the conflict zone to transit centres do not face improper restriction on their movement and are kept safe.
In other words, the government is killing civilians–whether Tamils or otherwise, on purpose or not.
This is where the U.S. State Department is regarding the conflict, as of February 3rd:
Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Miliband call on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree to a temporary no-fire period. Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies.
We welcome today’s statement by the Tokyo Co-Chairs (Norway, Japan, US and EU) jointly expressing their great concern about the plight of thousands of internally displaced persons trapped by fighting in northern Sri Lanka. We join the Co-Chairs and call on the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka not to fire out of or into the safe zone established by the Government or in the vicinity of the PTK hospital (or any other medical structure), where more than 500 patients are receiving care and many hundreds more have sought refuge. We also call on both sides to allow food and medical assistance to reach those trapped by fighting, cooperate with the ICRC to facilitate the evacuation of urgent medical cases, and ensure the safety of aid and medical workers. The LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka must respect the international law of armed conflict.
And this is the deck on a recent piece from the BBC:
The report goes on: “An HRW report accuses security forces and pro-government militias of abducting and “disappearing” hundreds of people – mostly Tamils – since 2006.” So Human Rights Watch, at least, does think there’s an ethnic component to the bloodshed here.
But what the fuck do I know? I may be “misinformed”; maybe I should stay with what I’m “good at.” But I continue to wonder: what exactly is M.I.A. saying that’s untrue, except for arguably the ‘genocide’ part–not, by the way, her main thrust. Again, she said this, too: “If I represent anything, it’s what it’s like to be a civilian caught up in a war.” Parse her comment above (“Being the only Tamil in the Western media, I have a really great opportunity to bring forward what’s going on in Sri Lanka”)–besides the fact that she’s saying “Tamil” instead of “Sri Lankan,” and “genocide” instead of “mass indiscriminate murder of civilians, that may or may not be targeted towards Tamils,” what is she doing that’s particularly offensive? People are dying in her country, among them her people, in both the ethnic and familial sense: This, as far as I can tell, is the point. And that fact’s got nothing to do with music.