Wyclef and Yauch Defend Muslims, Haitians At Awards Show

Fugees leader and Beastie Boy spoke up about political issues at the MTV Video Music ceremony.

In keeping with the growing tradition of performers using high-profile awards shows as

platforms for political commentary, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Fugees leader Wyclef

Jean spoke out against perceived prejudices towards Muslims and Haitians during the

15th annual MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.

An avowed Buddhist who has organized three Tibetan Freedom Concerts and raised

millions to aid the people of that mountainous country as well as the cause of

nonviolence worldwide, Yauch launched his impromptu criticism of U.S. military strikes

against Afghanistan and Sudan as the rap-rock trio was accepting their Video Vanguard

award from Public Enemy leader Chuck D. The Vanguard award recognized the

Beasties' 15-year career of groundbreaking music videos.

"It's kind-of a rare opportunity that one gets to speak to an audience this big," the

mild-mannered Yauch said as he bent down to speak into the microphone. "I think it was

a real mistake that the U.S. chose to fire missiles in the Middle East."

The rapper was referring to the bombings carried out in retaliation for a pair of terrorist

attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7 that left 263 people dead.

"Those bombings that took place in the Middle East were thought of as retaliation ... and

if we thought of what we did as retaliation, certainly we're going to find more retaliation in

the Middle East -- from terrorists specifically, I should say, because most people in the

Middle East are not terrorists," Yauch added.

While no official comment on Yauch's rebuke was available, a representative at the

Beastie Boys' publicity firm, Nasty Little Man, said of Yauch, "As a Buddhist, he believes

very strongly in nonviolence."

"Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism," Yauch said as his

two bandmates stood silently behind him. "Racism that comes from the United States

towards Muslim people and toward Arabic people, and that's something that has to stop,

and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find

a solution to the problem that's been building up over many years."

Similarly, the outspoken Wyclef -- whose R&B/rap side-band's name, the Refugee Camp

All-Stars, is a reference to the status of Haitian immigrants caught in limbo in such places

as the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- took time at the podium to tackle a

political issue. Accepting an award for Best R&B Video for the All-Stars track "Gone Till

November," Wyclef addressed the estimated 24-million-person viewing audience about

his feelings regarding the recent film "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

"I went to see the movie ... you know I did a song with Stevie Wonder on the soundtrack

["Mastablasta '98"]," Wyclef said, "and as a proud Haitian man I was saddened and

offended to see my country used as the brunt of an AIDS joke in the movie."

Wyclef was seemingly referring to a line in the film, based on a novel by

African-American author Terry McMillan, that refers to Haitians and the deadly AIDS

virus in the same sentence. "As artists, we have lost so many of our own to the tragic

disease, we should know by now that AIDS ... is a crisis and not a mother-freakin'

comedy," Wyclef added sternly. "We should be workin' on it, not laughin' at it."

A representative for the film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, could not be reached for

comment by press time.

The issue is a sensitive one for people of Haitian descent, according to Steve Oriol, who

has worked with the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians on several

fund-raising efforts.

"There was a time when people of Haitian background couldn't [even] donate blood [in

the U.S.]," Oriol said, referring to a time early in the AIDS crisis when many associated

the disease with Haitians. "This is not about the movie having a stupid line in it; it's about

consistent, negative stereotypes of people of Haitian descent."