Mr Definitely, J’Accuse

Richard Elliott on why Mos Def’s testimony cannot be trusted.

On Monday a video for The Guardian went online featuring the rapper and performer Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, voluntarily undergoing the procedure used as standard to force-feed prisoners participating in hunger strikes at the controversial U.S.-run prison camp, Guantanamo Bay. The video can be seen here: please be warned that some may find it disturbing. Bey is shown to be visually upset by the procedure, physically struggling against it and terminating it before the force-feeding can be completed in its entirety. There is no doubt that the video is very powerful, touching an empathetic nerve in many viewers, which explains why the video has gone viral, i.e. achieving mass circulation via ‘word of mouse’. The thrust of the film is that the force-feeding of prisoners undergoing hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay is unethical and the procedure in which it is administered is cruel, which is provided testament by Bey’s strongly adverse reaction to the procedure.

I am not here to condemn the cause of the movie (the ethical debate around force-feeding Guantanamo’s inmates); what I do wish to do is to show why the artist formerly known as Mos Def is not a credible source for objectivity in regards to debating the actions of the U.S Government.

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Mos Def has in the past declared publicly that he believes Osama bin Laden to be a fictional character, created by the U.S. Government as a propaganda tool for war.
Mos Def has also in the past expressed support for the Iranian theocracy to get its hands on nuclear weapons to spite the countries all in possession of such weapons.
Mos Def has also claimed in the past that the U.S. Government inherently hates black people, citing excuses such as the poor response times by government officials in getting aide to the victims of Hurricane Katrina as ‘evidence’.
Mos Def also seems to view Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other forces of Islamic jihad to be a form of liberation theology, comparable to the black civil rights movement of Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King.

Where there are of course serious ethical issues and discussions which can and indeed must be had regarding the force-feeding of the prisoners at Guantanamo, and indeed the existence of the base at Guantanamo itself, I do not trust a character like Mos Def to be objective enough to have his own personal undertaking as an example used in the argument for either side. There is nothing in his track record which suggests that he is not overhyping his reactions for a larger negative response. Indeed, without his undoubtedly adverse reaction to the procedure, there is no chance that the small clip would have been so promiscuously circulated in the fashion that it has been thus far. For all it is worth, I am against the force-feeding at Guantanamo, especially in religious holidays such as Ramadan where fasting is a duty, but the argument that this is an unjust procedure should not fall to a man with such a spurious track record like that of Mos Def.

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There will be those no doubt who will chastise me utilizing an ad hominem argument, and holding that someone’s testimony cannot be trusted because of their own convictions. I do not think this argument holds, and I can show why with reference to another public figure who underwent a similar affair for the sake of enlightening an ethical debate regarding the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay. The late Christopher Hitchens, a fervent supporter of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, underwent the controversial interrogation method known colloquially as waterboarding to, as it were, ‘test the waters’ as to whether it constituted as torture.

Aside from the overt dramatizations in play within the clip of Mos Def/Bey’s own example (see the unnecessary handcuffs and restraints), the conditions were similar in both examples. Hitchens testified against the use of waterboarding, not only because it constituted as physical torture whilst being administered, but also because of the psychological trauma he experienced for some time afterwards (which he mentions in the above article for Vanity Fair). I would contend that Hitchens’ sincerity is much less likely to be called into doubt regarding his opposition to this procedure, since to confirm it not as torture would have been convenient to his political convictions. But in his own example he went against what would arguably have been his own political hardline in the face of the truth: we are offered no such luxury as that from, as Hitchens himself called him on the occasion in which they both appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher, ‘Mr Definitely’. Bey’s opposition to the procedure which he underwent falls into the rank and file of his own personal convictions, which I am afraid to say considerably cheapens the weight of the impact from the powerful clip in which the procedures are featured in the very first place.

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