‘A modern-day Mother Teresa of Africa’

The most bizarre idea to emerge from the star-studded Sierra Leone trial is that Mia Farrow is a true warrior for justice.

Nathalie Rothschild

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As the press speculates, silly season style, about who’s lying and who’s telling the truth at the star-studded Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the most credible pronouncement seems to have come from Courtenay Griffiths, the lead counsel for former Liberian president Charles Taylor. In a press conference, Griffiths said actress Mia Farrow, who took to the witness stand on Monday, sees herself as a ‘modern-day Mother Teresa of Africa’.

Considering Farrow’s many recent Africa-saving missions, Griffiths has a point. Only Farrow, for all her hippy-like demeanour, is a lot more gung-ho than the late Mother ever was, rallying for Western governments to intervene in the conflict in Darfur. In 2008, she met with Blackwater, the controversial private military firm that has done much of the US government’s dirty work in Iraq, to discuss sending troops to Sudan. Then, last year, she holed herself up in her comfy New York flat for 21 days without food as an act of solidarity with the people of Darfur, recording her ‘hunger strike’ on a webcam so that fans could follow her struggle via her blog. She also said at The Hague that Rwanda ‘changed my life’.

In 1997, Farrow attended that now notorious dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela, along with Charles Taylor, supermodel Naomi Campbell, and Campbell’s then agent and ‘surrogate mother’, Carole White. Campbell, White and Farrow have been called to The Hague to give their versions of events at that fateful night, when Taylor allegedly had some diamonds (or, in Farrow’s version, one huge gem) delivered to Campbell’s room. Photos from the dinner show Farrow wearing traditional African garb, as is customary for celebs who ‘go native’ when they visit poorer parts of the world.

A telling moment during the trial was when Farrow admitted republishing sections of a Guardian article about ‘blood diamonds’ and Charles Taylor on her blog, but editing out a caveat. The original article said: ‘Prosecutors say the story, if true, would back up allegations that Taylor traded guns to neighbouring Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for uncut diamonds.’ Farrow cut out ‘if true’, so that it says: ‘Prosecutors say the story would back up allegations against Taylor.’

Asked in court why she edited it in this way, Farrow said: ‘Because I know that it was true.’ She explained that she uses her blog to ‘convey her feelings’ and regularly copies material from the web, editing it to reflect how she feels about certain events. This really sums up Farrow’s and other celebrities’ attitude to Africa – to them it is simply a continent suffering injustices, a place they feel for and want to rescue. Their gut instincts matter more than reaching the truth in an objective, reasoned way.

Farrow herself has never been shy of seeking the limelight in the name of bringing justice to Africans – and this trial, too, has been an opportunity for her to play a part in the downfall of an alleged war criminal. It is also a chance, it seems, for her to clear her conscience after having dined with a despot. While she had realised at the dinner, she told the court, that Taylor was ‘a man of disputable character’, she admitted she ‘shamefully’ didn’t know anything about the war in Sierra Leone or about the role of diamond trading in the conflict. The chief judge suggested that perhaps Farrow’s impressions of the night had later been coloured by the 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

One of the most bizarre things about the media coverage of this case is the way Farrow is treated as a serious witness worth listening to, in contrast to the supposedly catty and self-serving Campbell and White, who are looked upon as simply pursuing their own interests. In truth, Farrow’s Afromania is also shallow and self-serving, only, unlike White, she has not been accused of having an ‘agenda’.

During her testimony, White claimed that Campbell and Taylor had been flirting over dinner and that Campbell knew that he planned to give her some of that girl’s best friend. In fact, White claimed, she and Campbell opened the door to Taylor’s men later that night and invited them in for a Coke. In contrast, Campbell told the court last week that she was woken up by a surprise knock on the door by strange men with a pouch of ‘dirty-looking stones’. Griffiths accused White of trying to smear Campbell, against whom she has launched a high-cost lawsuit for breach of contract. The court was even shown pictures from Facebook of a party thrown by White’s employees last week. The photos, in which White appears, are tagged ‘blood diamond party’.

In this farcical, cat fight-style, tittle-tattle excuse for a trial, Farrow has emerged as a slightly kooky but well-meaning and sophisticated participant, who has no agenda other than to help bring justice to Africa. Indeed, the court was played a video clip showing Farrow saying that she was ‘eager to see the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone see justice. They deserve that.’ Where Campbell was widely derided for admitting she had never heard of Liberia before attending that South African dinner, Farrow’s admission of ignorance was apparently a gracious mea culpa. Farrow was asked whether it occurred to her, ‘as a well-read person with an interest in Africa’, to contact the tribunal about what she had heard at the dinner. She responded: ‘I didn’t know this incident would be so consequential. My focus was on Sudan.’

The evidence for Farrow being ‘well read’ and ‘enlightened’ was a media interview where she professed an interest in books. The prosecution cited a Guardian interview with Farrow while she was on her Darfur hunger strike. It said Farrow ‘had watched Schindler’s List and couldn’t stop crying. She has been reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi – Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul is next up – and listening to the slow movements of Bach and Mahler.’

So, the story goes, while Farrow seeks enlightenment through reading New Age tomes, listening to classical music, watching Holocaust movies and going on a Darfur diet, Campbell wears diamonds and poses half-naked in front of cameras as her agent tries to sue her for millions… This is way too simplistic. The involvement of any celebs in this trial is bizarre. Behind Farrow’s soft-spoken demeanour there lies a contemptible impulse to use other people’s histories and conflicts to bring some spiritual purpose to her own life – as surely as other celebs allegedly seek meaning through diamonds and ‘stuff’.

Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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