MIA is an incredible artist, but she is not the spokesperson that Sri Lanka needs right now

Sri Lanka isn't the same island that MIA left behind many moons ago

Ravi Amaratunga
Friday 16 January 2015 18:17
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British rapper M.I.A at Lovebox 2014
British rapper M.I.A at Lovebox 2014

I’ve just re-watched MIA’s interview on Channel 4 News about the recent Sri Lankan elections.

I love her music, and being a British Sri Lankan myself, I think it’s great that she’s been so successful.

But I’m cringing. Why? MIA (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) has a lot of valid concerns over the make up of Sri Lanka’s newly elected administration. But she refers to “the Tamils” as a unified minority race, and claims that there's an “ethnic conflict” that still needs to be resolved.

According to her, it's a conflict that dominates the future of the island. “Right now we need to focus on what Tamil people need,” she says. According to her, it's the Tamils and not the Sinhalese majority who “embraced peace” since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended five years ago.

It’s a bit odd for me that the 39-year-old rapper, who hasn’t been back to Sri Lanka for over a decade (after she was banned in 2001), is being wheeled out as "spokesperson of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka’" by the British media.

By her own admission she’s only seen the plight of the Tamils via “videos on YouTube” and “Amnesty International” in recent years. That’s not necessarily her fault and, in her defence, she has had gory encounters with the Sri Lankan government in the past.

But as a half-Sinhalese, half-Tamil Brit a generation below her, she’s certainly not speaking for me. I feel it’s time for some alternative viewpoints on Sri Lanka here in the UK.

In her recent interview, MIA displays a disconnect with what’s actually happening on the island. Sri Lanka isn't an island defined by a Tamil minority at war with a Sinhalese majority. MIA left that island behind many moons ago. Tamils live across the island, and alongside Muslim, Christian, Chinese and other minorities, all of whom have a part to play in Sri Lanka’s future.

When you visit, it’s hard to ignore the younger generation of Sri Lankans of all races, who have a totally different vision of their Island’s future to MIA. It is these new voters who helped vote in the island’s first new president in over a decade, and against all odds.

The previous president, Mahinda Rajapakse, brought about the end of a bitter war, but did so in the most controversial, brutal of ways, which has been well-documented by many human rights organisations. During his tenure there have rightly been fears over free speech and democratic freedoms, in spite of significant economic growth.

MIA is an incredible artist, and it’s amazing to have a Sri Lankan pop warrior like her. So it’s weird for me that part of her modus operandi appears to be to drive a race-based perception of Sri Lanka solely focused on its 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

Sri Lankan society is a lot more complex and vibrant than that now. And most importantly, most young Sri Lankan’s who actually live on the island just want to move on from its bitter war.

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