Rebel Lives: Malcolm X – His teaching and relevance for today

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We intend to make Rebel Lives a regular feature, with the purpose being to profile various revolutionaries from across the globe. Tonight we start with the iconic Malcolm X to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Last Saturday, the 21st February, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Malcolm X was an extremely controversial but also interesting figure. He began life as a petty thief but converted to Islam while in prison. He joined the Nation of Islam, a black nationalist and supremacist organisation. His skillful oratory made him quickly move up the ranks and become its most influential figure. Under Malcolm’s leadership, the Nation flourished and experienced significant growth, with a young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay joining – later to be known as Muhammed Ali. Malcolm left the group after a personal dispute with its leader Elijah Muhammed after his infamous “The chickens have come home to roost” remark in response to the JFK assassination. Malcolm set up his own organisation, Muslim Mosque Inc., and converted to Sunni Islam after a trip to Mecca in 1964. His views on race and vociferous opposition to racial integration moderated in this period of his life.

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His views on black self-defense and the need for blacks to take up arms and defend themselves or otherwise be forever subjugated have been proven to be correct. The ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the constant reports of black Americans being shot dead by police, show the need for blacks to organise. In Ireland too,the situation faced by northern Catholics closely resembled the situation faced by Afro-Americans. The Catholics in the 6 counties also faced a brutal and oppressive police force and a wider section of the population who despised them. His beliefs were taken up by the Black Panthers, a socialist revolutionary group who J.Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, was to call the “biggest internal security threat in the United States.”

Malcolm espoused Pan-Africanism and the unity of all blacks – not just Africans but also Asians and those in Latin America. He believed it was up to all subjugated people to forget their differences and stand together. Initially, he wanted blacks to completely seperate themselves from whites but after his pilgrimage to Mecca where he prayed with men of all colours, including whites, he changed his view. He believed that blacks must build up their own nation, must become self-suffecient and above all, have pride in themselves. In Ireland, we have a lot to learn from this. A Channel 4 “comedy” is due to be released which portrays the Irish holocaust or “famine” as a comedic event. Irish youth are afraid of their own language, they refuse to speak it and ridicule those who have an affinity with it. Irish culture and pride is at an all time low, not being “cool” enough for the youth today who face a constant barrage of Anglo-American culture. Malcolm X’s teaching on pride and rejuvenation of an exploited people are important for Irish revolutionaries to study.

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He also began to see things increasingly on a class based view. He vocally supported the revolutions in Cuba, China and in the 3rd World. I have no doubt had he lived a few more years he would have also supported the northern Catholics in Ireland in their struggle for equality and justice. When asked what he thought of Socialism, he asked what had it done for black people? The response of his interviewer was that it had proven positive, prompting Malcolm to say “then I’m all for it.” Malcolm’s articulation of the need for blacks to achieve liberation “by any means necessary” is very important for colonised people, including us Irish, to listen to. It certainly resonated with Nelson Mandela of South Africa. In one of my personal favourite quotes, he also theoirised that “You can’t have Capitalism without racism.”

Malcolm X was assassinated by three Nation of Islam members on the 21st February, 1965. He left behind a wife and 4 children but also a legacy of struggle. He made mistakes but also apologised for them and made amends. I would certainly classify him as one of my personal heroes. Malcolm possessed an unshakeable devotion to his people, and indeed to all people struggling for a better and fairer world. It’s a shame he died at only 39 years old as he clearly had a lot more to give. Che Guevara said that the most important thing for a revolutionary to possess was love. In this, Malcolm was certainly a true revolutionary.

Graham

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