I really like that M.I.A. single "Paper Planes." But I hear she supports terror. Is that true? Is she a terrorist?
—Mela, Los Angeles
Don't bother trying to catch M.I.A. at the border. Haven't you seen the Pineapple Express trailer? She's got papers in her name!
For the record, M.I.A., also known as Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, is a Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil who spent much of her childhood in England. Her father is credited as a cofounder of a militant pro-Tamil group EROS, which, in turn, was once linked to the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers have been labeled a terrorist group by many countries, including the United States.
In a 2005 interview, M.I.A. was adamant that she doesn't support terror:
''I've heard lots of people say that I'm part of a terrorist group and I'm singing about that, and singing songs for them, but that's wack, I'd never do that," Arulpragasam told the Australian paper The Age.
But that denial hasn't stopped other people—including fellow musicians—from attacking M.I.A. as a violence-loving bomb hugger.
Rapper DeLon, also of Sri Lanka, has launched a mini-anti-M.I.A. campaign on the Internets, recutting the "Paper Planes" video with images of Tamil Tiger bombings and child soldiers, and openly questioning whether M.I.A. supports terrorists. DeLon notes that M.I.A. consistently uses tigers in imagery—on clothes, in videos—and that M.I.A. has called her father a "freedom fighter."
"In the video, we didn't really accuse her of being a Tamil Tiger," Marshall Shen, head of DeLon's record label, Ceylon , told me today. "But we're asking, Why she is putting these images out there if she doesn't support them?"
Further clouding the waters are some of M.I.A.'s lyrics and her past difficulties in obtaining travel visas from the U.S. government. One of her singles, "Sunshowers," tells the story of a Sri Lankan suicide bomber, adding, "Like the PLO, I don't surrender." In 2006, the U.S. denied her a visa to enter the country to perform, reportedly because of her controversial lyrics, but allowed her in the following year.