Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of the King Assassination

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

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) April 4, 2008 – In a digital world that changes every millisecond, 40-years is a very long time. But an event that changed the course of a nation–in fact, the world–is worth remembering, even if it is regarded by many as 'ancient' history.

That event, of course, is the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which occurred, now 40-years ago, in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. The popular memory of the significance of the non-violent movement for civil rights in the United States has dimmed over the years, but the anniversary of the Dr. King's assassination, like the commemoration of his January birthday, is a major time for national reflection and nostalgia.

But is this time of reflection also a time for renewed action? Should we be assessing where this nation has moved, since 1968, in the struggle for equality?

We've had commemorations and speeches and government commissions galore. We've created thousands of streets and avenues that bear the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We've created parks, and malls–monuments and parades, and even retail sales days on the commemoration of Dr. King's birthday.

However, the nation is still lacking a genuine, uncompromised commitment to both economic and political justice in America, not only for the African-American community that formed the core of the Kingian movement, but increasingly for Muslims, Latinos, and poor people of all descriptions who have been written out of the script in the American dream that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so compellingly articulated in his life and work.

I'm sure that Dr. King, were he still alive, would celebrate the candidacy of Barack Obama as an indication of real change in the racial status quo. But I am equally certain that he would be appalled about all of the following:

• Dr. King would be enraged that Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a respected teacher and leader, is on the 33rd day of a hunger strike in a North Carolina prison. Dr. Al-Arian, like Dr. King, has a dream of an America that does not prosecute and convict men and women who are innocent of criminal charges.

• Dr. King would be appalled at the status of the U.S. war in Iraq, which has killed 4,000 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, while costing hundreds of billions in U.S. citizen tax dollars.

• He would make common cause with the political prisoners in Guantanamo, and the thousands more in the world in places like Egypt.

• Dr. King would be in solidarity with Spanish-speaking immigrants–both documented and undocumented–who are confronted with xenophobic town resolutions and an organized attempt to criminalize and even dehumanize their very existence in America–despite their indispensable contribution to the economic bedrock of the nation.

The questions and issues of "civil rights" have changed dramatically from the binary black-white paradigm of Dr. King's time. The demographic face of the United States has changed, too. But the forces of racism, economic injustice, and militarism–the "evil triplets" that Dr. King spoke of in his speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967–are still deeply institutionalized in the fabric of the country.

Muslims, like others, are stakeholders in the vision that Dr. King gave his life for. That is a vision of an America that is just, equal, and committed to human rights and human equality. But the reality on April 4, 2008, is that we live in a nation that tortures some of its prisoners, and gives material support for others who commit these crimes in other countries.

The dramatic events of the recent mortgage melt-down were a wake-up call about the economic perils confronting more and more poor and working-class people in the country. And they should also say to us that the work of Dr. King's movement is largely unfinished.

We don't need more monuments, or empty rhetoric about dreams. What we need–and what our community must be prepared to struggle and sacrifice for–is a genuine movement for human rights, peace, and the economic change required to wage–and win–a real struggle for justice.