What they did not teach you in school.
By Shaykh A. Ubaid
We have fallen in love with the text book one dimensional version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., romanticizing at the surface, familiar only with his “I have a dream” speech. However, a curious deeper delving into the humanitarian’s soul, to the final two years preceding his assassination, reveal the true complexity of King’s journey. A realization of certain realities reached from the insecurities of a nation that refused to loosen its shackles on African Americans, awakened the eyes of King from his dream. “I have come to believe that we (African Americans) are integrating into a burning house” and “My dream has often turned into a nightmare,” Statements that sounded less like the 1963 King and resonated more so with his theoretical adversary Malcolm X’s sentiments that “We (African Americans) don’t see any American dream. We’ve experienced only the American nightmare.” King was coming to grips with the fact that his dreamy ideologies must be tempered in solid reality. That as hard as he endeavored and as deeply as he wished, the road to equality was essentially a gridlock, due to racism. He noted that this congestion would trigger frustration, leading more of his people to turn to violence. An assumption that was evident from King and his nonviolence approach losing prominence among the civil rights movement, towards the latter years of his life.
King’s awakening stretched as far as the reaches of American imperialism, beyond the rim of the Pacific Ocean to the roots of the Vietnamese jungle. In his “Beyond Vietnam, a time to break silence” speech, King, against opposition from his inner circle, openly denounced the Vietnam war, unapologetic and ready to face the consequences. The silence broken rattled the core of America, sending shock waves that reached the ears of President Lyndon Johnson, who immediately cut all correspondence with King. Both the black and the white media, crucified King hoping to confine him to a one dimensional corner, by telling him to stick to civil rights and matters he knew about. However, King held steadfast to his empathy with the SoutEast Asians and was breaking every chain that was imposed upon his ancestors by this society. According to him, the fervor of war navigated the moral compass of a country to point towards the direction of ethical numbness. A sinister place, where the voices of decency get muffled beneath the hateful shrieks of warmongers. As the more extremist forces of government reach the forefront, African Americans, virtually lose all hopes to equality. The King of “Beyond Vietnam” was a far different, more political and more mature King from the one who gave the “I Have a Dream” speech on the doorsteps of the Lincoln Memorial, just four years earlier.
“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that America will be are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.” – Martin Luther King
How is Kings realization relevant?
1) We become familiarized with the determination and racist nature of some powerful groups that have always been woven into America’s fabric and their undying desire and influence to deny minorities equal rights. The conclusion stems that the fruit of change will never come overnight but rather will have to be ripened through constant struggle. If the supremacist were so reluctant to grant a man of King’s historical stature equality to the point of his dream turning into a nightmare, what naive misconceptions give you the idea that it will be any easier for you?
2) Subsequent to the death of King, the progress of African Americans has dwindled off. Through manipulation and covert efforts, the Black Panthers and other African American movements were effectively defeated. So, to facilitate gradual change, a game plan that furnishes structure and equips the youthful promise of tomorrow’s leaders, is necessary for survival. Awareness of the way the Panthers and other groups were countered must be identified, so that we understand the various strategies that can be employed, to hinder any advancement. One such strategy was the spread of ignorance and materialism into a community to keep it distracted and divided.
3) Like King’s realizations about Vietnam, Muslims must acknowledge that unless the oppression of other minorities are internalized, at home and abroad, we will never be granted our due rights. Muslims remain awfully silent when other domestic minorities, including fellow African American Muslims, are being oppressed but then cry out at a time of our own difficulty. It becomes imperative, from prophetic tradition, to forge alliances with other minorities and rally to their aid even when Muslims themselves are not the ones being targeted. Those Muslims, unwilling to build bridges with non-Muslims fail to understand that the Prophet Muhammad (s) was protected by his non-Muslim uncle Abu Talib. Sadly Muslims, burdened with their cultural baggage, do not honor the Prophet Muhammad (s) and instead hold onto their prejudices.
In fact, Louis Farrakhan, leader of Nation of Islam, attributed this bias as a reason the Nation could not join Orthodox Islam. His one point that Muslim deli owners sell the same pork that they would not feed their family members with to African Americans community, really hit home. In conversations I have had with non-Muslim friends, I can name a handful who have been sincerely interested in the principles of Islam but told me that the racism exhibited from Muslims drove them apart from an otherwise beautiful theology. The Quran says various ethnic backgrounds were created for the purpose of intermingling and learning from and about each other. The verse continues onto denounce discrimination, saying righteousness is the sole indicator of stature (Quran 49:13). (Getting to know others and righteousness were included together and not separated into two different verses, implying that building bonds with other humans is a component of righteousness.)
4) If every egg is placed in the same basket, then we make ourself to be an easy target, due to your lack of versatility in maneuvering. As Dr. King Jr. blended domestic and international crises together, he faced tremendous backlash, prompting some expert to believe that Vietnam was the final straw that moved his enemies to carry out his assassination. America has the power to disband any Muslim group that it deems as supported or being influenced by “extremist”. Most prone to risk are those groups who have connections, financially or personally with overseas Muslims. It is essential to institute new groups run and funded by law abiding American born Muslims, who will not be handcuffed by foreign affiliation. Should the event that the government wrongfully deems countless Muslim organization as un-American, there shall still remain hope. The fresh faces of Muslim organizations, filled in every administrative position with those Muslims, who have the right to run for President of the United States, will live on. Backed by our peace loving non-Muslim allies, who together with our efforts will keep America great again and again and again.
5) King’s final years provide the true complexity of the man and do not simplify him down to the one dimensional figure that was forced fed to you in school. We must study and study comprehensively, if we are to understand society, psychology and history and thus, design a versatile winning strategy.
Shaykh A Ubaid is a youth activist from New York and a student of political science can be reached at [email protected]