MIA & The Transformation of Islamophobia

Ebony Turner, Opinion Editor

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Our country has never been the same since 9/11 but something that never crossed my mind was the fact that our entire world was stunned by the events of that fateful day—stunned enough to begin a worldwide phobia that would come to life should any individual so much as wear a burka, turban or hijab into an airport. Racism takes many forms and often times people think that only prejudice and discrimination can occur against the Black community. That limits our subconscious when we treat others within the confines of that mindset; it convinces us as a society that so long as we’re not hosing down Black people in the streets, we are moving forward into a post-racial country.

That is not true at all, and a woman that has not taken too kindly to these assertions is Sri Lankan native and rapper MIA. Fortunately for her, and many other artists that are socially aware and politically conscious, she is able to use her platform and have a sit down with the agents of change – the youth. However, as the decade turned so did the days of music videos as a political structure. Now these moving interpretations of lyrics are nothing more than soft core porn and not-so-humble bragging; even artistically, artists are afraid to take a chance and actually say more than what they’re lyrics will allow. The directors are no better and consistently take the convenient route rather than taking advantage of the level of influence and power they have over entire generations. This seems to be an ongoing trend for a lot of people in power nowadays, but few are able to actualize that music and media are the two major structures in our society that can change the mindset of a people.

MIA’s first hand attempt at using music and videos to generate a political consciousness within her audience was with her mini-mockumentary ‘Born Free.’ The treatment for the music video was entirely inspired by the killings of young Tamil males by the Sri Lankan army that went viral just the year before this video’s release. She adapted the themes of political oppression, excessive military force and racial genocide into nine minutes of film directed by Romain Gavras. Rather than taking the literal route, MIA and Gavras decided to allow the audience to use their brain by depicting genocide against young men and women with red hair. They were stripped from their homes, some of them even hiding from their fate even though they would all be found, and driven to a barren desert plateau. It was then that the video took a turn and the red-haired teens were instructed to run while being shot at by rifles. The film-video was just as defiant as MIA herself, in that nothing was left to the imagination. She wanted you to feel every bullet that went through their skulls, she wanted you to see the pain of your life being in someone else’s hands; she wanted her audience and the world to finally see what another countries reality truly is, and in a way that they can understand and not allow preconceived notions to hover over their common sense.

It was a necessary moment in music, because finally an artist wasn’t hiding behind fashion, tattoos and Instagram momentos as their way of broadcasting just how rebellious they were – she was doing it creatively and through her music.

Before ‘Born Free’ she only gave her listeners a glimpse of her culture through colorful, Sri Lankan inspired graphics with music videos that took you from the shanty towns of Ghana to the sweaty, bass-infused clubs of the West Indies. She is a woman obsessed with culture that are not even her own, and is not embarassed by her intelligence and awareness, and refuses to allow the mainstream culture to mute her in any fashion. Just a year after this single was released with the video, France enacted a law that banned burka’s and niqab’s from being worn in public. Full face veils could lead to a fine of anywhere between 80 and 140 euros. The law was a blatant violation of the personal freedoms of Muslim women in France who wear burkas, a population that in 2011 was estimated at 2,000; the Muslim population in France, however, was estimated between four and six million. Why was their form of religious expression deemed unfit for society and not nuns’? What is the fundamental difference aside from the fact that only their eyes are visible?  The entire religion was being held responsible for the actions of militant radicals, which only proves that Islamophobia is everywhere.

The United States has taken the subtler route by enforcing a more strenuous TSA screening and the silent skepticism from Americans when the sight of any individual wearing a turban or burka boards the plane. Little insight was given to Americans, or any person who was not from that culture, on who they were as people. They were only associated with the violent actions that they had no part in which is not represented in their faith, and MIA returned to put in her effort to change that state of mind. In ‘Bad Girls,’ MIA teamed up with Gavras again to serve up another video that was more fun in execution but still at its core had a message.

Imagine another over done installment of Too Fast, Too Furious: Middle East Ghost Riding. While it may seem a little farfetched, that was essentially the treatment for ‘Bad Girls.’ The lyrics in the song were a bit redundant, infused with the same level of narcissism and bragging that hip-hop is no stranger to, but the video had a message that was less familiar. People of the Middle East are human beings. They feel the judgment they receive when they walk into a room of weary eyes, and their culture is so much greater than our fears. They also have excellent taste in vintage BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes and can soup up a Mercedes wagon with neon lights and a transparent body kit. They also can ghost ride a whip with such finesse, E-40 may have to remove the original credit from the Bay Area. The video was so intoxicating, watching it once was not enough, and I can only imagine the bigots all across the world saying: “I almost forgot they were Muslim.”

The point MIA wanted to make was that you shouldn’t forget who they are or what they’re culture is; forgetting is what led to the discrimination they have been subjected to all along. No culture is defined by the mistakes by individuals of their past or even the mistakes of their near future unless they allow themselves to be. The only way anyone can grow from a moment of error is to acknowledge it, use it as a point of reference to learn from, and move forward. It is no one’s place to keep others from moving forward from mistakes that are not representative of the collective.

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