Continued Misrepresentation of Malcolm X’s Legacy

A recent deathbed confession of former New York City police officer Raymond Wood has caused demands for new investigations into the murder of Malcolm X at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City on February 21, 1965.

In the confession, Wood, who was present during Malcolm X’s murder, alleged that the New York police and FBI were involved in the murder. He claimed that his job leading up to Malcolm X’s appearance at the Audubon Ballroom was to ensure that no door security would be present on the day.

Malcolm X is a point of pride for Muslims. Along with being a great advocate for equal rights for black people, he spoke proudly of his chosen religion and deftly and unapologetically about his cause. It is no surprise to us that he was murdered.

How He’s Taught and How He’s Not

School children in America learn about Malcolm X in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. The two are often juxtaposed, with teachers explaining that, while King sought a peaceful way toward equality, Malcolm X was ready to fight for equality by any means necessary. The message was subtle but clear; Malcolm X’s willingness to resort to violence was the less-desirable method. This political line given to children fit well with typical curricula, which lack mention of US war crimes abroad and the havoc they wreak on civilians. The decade in which King and Malcolm X worked and were killed provides some excellent examples of these crimes.

Along with King’s non-violent protest were his clear stances against, for example, America’s war in Vietnam (1955-1975). In that war, the taking of civilian life was justified to stop the spread of an ideology that the government understood to be a threat to their interests and their brand of ‘democracy.’ King’s growing outspokenness on causes beyond the black struggle, something that is also not typically covered in classrooms, ended when he was assassinated three years after Malcolm X, in 1968.

Malcolm X’s view that, when people are treating you violently, responding with force “by any means necessary” to protect yourself, is something that most of the world—individuals and governments—totally understand. On top of that, Malcolm X never supported violence against those who have not oppressed you. In actuality, support of violence against the harmless was (and has been) the stance of the US government, a government that takes ‘any means necessary’ to a whole new level with their war crimes and mass atrocities.

When Nixon and Kissinger conspired to bomb Cambodia—“a staging ground for the Vietcong and North Vietnamese”—in March of 1969, they dropped “more bombs in four years than…[they] had during in the entire Pacific theatre” in WWII. As a result, it is estimated that around 100,000 civilians in Cambodia were killed, large swathes of countryside were destroyed, and that the campaign “hastened the rise of Pol Pot.” Here is ‘by all means necessary.’ The purpose? Spreading American influence.

Malcolm X should no longer be portrayed simply as a man who had some profound ideas but was a bit ‘lost’ in his approach. After all, Islam, his faith, is balanced in its approach toward the use of violence, delineating clear rules of war and encouraging peaceful approaches whenever possible. This is something for which all Muslims can be proud. It is something they can pass down, unashamedly to their children.

A Muslim First

Outside of classrooms, Malcolm X is also misunderstood. His sharp understanding of the jockeying for political power of liberals and conservatives and the exploitation of the black struggle therein, is too often overlooked and misappropriated.

Along with fighting for equality for black people, he fought for Islam, doing da’wah while in prison, and demanding that Muslim inmates be able to observe their dietary restrictions and their daily prayers.[1] His observations from his time performing the hajj continues to be an inspiration for many. There, he was overcome with the realization that religion and its values, rather than race or ethnicity, was the unifying point for everyone there.

“If which Americans could accept the Oneness of God (Allah),” he writes, “they too could then sincerely accept the Oneness of Men.”

In reporting on news of the reinvestigation into his murder, the BBC described Malcolm X as “a passionate advocate of black unity, self-respect and self reliance.” The article only mentions that he was once a member of the Nation of Islam (which had been blamed for his murder), not that he then embraced Sunni Islam.

Malcom X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, who was present when he was murdered, has welcomed the re-investigation of her father’s murder. She stated:

“If our young people understood that, say, in world history classes, as I teach my students, that Africa is the cradle of the most advanced thriving civilization ever to exist in mankind and if they also learned about the impressive kingdoms of Benin, Fuuta Jaloo [Fouta Djallon], Mali, Egypt, to the same degree that we teach them of ancient Greece and Rome, then we might better appreciate the beauty and magnificence of nonwhite civilizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And we would have the opportunity to teach our children love, respect instead of instilling these values of hate and discrimination. Rather, love and respect for ourselves and then for humanity. I think all of these things are extremely important.”

What she did not mention, is that all four of the places she mentioned were also touched, many of them heavily, by the influence of Islam. Her father continued that legacy, showing the world how Islam could be the solution, and standing up to the power structures that continue to dog us.

Note

  1. Joseph, Peniel E., The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. New York, Basic Books, 2020. p.35

 

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