Did Mos Make the Point?

This week marked the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, in Cuba, more than a hundred prisoners (approximately a hundred and six of the hundred and sixty-six held there) continued an ongoing hunger strike against the conditions of their confinement. The Obama Administration has been force-feeding them, citing “the policy of the Department of Defense to support the preservation of life and health by appropriate clinical means and standard medical intervention, in a humane manner.” In a further nod to the humane, it has decided, for the duration of Ramadan, to force-feed them only after sunset and before dawn.

A London-based human-rights group called Reprieve released a video, directed by Asif Kapadia, in which the musician and actor Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, undergoes nose-to-stomach force-feeding according to military instructions that Al Jazeera leaked in May. The video, nearly five minutes long, is interesting to watch: Bey is shackled to a chair while a tube is forced down his throat by a medical attendant, all according to “standard operating procedure.” He jiggles, writhes, pleads, and breaks down.

Many people on Twitter were amazed by Bey’s courage, but others mocked him. One user tweeted, “what is tougher to watch this Mos Def video or 2 planes crashing into the Twin Towers?” Another said, “Mos Def is officially a retard.” However mean-spirited these pronouncements, they raise useful questions. Why would Bey take this upon himself? Is  the video just another publicity stunt? Or is it a legitimate form of performance art?

Here’s a video rewind if you missed it. Oh, and let me know what you think.

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