Rapper or Terrorist?
As if hip-hop didn’t already have enough on its shoulders, now immigration officials are treating MCs like terrorists. The June 15th issue of Rolling Stone reports that British/Sri Lankan rapper MIA was denied permission to enter the US, where she was scheduled to start work on her new album. Always one to poke fun at the situation, the MC wrote on her Myspace page: “Roger, roger do you hear me? Over!!!! The US immigration won’t let me in… Now I’m strictly making my album outside the borders!!!” MIA’s agents, William Morris, later denied the claim, saying that immigration simply hadn’t gotten back to them (a nice way of saying her application has been “held up”). The controversy over all this is a bit confusing since MIA already toured and worked in the US as recently as last year. But under all the damage control coming from her agents, there’s the possibility of something a bit more calculated -- and all too common in the climate of the war on terror and an anti-immigrant backlash.
MIA (born Mathangi
“Maya” Arulpragasam) is part of a growing number of politically charged
artists. Her lyrics, delivered with a streetwise intelligence, take on
everything from consumerism and poverty to exploitation and war. She’s
unabashedly outspoken, and a supporter of liberation movements around the
world. Her audience has quickly grown within the past year, and her debut
was named one of the best album of 2005 by Blender, Spin,
Rolling Stone and a handful of others. As usual, militant stances and
a wide audience are a dangerous recipe for some. The US government has
been a frequent visitor to her website, and MTV has refused to air her
video for “Sunshowers” unless she takes out references to the Palestinian
Liberation Organization. Likewise, she has spoken in favor of the Sri
Lankan guerrilla group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (better knows
as the Tamil Tigers), which her father is a member of. The Tigers, long at
war with the Sri Lankan government, are branded by the US as “terrorists.”
A handful of magazines and blogs have speculated that her connection to
them may be the reason for her being blocked from the US. Against the
background of Republican and Democrat alike screaming for tighter borders
in the war on terror, this should come as no surprise.
Which brings us to today. Some leftist writers have mentioned that the exploding immigrant rights movement has let many South American immigrants expose their own radical traditions to a generation of young people. If this is true, then MIA’s own radical background, mixed with her uncompromising attitude and growing popularity, are something the US would want to close its borders to. But the claim of protecting our borders from “terrorists” rings hollow. When it came to granting asylum to Luis Posada Carriles, a former El Salvadoran death squad member and anti-Cuban mercenary, the US pulled out all the stops. But when it comes to a smart, articulate Tamil MC working on her album, the Land of the Free is suddenly “Closed for Business.”
The latest news is
that MIA’s lawyers are still working on getting her stateside. And despite
what the MTV censors and immigration officials want, she’s not going
away. It’s obvious that she’s got more music to make and more things to
say, and this controversy will only add to her buzz. I can’t wait for her
next album… provided the Migra lets it be released!
Other Articles by Alexander Billet