MIA’s Born Free - Parable or Cynical Provocation?

Romain Gavras’ nine minute video for MIA‘s latest single ‘Born Free’ is getting a lot of attention and if you have seen it then you will know why!  It’s pretty graphic and most likely this version will be removed from YouTube as others have been.

Salon has described it as “undeniably powerful, a lurid parable on the systematic ethnic cleansing that goes on all over the world.”  I’m not sure I wholly agree as it’s just too clean (or is that part of the story?) and the acting isn’t good enough but the idea is sound.   No doubt people will dismiss Gavras’ video as manufactured controversy but if this video introduces MIA to lot of new people then all power to her!  I love her previous albums (Arular & Kala) and her politics seem to be pretty spot on too, for example:

She has routinely denounced the war in Sri Lanka and its human rights abuses against Tamils, as well as the UN’s handling of the situation. She additionally spoke out against President Bush’s “War on Terror,” commenting, “You can’t separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence, struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism.

39 Responses to “MIA’s Born Free - Parable or Cynical Provocation?”

  1. sunny hundal Says:

    Blog post:: MIA's Born Free - Parable or Cynical Provocation? http://bit.ly/9ebRJP

  2. earwicga Says:

    I seem to have knocked out the video from the post when I went back in to add the album titles. Link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcFKpC8ARpk and should be back in the post in due course.

  3. Carol Roper Says:

    Born Free's "MIA" single. WOW! This is strong. Choose humanity or choose anarchy. http://bit.ly/9ebRJP via @sunny_hundall (who quibbles)

  4. KJB Says:

    I love M.I.A! This link:


    is interesting; it explains the video a bit more (apparently the second half of the video is pretty much a homage to the film ‘Punishment Park’) and I’m going to link:


    for anyone who can’t be bothered to sign in or sign up to YouTube to watch the vid there.

  5. KJB Says:

    As I thought, shades of Battle Royale too… This has GOT to be about terrorism and immigration to some extent.

  6. damon Says:

    I don’t get this thread at all.
    Is it about the politics of Tamil Elam?

  7. damon Says:

    I just mean, that this sounds like a Sinn Féin narrative.

    ” Born in London, her family moved to their native Sri Lanka when she was six months old.
    While her father worked as a political activist, she was displaced until the age of eight due to the country’s civil war. She moved with her mother and siblings to India to escape the violence, and eventually she and her siblings returned to London as refugees.

    Unsurprisingly she is extremely vocal about her political views.”

  8. Vikrant Says:

    Was that supposed to be music? If any reason why this song oughta be taken down by youtube is, well, for being so shitty.

  9. soru Says:

    he war in Sri Lanka and its human rights abuses against Tamils

    Only when not committed by her relatives and business associates, of course.


    And Arulpragasam doesn’t downplay her Tiger connection, she flaunts it, it’s integral to her marketing. She did a mix album using unauthorized samples called Piracy Funds Terrorism. Her song ‘Sunshowers’ refers to suicide bombs (‘And some showers I’ll be aiming at you’), her first album bears her dad’s eponymous codename. Jungle guerrillas are all over the ‘Sunshowers’ video, there’s a large running tiger in her excellent concert visuals, she does a soldier step on stage and a shoutout to the P.L.O.

    At the level of an individual music fan, going white hat can be quite difficult. So much shared infrastructure is contaminated, you can go nuts trying to track it all. If you watch Bollywood, you fund criminal gangs. If you go to Vegas, you fund the mob. If you buy gas, you fund al Qaeda.

    At the same time, ‘it’s too hard’ is the main excuse people use to turn a blind eye to all kinds of injustices. You do as much as is practical. I don’t expect to agree with Arulpragasam’s ideas. She’s a Sri Lankan Tamil, they are right to be bitter about their situation. Where I disagree with them is in methods, their choice of the expedient over the good. The key is not the fuzzy politics of rebellion, it’s whether you press into service the slaughter of non-combatants as a tactic. You can’t simultaneously be against indiscriminate profiling in London and for indiscriminate killing in Colombo, by either side. ‘Sunshowers’ is less ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ than ‘I Bombed the Sheriff’s Wife and Kids.’

  10. Ravi.Nk Says:

    war in Sri Lanka and its human rights abuses against Tamils
    Only when not committed by her relatives and business associates, of course.

    She doesn’t hide her connections to the Tamil Tigers, not in her videos anyway.

    Quite frankly, while I cannot judge her for helping her side of the conflict - after all not everyone has the insight of Mandela or dreams like MLK - I certainly think that she has no credibility when it comes to human rights - considering that she helped financed a group whose tactics included killing innocent civilians - the same kind of tactic that she now is (rightly) accusing the Sri-Lankan government of doing.

  11. earwicga Says:

    Who in particular has she financed Ravi?

    Thanks for the link from 2005 Soru - the comments thread below is very interesting.

  12. damon Says:

    I would edit my previous comments if I could.
    The video wasn’t up last night.

    She certainly seems like an interesting person.
    Not sure about her Sri Lanka politics though.
    Actually, the Irish Republican comparison is quite close I think.
    Support armed revoluton and then focus on the violence that the state uses in reply.

  13. earwicga Says:

    I wasn’t aware that MIA actually does what you say at 10 damon, which is why I asked Ravi who she is supposed to have financed. I had thought her music and what I’ve previously read about her, works on exposing hypocrisy and lies in the mainstream ‘terror’ narrative as the quote in the OP seems to show.

  14. damon Says:

    I don’t know that much about her earwicga, but it’s this that I saw in wikipedia that gave me that impression:

    ”Motivated by his wish to support the Tamil militancy on the island, her father became a political activist, adopting the name Arular, and was a founding member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS), a political Tamil group that worked to establish an independent Tamil Eelam.”

    I don’t want to get into the whole Tamil issue in detail as it was discussed at great lengh here last year, but you have to blame the whole ‘Eelam’ movement for much of what happened I’d have thought.

    I wonder if she does think her father was a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution.

    Belfast has loads of these permanent memorials to to the IRA, as Republicans refuse to accept their culpability for the war.

  15. earwicga Says:

    This interview with MIA is very good: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=tavi08s1ddeq6f6 She makes the distinction between terrorism and civilian which is blurred or negated in mainstream terror narratives.

    MIA has already done the required terrorism condemnation as demanded from anyone who speaks on the subject, saying:

    “I don’t support terrorism and never have,” she wrote in a statement. “As a Sri Lankan that fled war and bombings, my music is the voice of the civilian refugee.”

    Well worth reading the whole source: http://pitchfork.com/news/29930-mia-responds-to-pro-terrorism-accusations/

    This is interesting too: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=29567856229&topic=4892

    I look forward to Ravi’s reply as he seems to know more about this. I’ve read about LTTE symbols all over MIA’s website but so far I haven’t been able to navigate the site to find them - maybe later.

  16. Ravi.Nk Says:

    I wasn’t aware that MIA actually does what you say at 10 damon, which is why I asked Ravi who she is supposed to have financed.

    I assumed based on what I read that she was a public supporter of LTTE and that she did finance them through her music. But I could not find any evidence of either, so I was wrong to say it. I found this article interesting.

    But I still feel that she does seem to sympathise with LTTE in her videos. Here is another video. And it’s not even subtle (watch the whole 10sec).

  17. Diana Yeboah Says:

    Watch M.I.A Born Free new video http://j.mp/deTojq then go here http://www.hrw.org/ this is all.

  18. Diana Yeboah Says:

    @nyloncube Have you seen M.I.A new video? http://j.mp/deTojq puts all of this into perspective

  19. earwicga Says:

    Thanks for the link Ravi - good stuff:

    I see no sign that she supports the Tigers. She obsesses on them; she thinks they get a raw deal. But without question she knows they do bad things and struggles with that. The decoratively arrayed, pastel-washed tigers, soldiers, guns, armored vehicles, and fleeing civilians that bedeck her album are images, not propaganda—the same stuff that got her nominated for an Alternative Turner Prize in 2001. They’re now assumed to be incendiary because, unlike art buyers, rock and roll fans are assumed to be stupid.
    M.I.A. has no consistent political program and it’s foolish to expect one of her. Instead she feels the honorable compulsion to make art out of her contradictions. The obscure particulars of those contradictions compel anyone moved by her music to give them some thought, if only for an ignorant moment—to recognize and somehow account for them. In these perilous, escapist days, that alone is quite a lot.

    I have to say that I hadn’t known of an actual supportive link between MIA and LTTE and thought what I stated at 11, but was open to any other evidence. I am relieved that you hadn’t found any. I read some stuff about the lyrics of Sunshowers earlier but haven’t the link to hand atm.

  20. earwicga Says:

    Anyways, what do you think about the video above?

  21. damon Says:

    Of the video itself, I thought it wasn’t so good.
    It might have been filmed well, and as a bit of a ginger myself, it made me smile.

    I still prefer the Stiff Little Fingers approach to political music/art.
    (From 1979).


  22. James Says:

    “Paper planes” is still a great song though

    ““Paper Planes” by MIA
    No song better describes Britain’s and America’s irrational fear of brown people than does this anthem for immigrants and oppressed minorities everywhere. The gunshots and ringing cash registers only serve to make the song all the more memorable—and relevant. ”


  23. KJB Says:

    I have to second Vikrant, actually - I don’t think ‘Born Free’ is particularly tuneful!

    But I still feel that she does seem to sympathise with LTTE in her videos. Here is another video. And it’s not even subtle (watch the whole 10sec).

    So, she has said that she doesn’t sympathise with the LTTE, but you think she does, so she does?

    From what I remember from reading her Myspace blog a few years back (2006 or 2007, I think) and features on her (I think Guardian and Pitchfork, she features the tigers because she’s inspired by them. A tiger was one of the recurrent motifs of her Central St. Martins work. I think she did have an ambiguous feeling about the LTTE for a while, as the ‘Freedom’ skit on Arular suggests (just found this link, which is interesting.

    However she has never glorified terrorism as far as I know, despite people claiming that she does. A lot of those who claim that don’t actually listen to her. Nor is she ‘anti-American,’ as has been repeatedly implied - she’s moved there, ferChrissake!

  24. KJB Says:

    Not sure what happened to the closing brackets in my comment, there! It’s not letting me edit it though, so ho hum.

  25. Ravi.Nk Says:

    So, she has said that she doesn’t sympathise with the LTTE, but you think she does, so she does?

    KJB - I showed two instances in which I believe she uses less than subtle LTTE imagery in her videos (#8 and #14). You do not have to accept what I say, I am just expressing my personal opinion.

    Anyways, what do you think about the video above?

    I find the message too raw and explicit, and didn’t think much about the music. Definitely a provocation. :)

  26. dave bones Says:

    The tune is crap but nothing about this is offensive. I was more offended by Paul Mason appearing next to a massive graffitied dick on newsnight (6 min 37 here)

  27. damon Says:

    a massive graffitied dick on newsnight

    I looked and looked.
    It’s like ”Where’s Willy?”

    Actually the MIA video is pretty rubbish.
    It’s like it’s directed at high school kids.
    It’s cliched and hackneyed.

    It reminded me of this advert on the TV for becoming a teacher in Britain.


  28. Mango Says:

    MIA is in 2010 what David Bowie & Eric Clapton (“Enoch was right”) were in the 1970s.

    Hell, its even up on Youtube :)

    MIA’s simply being disingenuous avoiding saying what we all know; her open support for the LTTE. And then she has the chutzpah to whinge about racism..

  29. earwicga Says:

    I had no idea about Bowie & Clapton. Apparently Clapton’s tirade spurred on the creation of Rock Against Racism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Against_Racism

    Bowie apologised and disassociated himself from his comments - Clapton never has!

    I don’t agree with your comments about MIA though as I’ve never seen ‘her open support for the LTTE.’.

  30. Mango Says:


    MIA’s lack of ‘open support’ for the LTTE? Here you go, straight from a Lankan hippie/stoner’s blog:

    MIA’s lies on a Bill Maher interview:

    “Folks like MIA are the root cause of the problems in Sri Lanka. They do not live in Sri Lanka or haven’t lived their long enough to become an authority to speak on the situation in Sri Lanka. Yet they continue to promote hate. Being Tamil alone doesn’t make her knowledgeable on the situation in Sri Lanka.

    She pretends to have had a rough life, but she never lived in Sri Lanka. She was born in the UK, and returned briefly to the island because her dad who was an explosives expert for the Tamil Tigers and he wanted to return to blow a few people up.”

    As for Clapton, it proves again that musicians aren’t perhaps the most intelligent of people to comment on politics. Loving and playing the blues, yet .. um.. wanting to “get the foreigners out, get the wogs out, get the coons out” and repeatedly “Keep Britain White.” It s also worth recognising the good guys who stood up to Clapton & the racists.

    The Clash, Buzzcocks, Steel Pulse, X-Ray Spex, The Ruts, Sham 69, Generation X, Tom Robinson Band, Graham Parker and the Rumour, Misty in Roots etc.

  31. earwicga Says:


    Clapton’s 1976 speech is on YouTube but I didn’t get that far into it as it is gross.

    I’ve had a read of Bailaman’s posts about MIA and am very far from convinced. I’ll have a look through the links when I have time but there is nothing there of substance.

  32. Naadir Jeewa Says:

    Voyou has some interesting comments on the video.:

    The problem with MIA’s new video is not, as Anna Pickard claims, that it is “too shocking,” it is that it is not shocking enough. The video’s big “reveal,” that the state’s violence is directed at the redheaded, turns any possible shock into pure silliness. Now, I imagine someone will say that I’m missing the point here, that prejudice directed against redheads is really no more silly than prejudice directed against black people or Muslims, and that by showing us this, the film makes a serious point about the arbitrariness of racism. This is wrong: racism is indeed unfounded and constructed and arbitrary, but it is not silly. The mistake here lies in thinking that, because racism is based on a social construction rather than a biological reality, it is therefore unreal, a mere error or fiction with only a mental existence in the psyche of racists. But in fact there is little more real than social constructions, because they create, and exist through, a material reality of practices and distributions of people and things. By eliding this materiality, and suggesting that an alternative racial reality could be produced simply by an arbitrary switch of what signifiers are racialized, the MIA video flatters its liberal audience, reinforcing the belief that racism a matter of ignorance or error that can be avoided by the sufficiently enlightened.

    Worse, perhaps, the video ends up letting the actual racism and violence of the US state off the hook. The first half of the video presents us with a mystery: who are these police, and why are they raiding this building? The moment when we see the bus full of red-haired young men functions as an explanation, an explanation which immediately places us in an alternative reality in which the US features a number of signs of oppression that suggest places out side the US: Northern Ireland (murals) or Palestine (kids in keffiyehs throwing rocks). The problem is, that this, it seems to me, strongly suggests that we should see the first half of the video as also part of this alternative reality; but police raids of this sort are of course no “alternative” at all to actually existing US reality.

    Also, at The Monkey Cage, there’s discussion of what new directions the Tamil diaspora will take after the LTTE:

    Over the course of the past thirty years, the Tamil diaspora has largely been viewed as the finance arm of the LTTE . While this oversimplification overlooks the multiple forms of activism within the diaspora, the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 did initiate new discussions amongst a broad segment of the diaspora community, all of whom were profoundly disappointed with the inaction of the International Community. It was determined that in the absence of a “popular democratic Tamil organization”, the needs of the Tamil people lacked credibility in the eyes of the International Community. (Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam Advisory Report).

    Drawing upon examples of diaspora engagement in Italy, Eritrea, Israel, and Croatia, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam is conceived as an independent, nonviolent, political project that will not transgress the laws of any host country.

  33. KJB Says:

    Good Lord, now it’s being discussed on Cif!


  34. Naadir Jeewa Says:

    Your transphobia isn’t going to win you any allies. None worth having, anyway.

    Neither will your anti-intellectual truthiness.

  35. Bob Says:

    As has already been pointed out, MIA’s father A.R. Arudpragasam - after whom she named her first album - was a founder of EROS, which was an entirely different organisation from the LTTE.

    As a Marxist tendency EROS placed great emphasis on theory - Arudpragasam was the author of an influential analysis in the early ’70s that argued the case for an independent Tamil state (as distinct from a federal solution to Tamil self-determination, which was the established Tamil policy at the time).

    The LTTE, by contrast, was always the least theoretical, least political and most mindlessly militaristic of the Tamil militant groups that emerged in the ’70s.

    EROS was inspired by the PLO and tried to build a Tamil liberation organisation along similar lines, i.e. as a broad movement in which a number of political tendencies would work together. To that end, they were consistent advocates of the unity of the Tamil liberation forces.

    The LTTE, too, was in favour of a united movement. But in their case they sought to pursue that aim by eradicating rival organisations and establishing the LTTE as the exclusive representative of the Tamil people.

    In line with its non-sectarian approach, EROS was always willing to co-operate with other Tamil organisations, including the LTTE. After the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force entered the north in 1987 in an attempt to disarm the Tamil militants, EROS supported the LTTE’s policy of resistance to the occupation - unlike the EPRLF, which discredited itself by collaborating with the Indian army.

    EROS got no thanks from the LTTE for its support. In 1990, after the IPKF had been forced out, the LTTE presented EROS with an ultimatum - either they joined the LTTE as individuals or withdrew from active politics. If they continued to operate as an independent organisation the LTTE would liquidate them. MIA’s father was one of those who chose to withdraw from active politics.

    After that, the LTTE had achieved its objective of establishing itself as the only effective force conducting the Tamil liberation struggle, all of its rival organisations having been marginalised or destroyed. Supporters of the fight for an independent Tamil state were therefore forced into a situation where they had to give at least critical support to the LTTE against the Sri Lankan army.

    (And in many cases this support was highly critical. I read an interview with Arudpragasam a while back in which he referred to the LTTE having employed “terrorist” and “fascist” methods to establish its hegemony.)

    From what I can make out, this was the position that MIA adopted with regard to the Tamil liberation struggle. It was one she held in common with many throughout the Tamil diaspora.

  36. Taz Says:

    RT @pickledpolitics Pickled Politics » MIA’s Born Free – Parable or Cynical Provocation? http://bit.ly/daOaR7

  37. Noxi Says:

    MIA’s Born Free – Parable/Cynical Provocation? | Pickled Politics http://ow.ly/1FT7D http://ow.ly/1FT85 >> c on Vimeo #racism #genocide

  38. Mango2 Says:

    Bob, that’s an excellent summary of internecine struggle Tamil terrorist groups, which the LTTE won by the simple strategy of killing everyone opposed to them. Say what you want about the LTTE, but there were no shades of grey in their struggle to achieve a racially cleansed statelet. They did the ‘You’re with us or against us’ mantra long before Bush II.

    There’s one missing bit of info. MIA’s father came to the UK to escape death at the hands of the supposed ‘sole representatives’ of the Tamil peoples, the LTTE. Odd how MIA doesn’t mention that.

    But what MIA & rest of the LTTE-supporting Tamil diaspora could not and would admit to is how the West-based diaspora responded enthusiastically with a massive fund raiser (2005-6) to assist the LTTE in their preparation for the ‘Final War’ to retain their mini-statelet. The same people now whine and moan about the LTTE having being crushed.

    The best way to characterise the LTTE’s diaspora supporters is as a mixture of embittered Miami-based anti-Castro Cubans exiles combined with the racists of Aryan Nations. Different skin colour, same ideology. Their campaign for a race-based separate state (in which none of them will ever live in) will continue for some time, albeit with a reduced level of credit card fraud in petrol stations.

    There are of course other Tamil voices, now able to speak since the demise of the LTTE.

    Diaspora of doom (Nirmala Rajasingam)

    Naadir: I owe you an apology. I should’ve realised that as a supporter of transgendered persons, you’d be offended at being lumped in with the LTTE. That’s the last thing you guys/girls need. You’ve got enough prejudice to deal with, without being associated with those nutters. It is the TransnationalGovernment of Tamil Eelam.

    Digression: PP’s mission statement says” “At the same time we need to highlight the enemies of this revolution: the self-serving community leaders, the bigots and the religious fanatics. We need to expose them, attack them, ridicule them and gather evidence against them.”

    MIA and other apologists for the LTTE are indeed “bigots”, given the irredeemably racist nature of the LTTE. Odd that my comments exposing their bigotry seem to be censored. Hmmm…

  39. earwicga Says:

    Mango - I don’t know what happened to your last comment. I disagree entirely with your ‘links’ between MIA and the LTTE.