Malcolm X From Political Eschatology to Religious Revolutionary – Book Sample
Introduction – MALCOLM X. FROM POLITICAL ESCHATOLOGY TO RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONARY
Malcolm X relates in his autobiography the frustration he felt when traveling to various parts of the Muslim world. While there, he was often asked about why the ‘Muslims’ in America believed such erroneous claims taught by Elijah Muhammad, especially ‘Yacub’s History’ and the idea that Muslims do not believe in an afterlife.
Malcolm’s response was acerbic, “I reminded them,” he wrote, “that it was their fault, since they themselves hadn’t done enough to make real Islam known in the West. Their silence left a vacuum into which any religious faker could step and mislead our people” (Malcolm X, 1992: 194).
The problem for the contemporary is no longer whether or not Elijah Muhammad or the Nation of Islam are teaching erroneous doctrine, but whether Malcolm X is remembered, studied and is his teaching fulfilled. We are facing a younger generation that has very little exposure to Malcolm X, let alone the liberational thought he contributed to.
The zeitgeist of individualistic entertainment, which allows no space for critical philosophy and radical praxis on any meaningful level, threatens to dissolve Malcolm’s work into ‘interesting history,’ which excludes him from contemporary relevance.
The task therefore is similar to the one that Malcolm highlighted in his autobiography; it is the responsibility for scholars, activists and followers of Malcolm X, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not, to bring his thought to the next generation, so that it is not for-gotten, and the radical vision of equality and justice he pursued in life survives his death. Because the social, economic and political conditions of modern society call for a Malcolm X, he must be taught.
Yet whenever scholars, activists and revolutionaries turn their attention to the study of Malcolm X, they find themselves intractably caught between two equally impelling imperatives. The first is that Malcolm X and the mean-ing of his thought and praxis should never be forgotten. For many, forgetting him is simply unthinkable, as Malcolm X continues to be a foundational influ-ence within their intellectual, spiritual and political lives, and is therefore no more forgettable than one’s own name.
However, as impossible as it may seem to some, Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of Malcolm X, has sounded the alarm. After watching the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, she began to wonder if her father was “being written out of history” (Bartlett, 2015). In our post-9/11 society, where the popular image of Muslims is unjustly fused with the image of airliners crashing into skyscrapers, the mass murder of Christians and Yazidis in the Middle East, as well as the barbaric beheadings of civilians by isis in the aftermath of Bush’s war in Iraq, Malcolm X, the Muslim revolutionary activist, has receded behind the dominant hatred and/or fear of Muslims in contemporary society.
Additionally, it has become an all-too frequent mantra of the latest generation that ‘racism no longer exists’ in America and therefore what Malcolm X had to say about race and religion is too passé to take seriously.
Furthermore, it is difficult for many Americans to admit that one of their greatest minds, who bravely faced the viciousness of American bigotry, left Christianity and embraced Islam, the religion of the ‘terrorists.’ Even President Obama, who wrote about the lasting affects Mal-colm’s “blunt poetry” had upon his own life, felt compelled to display a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as opposed to Malcolm X in the oval office (Bartlett, 2015; Obama, 1995: 131).
Malcolm X was simply not acceptable in the most powerful halls of Washington d.c., but nor did he ever want to be. It seems to many, including Malcolm’s own daughter, that history is unjustly leaving her father behind. In light of this possibility, our imperative has become thus: to never forget Malcolm X and what he fought and died for and to continue to work on behalf of his vision for a more peaceful and just society.
Although it is difficult to understand the motives of those who would un-tether Malcolm X from history and allow him to drift into the vacuousness of the forgotten, there are others who are merely afraid we speak too much of Malcolm X. Although their love for him goes unquestioned, they believe that too much talking about him diminishes his significance, placates his fire and dilutes his prophetic nature.
In a 2000 conversation with Ossie Davis, who de-livered the eulogy at Malcolm’s funeral, the famous actor and dear friend of Malcolm said that “if you talk too much about somebody, you will ultimately destroy their meaning” (Davis, 2000: 14).
The fear is that if Malcolm becomes too “commonplace,” if we become too accustomed to him being with us and in our lives, then the uncomfortable truths he so forcefully spoke will lose their critical potency, and his bitter truth-telling will no longer disturb our complacent sensibilities. If spoken of too often, Malcolm becomes irrelevant to our contemporary times, being quietly absorbed into popular “culture”; “culture” being what the philosopher Slavoj Žižek often describes as “what we do but no longer take seriously.”
Therefore, the second imperative we face in our studies of Malcolm X is to resist what Davis warned us about; to lose Malcolm through our own linguistic domestication and academic pacification of him; to make him into a powerless historical artifact; to petrify him within his own times;
or to mistakenly focus an inordinate amount of time of “historical specula-tion” over issues that simply are not essential to understanding the his religio- political mission. Although it is easy to do so, we cannot smother Malcolm X with our gratitude and love for him.
Therefore, we must persevere in taking Malcolm X seriously, to expand upon his thought, to return to him when the antagonisms of racism, class divisions, and Islamophobia infect our body-politic, and to continually rejuvenate the spirit of resistance that he embodied. To not study Malcolm X, or to not talk about his life and thought is to rob the world of one of its most powerful and prophetic voices, precisely at a time when it’s in desperate need for such critical voices.
Additionally, to allow him to be written out of history is to abandon the very world which Malcolm fought to bring into existence. The vision of a world reconciled, where the antagonisms of race, class, gender, etc., no longer animate our society, stands on the backs of men and women like Malcolm X, who never wilted in the face of entrenched opposition.
The scholars represented in this book wish not only to remember Malcolm X, but to augment his memory by continuing to develop his critique of a brutal and unjust world; to advance on the battlefield against the antagonistic society which expresses itself in racial superiority, greed, and hatred for the other, and to abate, arrest and negate the world that abuses, rapes and discards those it finds unworthy of moral consideration.
In other words, it is imperative to study Malcolm X and other voices of resistance now more than ever, as the conditions that created the need for such voices continues to advance. The “globalization of indifference” and the “economy that kills,” which the Latin American Pope Francis of-ten speaks of, creates ever-more victims in the name of prosperity and progress (Pope Francis, 2013). Unfortunately, the same brutal logic of domination animates the struggle for justice in the global south today just as it did – and still does – in the United States during Malcolm’s life;
the reality of which he came to realize as he traveled abroad in the last years of his life. Such a situation can-not go unopposed, and thus our return to and invocation of Malcolm X.
The scholars represented in this volume come from various backgrounds. Some are sociologists and historians, while others are theologians and philosophers; they live and work in North America, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia, and teach at some of the finest institutions of higher learning. Together they give us some of the most compelling reasons why Malcolm X is relevant to our world today; why he must be studied, spoke of, debated and advanced, and why his religious faith, coupled with his prophetic way-of-being in the world, shed a new light on what the religion of Islam is capable of when its humanistic spirit is brought to the forefront of its praxis. Malcolm X is the fin-est example of both Islam and the African-American community.
Unencumbered by fanatic dogmatism, fundamentalism and tribalism, Islam is capable of motivating humanity to strive for a more just and peaceful world, just as Prophet Muhammad had done in Arabia, while African-American resistance to American dehumanization and unmitigated violence (both psychological and physical), and its ability to rise above the ugliness of white supremacy, congealed in the ferocity of Malcolm’s words and deeds.
Embodied in one man, we find the prophetic spirit of both Islam and those who were martyred for African-American emancipation and freedom.
Malcolm X From Political Eschatology to Religious Revolutionary, Malcolm X From Political Eschatology to Religious Revolutionary, Malcolm X From Political Eschatology to Religious Revolutionary, Malcolm X From Political Eschatology to Religious Revolutionary
We think Malcolm X is not only important as a historical figure who could inspire generations to come but his intellectual significance is an issue which we should also reflect upon in a profound fashion. Mere historical accounts of Malcolm X that are prevalent in academia tend to ignore the theoretical importance of his work. We think it is important to realize that post-racial theories without his contributions would be deeply incomplete.
In other words, if we are serious about overcoming the ‘cancer of racism’ or the fundamentals of unjust system of capitalism in the world, we need to turn to Malcolm X in conjunction with others, such as Ali Shariati and Frantz Fanon, as they provide us with alternative theoretical trajectories. Of course, this is not a call to adore Malcolm X but rather it is an attempt to revitalize the possibilities of a Malcolmian perspective in the context of critical social theory.
To state it differently, we reject the idea that Malcolm X is passé; rather his corpus of thought illuminates alternative possibilities which may appear in the future of humanity if we are serious about curing the ‘social cancers’ which have afflicted the soul of humankind.
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