MIA’s “Born Free”: A Powerful Statement

8 Jun

British music phenom MIA’s recent video, “Born Free”, has been labeled everything from ‘shocking’ to ‘controversial’, ‘politically charged’ to ‘thought-provoking’.

The nearly nine-minute-long clip serves as a catalyst for exposing the terrors of war. It’s undeniably powerful, a lurid parable on the systematic ethnic cleansing that goes on all over the world (in many shapes and forms). It’s an unflinching exploration of this reality, as exacted upon red-headed, fair-skinned citizens of a fictional state.

Though boldly explicit, MIA has brought into the open what has been almost a taboo subject. “Born Free” is a direct assault against racial profiling, genocide and state oppression which still sadly exist – in the 21st century! It’s also a not-so-subtle allegory of the conditions faced by ethnic Tamils today in Sri Lanka.

YouTube removed the clip due to its graphic content on the day it was released, triggering an avalanche of publicity. Isn’t this a video the world needs to see? “Born Free” compels viewers to question their own apathy, essentially asking:

What if this happened to you?

For those who know little about MIA (real name Maya Arulpragasam), she is a singer, songwriter, designer and political activist of Eelam Tamil origin. Oscar and Grammy-nominated in 2009, she is also listed by Time Magazine in its ‘Top 100 World’s Most Influential People’.

MIA has been outspoken against the genocide of Tamils and the conflict in Sri Lanka, where countless civilians were killed and thousands more are under military occupation, behind barbed-wire detention camps (about 1/3 of a million since May 2009). UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the situation, “I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen.”

“Born Free” conjures images of the Channel-4 clip broadcast last year which showed Sri Lankan Army soldiers summarily executing unarmed Tamils. Its shocking evidence of war crimes in which more than 40,000 innocent civilians were brutally massacred within months in a war waged without witness. The death toll alone is more than that of Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia and Congo put together last year. How many of us are aware of these ghastly figures?

Channel 4 video (discretion advised)

MIA’s video hits home not just because of its shock and awe effect, but because it highlights that people don’t think, care, or worry about genocide that goes on in other countries. If it’s not happening in our front yard then we usually don’t pay much attention to it.

In 1948 the United Nations adopted ‘The Genocide Convention’ as a pledge to ensure such crimes against humanity would never be repeated. But since then, the world community has consistently failed to prevent the occurrence of genocide in places like Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and now…Sri Lanka!

As MIA strikingly points out, “Never Again” has become just an empty slogan! Many oppressed minorities share this pain and loss, despair and misery all over the world. They also bear the scourge of our collective ignorance and inaction. We could do worse than opening our eyes. MIA’s video, at the very least does just that!

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