As impressive as M.I.A. was at the Grammys and on the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack, the burst of attention is attracting uncomfortable questions about her purported support for a terrorist groups.

The Grammy Awards performance gave the New York Times a news hook on which to hang the issue. The paper noted that the tiger icon featured in the video for M.I.A.'s 2007 hit "Bird Flu" bears a striking resemblance to the logo for Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, described by the FBI as "among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world," pioneering suicide bombing techniques and killing world leaders. You can compare the logo above, from the video, with the group's logo below.


The paper also quoted Sri Lankans who say M.I.A., whatever her artistic merits, glorifies the Tigers. Her father is a leader in the Tamil separatist movement.

The thing is, M.I.A. is far from the first rapper to toy with paramilitary or violent imagery. Public Enemy had the Uzi-toting S1Ws; N.W.A.'s first mass album cover had a member of the rap group pointing a gun at the camera; Ice Cube dabbled in the Nation of Islam, incorporating some themes into his music; MC Ren did a song about ethnic cleansing in America. The cartoonish extremism mainly served to help make the music appealing to suburban white kids, but, as the cliche goes, that was before 9/11.


With terrorism perceived as a bigger threat these days, M.I.A.'s music will draw harsher scrutiny. But it will be hard to take her too seriously as a terror apologist now that she's marrying into a very rich family and is cashing big corporate checks from MTV and her record company.

(Below, find a critical cover of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" by Sinhalese rapper DeLon.)

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