A few hours ago, two aircraft flown by a terrorist group, LTTE, recognized as such by the US, were foiled in their attempt to attack the Sri Lankan capitol of Colombo. Thought both planes were shot down, two civilians were killed and forty-six others injured.
In an article in the New Yorker, (Jane Mayer, ‘The Hard Cases,' New Yorker, 2/23/09), argues that the Obama administration faces the tough choice of closing Guantanamo Bay and other detention centers holding so-called enemy combatants who have never been charged with a crime, and being accused of going easy on future terrorists. There is the old argument that it is entirely possible to take an ordinary civilian and transform them into a terrorist simply by treating them as such, for what else but revenge might occupy the mind of an innocent human in solitary confinement for five years. But that is hindsight. The task now is to proceed with cautious speed toward justice and that requires the reassessment of definitions of "enemy combatants" and the multiple layers of incarceration, torture and prosecution that defined the Bush era.
But as Neal Katyal, the new Principal Deputy Solicitor General in the Justice Department (i.e. the person authorized to represent the government before the Supreme Court), and the President find their way toward the surprisingly broad line that separates the terrorist from the person or group with a justifiable grievance, there is another issue that Americans as a whole, particularly American liberals, need to confront: their relationship to minorities, particularly as it pertains to the classification of terrorists.
America's checkered past viz-a-viz its own minorities has made it both capable of massive collective goodness (i.e. two and a half years of working toward the election of a man with solid foreign-resident credentials and a name that echoes America's chosen anti-Christ, bin Laden), and equally all-encompassing myopia. Liberal Americans have, for decades, made the usually, but regrettably not reliably, flawless argument that minority status confers upon that minority the right to unquestioned support and a corner on the market on truth. President Obama, himself fairly and squarely a minority, owes his success not merely to the fact that he has done what most minorities have to do in order to achieve the kind of respect he enjoys, i.e. be above reproach in terms of his integrity and intellect, but also to the fact that he has had the courage to disassociate and even condemn those aspects or arguments of a minority group which he finds to be untruthful.
But the rest of America is still catching up, and none slower than its mainstream media, which has been awash with a new found enthusiasm for throwing the word "genocide" at the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India, comprises of a Sinhalese majority, and Tamil, Moslem and mixed-race (of European descent), minorities. Sri Lankan schools are required, by law, to teach each child his/her own religion no matter the denomination of the school, and Sri Lankans live, study, work and exist in harmony in the entire island (about the size of Maine), except in a small area controlled by the Tamil Tigers, a separatist terrorist organization. To be absolutely clear, the Tigers (LTTE), are a group of Tamils, but all Tamils are not members nor supporters of the LTTE and 95% of all Tamils live among Sinhalese and Moslems away from the LTTE.
But none of these facts were part of a series of articles in the Boston Globe. Not in the one calling for the Obama Administration to ask for a UN Council Resolution to call for a cease-fire and for Asian powers to stop funding the Sri Lankan government. Nor the one it ran an about an expatriate kid fasting American style (with the help of Gatorade and vitamins), to bring attention to the "plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka." Nor the opinion piece salaciously titled ‘Genocide in Sri Lanka,' by Bruce Fein, a former deputy attorney-general, who claimed that the state department lists Sri Lanka as a "potential as an investigatory target in the Office of War Crimes," but forgot to mention that the same State Department lists the LTTE as a terrorist organization, moved to freeze the assets of LTTE operatives here in the United States, imposed that decision as recently as last week on yet another American front for the LTTE, and, by the way, shut down all funding from Americans and Canadians to the LTTE, all moves which forced the LTTE to suddenly begin peace talks in 2002.
Swift on the heels of all this was a PBS Tavis Smiley segment (he for whom Obama was just not black enough), dedicated to Mathangi Arulpragasam, the niece of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, and daughter of Arula, the leader of a secondary LTTE organization, both criminals and terrorists condemned by the international community. Tavis Smiley ought to have known what was coming, but that would have entailed actually doing some research, and not make the assumptions, as most liberals do, that a person speaking from a minority perspective must automatically be right.
Mathangi Arulpragasam, who goes by the name M.I.A., has been denied a visa to the enter the United States in the past due to her terrorist connections, but is now a resident of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. MIA was nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar for her song on the current flavor of the month, Slumdog Millionaire which is traveling at breakneck speed toward an Oscar flush. She used her segment on Tavis Smiley to make the statement that she is the spokesperson, the only one!, for the Tamils of Sri Lanka, discrediting the thousands of articulate and frankly more informed and far less dubious Tamils who can speak both for Tamils and Sri Lanka, and, with the connivance of Smiley, continued to accuse the Sri Lankan government of engaging in genocide, that it was "trying to make Tamils extinct," that it had "an army of millions" and that Tamils weren't being "allowed to live" in Sri Lanka. Suffice to say that anybody with a computer and internet access - both of which, I'm positive, aren't denied to Mr. Smiley - could have confirmed the ludicrousness of these pronouncements. The UN, UNHCR and the Red Cross, let alone the Sri Lankan government, have released statements regarding the continued terrorism of the LTTE and its murdering of Tamil civilians before they can cross into the safety zones being maintained by the Sri Lankan government and the Red Cross. UN Human Rights reports regarding its forced recruitment of child soldiers and women as well as international aid workers, are also easily accessed.
Why then did the Tavis Smiley show leave it to Michael Getler, the ombudsman of NPR to make a public apology regarding the conduct of this interview? Why was there no public apology from Tavis Smiley himself but for a forced follow-up segment, thanks to the flood of protests, with the Sri Lankan government? Before the Oscar board decides to take the path of inanity displayed by Tavis Smiley on his show, it might do well to replay the album Piracy Funds Terrorism to which MIA refused to add a disclaimer (regarding her overt support of terrorism), which also contains the song ‘Sunshowers' which refers to suicide bombs ("and some showers I'll be aiming at you") Unless, of course, there's a super-talented rapper niece of Osama bin Laden's singing about killing 2,000 Americans in NYC that they are willing to embrace into the fold.
MIA's music is catchy and should win whatever it deserves. And America is certainly a place where the underdog story, however fictional, guarantees sales. Witness the number of music artists who "authenticate" themselves with borrowed street-creds in order to sell the music they write in nice upper class suburbs. But the idea that the same Hollywood that helped Barack Obama into office is offering M.I.A. the second national platform she said, on the Smiley show, she wants, is to wonder if the America that elected Obama is truly ready for the kind of discernment, self-correction and intelligence that characterizes the man himself.