Most people's lists of people they want to wish happy birthday to don't include brutal dictators, but apparently Jennifer Lopez's does.
J-Lo, who has a long history of performing for rather unsavory characters, sparked controversy yet again by singing "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to the leader of Turkmenistan during a show on Saturday. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has been criticized by almost every single human rights organization on the planet for his harsh treatment of political dissidents and the virtual lockdown he has placed on the impoverished former Soviet Republic. It was his 56th birthday.
Below is a video of the event:
Human Rights Watch describes Turkmenistan as "among the most repressive in the world." During a UN visit last month, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said Turkmenistan's human rights record had improved but "a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards."
Of course, J-Lo maintains that she just did not know about Berdymukhamedov's history, and that if she did she of course would have avoided performing in Turkmenistan in the first place. Outraged humanitarians aren't buying this, but seriously, cut her some slack. Before writing this article, aside from a rough suspicion that the country was in Western Asia, I couldn't even locate Turkmenistan on a map.
Besides, other singers have performed for unsavory characters that—unlike Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — almost everyone has heard of. As per the Washington Post, "Beyonce, Nelly Furtado, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and Usher were paid handsomely to perform at parties linked to the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi."
Lopez's trip was organized by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), China's state-run oil and gas company. It is unclear how much money she made from the appearance, but one can assume she raked in a fairly large fee if her past international concerts are anything to go by.
The main question that comes to mind about this mess is this: If J-Lo feels compelled to apologize for merely singing happy birthday to the president, shouldn't the U.S. government and several multinational U.S. corporations apologize for supporting the government there? Why are humanitarians giving J-Lo so much flack for a birthday song, while basically ignoring the aid we and others in the West have been giving Turkmenistan for years?