M.I.A. on “Borders” and The West’s Disregard for Migrants from the Middle East and North Africa

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“How can The West turn people away?” M.I.A. wonders as the current Syrian Civil War continues to displace citizens en masse—a situation all too familiar for her, growing up in Sri Lanka in the midst of a civil war.

M.I.A. spoke to NPR’s David Greene about current affairs and how it relates to her latest single, “Borders.” The self-directed music video features a cast of real refugees seen climbing barbwire fences, treading water, and crowding boats to capacity. She told Greene that her surviving the Sri Lankan civil war was not all that different, saying, “It was pretty bad. There [were] definitely no international eyes looking at the situation. When we came [to England], we didn’t have any connection to Sri Lanka and any connection to the experiences we had because they were pretty rough.”

Though M.I.A. grew up in Sri Lanka, she was actually born in the UK, and her citizenship (as well as Britain’s open border at the time) allowed her and her family to migrate to safety. M.I.A. eventually elaborates on why refugees are drawn to The West and its promises (however quixotic) of happiness and stability:

“I think it’s cause and effect. As a musician, I feel like we are part of promoting ideas to people. You know, ultimately we fight to get what we do in the West into the homes and the screens of every single person on the planet. We want to make money off it, and you want to sell 50 million Taylor Swift records to people in Africa. Obviously, some of the kids are gonna say, ‘Okay, yeah, I want the dream,’ and you’ve got migrants who believed in the aggressiveness of our sale of democracy. We can’t really blame people when they are ready to embrace it.”

Finally, M.I.A. criticizes the physical borders as being hypocritical to the lack of a virtual/digital borders of “American”-brands and culture:

“You don’t put the borders on Apple, you don’t put borders on YouTube, and you don’t put borders on MTV,” she says. “So to make the borders even taller when actually what the creative world is doing, or the business world is doing, is actually the opposite, then you’re always going to have this problem.”

Listen to the NPR interview here, and watch the music video for “Borders” below: