Video: MIA on Tavis Smiley Show

by Winston "Stone" Ford

Even though I really wasn’t into MIA when she first debuted, I am now a fan, and I have to give her much respect for getting nominated for both an Oscar AND a Grammy in the same year. The very pregnant MIA stopped by Tavis Smiley’s show for a pre-Grammy interview. She aslo gives a rundown on the interesting situation in her home of Sri Lanka.

Part 1

Part 2

  • Jack Muirhead

    Dear Tavis Smiley,
    I just listened to your interview with M.I. A., and honestly I could not believe her assertions. The only thing I will grant her is that I have heard, in the USA, Sinhalese sometimes use “those people” language that sometimes makes it unclear if the speaker is talking about the Tigers or the larger Tamil people. In all the conversations I’ve had in Sri Lanka, I’ve felt that Sinhalese distinguish between Tamil and the Tigers.
    The Tamil population is a minority in Sri Lanka, but it in many ways was a somewhat privileged minority during colonial times. For the past fifty or sixty years, positions they had once held have been taken from them, and there is a Sinhalese-Buddhist sense of entitlement that is problematic. There are other minorities in Sri Lanka including various Muslim groups, some of whom have been victims of Tiger violence. Some Muslim victims would probably consider themselves victims of genocide.
    I know nothing of M.I.A.’s personal family situation in Sri Lanka. They certainly could have victims of violence. There are many Tamil people who fled the country to save their families. Some families got their sons out so that they wouldn’t be victims of the government army or so that they wouldn’t be victims of the Tigers. Many families fled from Sinhalese violence. Other Tamil families fled because they were targeted by the Tigers.
    There may be a reason for M.I.A.’s anger that I don’t understand, or it may be that she is one of many who don’t have to face the real harshness and can lazily posture. The Tamil population of the Sri Lanka is small, but the Tamil population of the world is huge. I remember being shocked by a successful South Indian Christian working in the U.S. who said had he been born in Sri Lanka he would have been a Tiger. There was a time of tremendous sympathy for the Tigers in Tamil Nadu based mostly on ethnic identity.
    The talk about the small numbers of Tigers and how weak they are is wild. It could be said that the Indian Army was defeated by the Tigers. The number of presidents, prime ministers, cabinet members, mayors, judges, teachers, etc. who have been killed or maimed by the Tigers is astonishing. These include Sinhales and Tamil and even an Rajiv Gandhi. This is a terrorist group with a leader who is as intractable as Osama bin Laden, and to my mind more unreasonable.. This terrorist group has been a money generating machine. Extorted money and donations from Tamil communities in the West have kept this group well supplied. Stealing children from families has kept a supply of canon fodder and suicide bombers available. Stealing money and material from wealthy Tamils adds to the money supply. Plus there is a real propaganda machine operating on the Internet. Information is hard to get because the once free press of Sri Lanka has been greatly quieted by the government. There seem to have periods when the government forces did commit horrendous atrocities, and periods when they brought the forces under control. I think it is hard at the moment to know what is happening in the small area of Tiger control right at the moment. The government doesn’t let reporters in, and it would be a tremendously difficult area to report from now in any case. The incident of the suicide bomber killing soldiers and civilians in an area of refugees a couple of days ago shows the horrific situation that both the Sinhalese soldiers and the Tamil civilians face.
    Also, M.I.A. better not hope for a change in US policy. The only difference between Obama and Bush is that Obama might actually know where Sri Lanka is and he might know sometimes of its demographics and its history. I would expect that he would be as happy to see the end of Prabhakaran as he would be to see the end of Osama bin Laden. American policy in any case puts Sri Lanka very far back in its list of priorities, but if a military defeat of the Tigers does happen, Obama will be much more sensitive to rebuilding and repairing and the grievances of Tamil civilians than the Bush administration would have been.
    I wish that the reconstruction of Sri Lanka could be in the hands of its Malay Muslim or some other real minority that has had to work to see things from various sides. There will be plenty of crazies on the Sinhalese side. We don’t need crazy talk from ex-pat Tamil entertainers.
    Tavis, thank you for reading this.

  • Stone


    Much thanks for your comment. Very enlightening and insightful.

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  • Jessica

    I would just hope to offer some clarifications…

    M.I.A did not seem to indicate any prejudices of the Singhalese majority in Sri Lanka. The distinction between the Sri Lankan government and the Singhalese must also be made. She only indicated towards a problem the Tamil (and Muslim) minorities face in finding a political voice in both the Sri Lanka and International public.

    She did not mention any support for the activities of the LTTE, in fact implied a dislike for them. Forgetting her father’s background, forgetting her ethnicity, and her reasons for being a refugee she highlights a crucial issue: the importance of the minority voice.

    Yes many politicians and citizen who have held high positions in office in Sir Lanka have been killed, but let me ask you how many of them have been Tamil of Muslim? How many members of the cabinet are Tamil or Muslim right now? and if there are even so, which voice do they really represent and are they even heard?

    The percentage of Tamil and Muslim people in Sri Lanka is in fact larger then the PERCENTAGE of African-American people in America. Though a minority, it is a significant one at that. Now America has an African-American president. This is seen as a victory for emancipation and revered as a beacon of hope. Will the same ever be done in Sri Lanka?

    Even Tamil and Muslim people will agree with you on the atrocities of the LTTE and that power and greed has irreconcilably corrupted them (even those living overseas, and I can definitely vouch for that) likewise, Singhalese people acknowledge the atrocities of the Sri Lankan government. But no one can deny that there is a severe contention of liberties that exists in Sri Lanka today. Whether Singhala, Tamil, Muslim, Indian or Malay, the people of Sri Lanka are NOT being represented fairly by their own government, a government with a long history for greed, deceit, corruption and in clear violation of human rights. The fact is that Sri Lanka is listed as a priority for sch organisations a Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The UN, The Asian Human Rights Commission and the World Organisation Against Torture, just to name a few, this can not be for no real reason of concern. However, many of these organisations are denied safe access as the Sri Lankan government claims to deliver such aid themselves. Unfortunately, since such claims Sri Lanka has only risen in the lists for Abuses Against Human Rights.

    Though it may not seem of great importance but it is precisely “those people”-type language that generates a larger problem. It creates as much of an idealogical divide as a physical divide that is damaging and moves further away from reconciliation. The Sri Lankan diaspora community (both Signhala and Tamil) living in eg: Canada, the US and England, many are still living in 1983 and do not see the country’s current disarray for what it really is. Most have not been back since they fled and the reality is that the conflict has drastically changed since.

    I encourage those who are concerned to truthfully research and investigate claims. Really decide for yourself rather than relying on the current media or the stories your friends, parents and relatives have told you.

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