Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Persistent Inconvenience of Black Rage

Barack Obama Tries to Navigate the Slippery Slope of Racism

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) March 20, 2008 — The 800 pound 'animal' in the world of political discourse has once again made its entrance—center stage in the 2008 electoral contest. The 'animal' being the issue of 'race', or more precisely, the reality (or perception) of racism in the context of America.

Racism is, to be sure, a loaded subject, both profound and deceptively simplistic, and one that many people in America—both white and people of color—would prefer to ignore, or at least marginalize. But when the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama's longtime pastor and spiritual mentor, raised the ante by speaking about racism in a provocative and bold way, the "race" thing became, once again, an inevitable part of the national conversation, and ultimately, in the contest for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency.

What did Reverend Wright proclaim? Nothing, substantively, that most intelligent people would disagree with. Namely, he said that that Mr. Obama knows what it means to be Black in America while Senator Clinton does not. That is true enough, as I think even Senator Clinton (and her husband) would have to agree.

But Reverend Wright also said—in effect—that the violence of September 11th, 2001 had it's genesis in the misdeeds and oppressive measures of the U.S. government.

If anything, violence is both cyclical and dialectical. No matter who perpetrates violence, or for whatever false "ideals" it is committed, violence comes back to afflict the purveyor. This is a position that aligns with the truth articulated by both Malcolm X (the "chickens coming home to roost" statement after the 1963 Kennedy assassination), and the pronouncement by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, that America (in the time of the Vietnam war). was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."

It's one thing to discuss race in the context of old grievances and the deep wounds inflicted by historical white supremacy, both at the end of nooses and the more subtle variety—at the end of the employment line—but the grave offense of Reverend Wright was that he reminded us that this great nation is still at the epicenter of a system of global domination. And some people, despite relative position and material comfort, have not forgotten this.

September 11 and the Iraq destruction are elements of a much larger phenomenon, and an immense challenge for Senator/candidate Obama and the rest of us. Namely, how do we address the issue of racism in the framework of the much larger discussion about systemic oppression, and the crisis of the global capitalist system that, despite it's allure, continues to marginalize billions of the poorest (and disproportionately darkest) people on our planet?

What makes Obama skittish about this issue is not the vehement, fiery sermonizing of his mentor, but the fact that racial discontent and rage are not convenient issues for his large base of white supporters to really deal with. White privilege isn't a popular dinnertime conversation topic in Boise or Allentown (or, I imagine, most of America). And his call for trans-racial "unity", while emotionally appealing to many folks, is not underpinned by an analysis of what the people of America should, in the global sense, truly be uniting for, or against.

Yes, we can be civil and courteous and respectful, across the color line, but a Democratic Party leader—of even the most liberal stripe—would be hard-pressed to articulate the true depth of the structural reasons for the rage: diminishing environmental protection, persistent and growing poverty, failed life support systems, internecine violence, and a host of other ills that are disproportionately inflicted not only on Black people in America, but by-and-large, on people of color throughout the world.

Mr. Obama's repudiation of his pastor was simply an unfortunate example of a gifted (and agile) politician attempting to save his base of White support in the face of an inconvenient Black challenge to racism.

It's true that Reverend Wright's language was not the most polite and conciliatory speech imaginable. But his anger is authentic, and his words ring true. A genuine anti-racist conversation (and movement) in America is needed, and needed badly. But the conversation must not tiptoe around the inconvenience of a deep structural analysis of racism, or the persistent alienation and real suffering of people like Reverend Wright who march at the forefront of anti-racist and anti-oppression activism.

There is certainly a great deal of good in America that must not be ignored in this issue. And Senator Obama is right in his assertion that progress has been made, and that the nation is not static and unchanged in racial matters.

Black rage is always an inconvenient truth to White folks, as well as those who need, for various reasons, to appease them.

But rather than back-peddling away from the issue, or trying to shift it into some fluffy, innocuous race-speak that offends no one, Mr. Obama should continue to face the issue of race head on, and use his powerful charisma and popular appeal to help America navigate the deep and turbulent waters of a real, and long overdue, national discourse on both racism and poverty.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

After 5 Years, the Tragedy Continues

From the Desk of Ibrahim-Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) March 18, 2008 — The conundrum of American primary politics, American Idol worship, and the fall from grace of the former Governor of New York, may have shifted the market-based media focus from the story, but for those who may otherwise be unaware, March 19, 2008 marks the fifth anniversary of the most recent U.S. invasion of Iraq - yet another tragic date in U.S. history that will live in infamy.

What, exactly, has been the cost of the U.S. adventure in Iraq? We are now careening to the number of 4,000 American combat deaths and 40,000 seriously wounded troops. Many of the wounded have been abandoned by their government to a fate of permanent disability and mental distress from the psychological wounds of combat. But this number is dwarfed by the devastation suffered by the Iraqis themselves: 650,000 to one million dead; 400,000 persons displaced from their homes; and the bitter reality of a raging sectarian civil war that has left the nation terrorized and divided.

The recent U.S. troop "surge" has been a useful diversion for the proponents of the war, who now claim some hollow "victory" because of ephemeral military gains in the combat operations against Al-Qaeda and other assorted armed insurgents. But the fundamental contradictions and divisions in the country remain. And Iraq, for all the horrors of it's own history of dictatorship and war, is a far more dangerous and oppressive place that it was under the rule of Saddam.

In the meanwhile, the Iraq war has not only divided U.S. citizens, it has also consolidated world opinion against this nation in a way that no one could have anticipated five years ago. Blatant torture of Iraqi captives, attacks on the civil liberties of Muslim individuals, institutions, and charities in America, and countless violations of both domestic and international law have become the hallmark of the arrogant and recalcitrant regime in Washington that continues the prosecution of the war.

But the conflict in Iraq has also resulted in countless casualties at home, measured in increased domestic violence, family disintegration, alcoholism, and drug abuse suffered by returning U.S. combatants.

War, in every case, results in the massive transfer of wealth from one social class to another. The war in Iraq is no different.

But what is different is the reality of the naked ambition of the global energy and arms oligarchies that have feasted on the $1.2 trillion dollars spent by American taxpayers on the war to date. This violence continues, despite the deepening economic crisis in the nation and the devastation of the national social infrastructure.

In Washington, DC, activists from 40 states plan to gather to mark this tragic anniversary, and in some cases, to engage in non-violent direct action in opposition of the war in Iraq. We must continue to press for the demand to end the war, even if the Democratic Congress lacks the will to oppose the Bush regime's war machine.

The popular tide of resistance to the war will—and must—continue, until the war is ended, and the massive damage to both the United States and to the people of Iraq is fully repaired.

For more information about upcoming events and gatherings, please visit:

Friday, March 7, 2008

In Palestine, Murder Will Bring Neither Freedom Nor Justice

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu’id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) March 7, 2008 — On March 6, 2008, the world received news of yet another tragedy in the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. In an apparent act of revenge, armed Palestinians infiltrated a Rabbinical school in Jerusalem and attacked a group of teenage Jewish students, leaving eight of them dead. They were not combatants, and the act did not take place in self-defense or in the heat of combat.

Most of the world, especially in Israel, was stunned and horrified by the killings. But in Gaza, at least according to news reports, people were jubilant in their celebration of the deaths.

Should Muslims in the United States also feel a sense of joy and vindication? No. We must recognize the attack for what it was: an act of murder. And we must now ask ourselves the difficult question of how we, as activists in support of the people of Gaza and Palestine, can go forward in the wake of an act of senseless brutality that could threaten to derail some significant support for the cause of ending the occupation and respecting the human rights of the people in Gaza and the West Bank.

Sadly, acts of deliberate murder are hardly rare in the context of this part of the world. I remember, a few years ago, the act of murder in a mosque in the West Bank that left nearly 30 Muslim worshippers murdered by a fanatic named Baruch Goldstein. The Muslim world, and most people of conscience, were enraged. Yet some extremists in Israel not only celebrated the killings, but actually made Goldstein (who was killed after the attack), a cult hero among some ultra-Zionists.

But murder, by whomever, is simply a crime against humanity and against the Almighty. And the killing of Jewish students in Jerusalem was exactly that kind of abomination.

The pursuit of liberation is a human response to oppression, and one that is common to all oppressed people, in all periods of history. But there is a moral and practical, distinction between legitimate political struggle on one hand, and acts of criminal revenge on the other.

As Muslims, we believe that struggle against oppression, and self-defense, are not only legitimate, but also required. The killing of innocent people, on the other hand, is morally repugnant—and Haram.

I hope that the Palestinian leadership, and especially Hamas, will recognize that the celebration of these murders will only serve to further isolate them, and make it more difficult for them to claim some moral high-ground in the eyes of world opinion. I also hope that they will consider that activists throughout the world, who support the rights of the people of Gaza, must now labor under yet another burden of suspicion, and even outright rejection, by opponents who are all too anxious to equate the Palestinian cause with savagery and terrorism. Further, it obliterates, in the consciousness of many, the nonviolent responses to the occupation that would ultimately be more effective as instruments of liberation vs. sensational and counter-productive acts of killing and mayhem.

As I have said in a previous essay, it's long past time to end the violence, and the killing, in Israel and Palestine. We mourn the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, especially in Gaza.

But now, we should also mourn the killing of the Jewish students in Jerusalem, and call for the respect for human life as a core value for both sides of this conflict. I, as a Muslim in America, offer my condolences to the families and communities of the young people who were killed in this act of violence.

The struggle for freedom has no room for the murder of innocent people. It is not acceptable in the modern world.

An eye-for-an-eye, as Dr. King reminded us, will simply make both Palestinians and Israelis blind.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Dangerous, Deadly Escalation of U.S. War on Somalia

From the Desk of Ibrahim Abdil-Mu’id Ramey, MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) March 3, 2008 - The Pentagon announced today that the U.S. launched a missile strike against a target in the little town of Dobley, Somalia, located some 140 miles from the southern port city of Kismayu.

According to reports, this attack was launched against a group of Islamic leaders in the town, including Shaykh Hassan Turki. The men, who are members of the Islamic Courts, were thought to be in Dobley to mediate a conflict between members of their militia and a militia loyal to the U.S.-installed regime in Mogadishu. There were conflicting reports on the damage done by the missiles; one account from a local official claimed that six persons were killed, while another reported that only three individuals had been wounded. Whatever the body count might be, it is clear that the United States has again attacked a nation with whom it is not at war - the fourth such attack by the U.S. military in the past 14-months.

There has been comparatively little media focus on Somalia subsequent to the U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops success in driving the Islamic Courts from power in Mogadishu last year, while installing to power the same Somali warlords who had utterly destroyed the country in the civil war of the 1990's. The Islamic Courts Movement had the backing of much of the Somali population, and they were, by most accounts, successful in restoring some order and justice to the civil society.

However, because they are an Islamic movement, The Islamic Courts are opposed by the Unites States - even though they are clearly a better alternative than the thugs and gangsters installed by the U.S. and kept in power by a rapacious Ethiopian occupation force.

The Pentagon characterized the aerial attack as a "precision" strike against a known "terrorist" target. The rhetoric from the American government, in this case, is similar to the claim of "precision" strikes against targets in Gaza, that ended up killing far more innocent civilians than combatants.

The effect, however, is not the killing of "terrorists"', but the terrorization of a civilian population already devastated by internecine violence and the collapse of virtually all social infrastructure that would ordinarily serve to sustain 'normalcy' - this, coming in the wake of the horrific aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion and the countless killings and rapes committed by Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu.

American bombs and missiles will not bring order and justice to the situation in Somalia.

Ethiopia is a poor and oppressed nation in its own right, fighting, ironically, its own internal insurgency. It has no business in Somalia. And the United States has no business bombing Somalia under the pretext of hunting "terrorist" targets.

The task of restoring peace, stability and order to Somalia is a formidable one, that will require the antagonistic parties to work out their own arrangements for demilitarizing the conflict and providing safety for its citizens. The killing in Somalia must stop. But to insure that it does, the United States must stop military attacks and cease it’s support for a foreign occupation army in Somalia.

The Islamic Courts are not the enemy of the people of Somalia, and they must not be regarded as the enemy of the U.S. government or the people of the Unites States.