Malcolm X Presentation Concludes MSU’s Islam Awareness Series

The Muslim Student Union held a presentation entitled the “Life and Legacy of Malcolm X” last Monday at the Crystal Court Auditorium as the final event of its annual Islam Awareness Series.

The event commemorated the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, who is considered to be one of the most influential African Americans in history. Known for his advocacy of black unity, black pride and human rights, Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem on Feb. 21, 1965.

Dr. Sohail Daulatzai, a UCI professor of African American studies and film and media studies, led the discussion. Daulatzai has written several publications about African American history and culture, including “Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America” and “Born To Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic.”

Daulatzai, who participated in a conference about Malcom X at Princeton University, said that understanding the legacy of Malcolm X is extremely important.

“Thinking through a figure like Malcolm X, there is a tremendous amount of lessons we can learn, about a whole host of issues that continue to concern not just Muslims, but the whole humanity in a post-9/11 context,” Daulatzai said.

After briefly discussing Malcolm X’s biography, Daulatzai discussed how Islam is a dominant part of the African American narrative. Today, a third of Muslims in the U.S. are African Americans.

“Islam was important for black people to recreate a sense of self and this is what black conversion to Islam has historically meant,” said Daulatzai. “When we think about Malcolm X and we think about his relationship to Islam, a couple of things should come to mind. First, how their conversion and their relationship to Islam was about excavating a lost or stolen past.”

Daulatzai also sought to correct the widely-held misconception that Malcolm X was a prominent civil rights leader. Daulatzai stressed that Malcolm X vehemently opposed civil rights guaranteed through legislative measures in Congress, by the court systems or by the President.

Many countries worldwide had become skeptical of the dominance of whites in America. Malcolm X viewed the purpose of civil rights as cause for black people to identify with Americans and that Congress only agreed to provide these rights in order to make America seem like a racially progressive place to the developing world.

“For the civil rights movement to gain traction, this was the deal – look, we’ll support your cold war and anti-communist ventures abroad, but in exchange we want you to pass anti-lynching laws, we want you to desegregate transportation, education and a whole host of other things,” said Daulatzai, referring to the pressure that the outside world was putting on the U.S. regarding its treatment of black people.

Daulatzai said that instead, Malcolm X identified himself more with revolutionary movements across the globe and believed that the civil rights movement fractured itself from solidarity with these movements. Malcolm X tried to connect the racial discrimination African Americans faced in the United States with the struggles people faced abroad in countries such as the Congo, Kenya or Pakistan.

Moreover, Daulatzai said that Malcolm X recognized that simply passing laws in order to guarantee freedom could not necessarily ensure equality. According to Daulatzai, statistics today attest to the fact that civil rights obtained through law did not actually grant or result in equality.

“If you look at black education gaps with whites, black income gaps with whites, black wealth gaps with whites, and black health gaps with whites, (conditions of blacks) are at or below what they were fifty years ago,” he said.

When he discussed religion, Daulatzai said that, like race, religion is an immutable characteristic. Both religion and race are intertwined and central to one’s physical identity.

“Now, in many ways, the figure of a Muslim is the preeminent racial ‘other’ in the world. In the Cold War era, every U.S. intervention at the time was defined by anti-communism. Today, the new paradigm is anti-terrorism,” he said.

The professor gave statistics to illustrate why defining Muslims as the center and new face of terrorism and new surveillance policies is inappropriate.

“Europol, the big European police institute, states that less than four percent of terrorist activities in Europe were committed by Muslims. In the U.S., that’s less than six percent,” Daulatzai said.

He also said that Muslims are often afraid to speak out and are concerned about being associated with terrorists. Daulatzai encouraged applying the lessons learned from the life of Malcolm X, or the importance of thinking broadly and systemically and recognizing the link between domestic problems and global problems.

“If all we’re doing is just asking for a seat on the table, then we’re not challenging the fundamental structural issues that exclude people from the table in the first place,” he said.

Daulatzai clarified this point during the question-and-answer session when he referred to the killing of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C., a crime which is currently under federal investigation in order to determine whether or not it was a hate crime. Daulatzai drew a connection between the students’ murders and the deaths that occur throughout the Middle East everyday.

“If you make Chapel Hill something about a hate crime by a lone individual, then you’re going to put pressure on the authorities and the legal agencies in a particular way, to classify this as a hate crime, and get a law passed in one of those or all three of those kids’ names,” he said.

According to Daulatzai, the murders were conducted in the same vein of violence as military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and drone killings. He said that once these types of domestic crimes are associated with the ongoing foreign wars, people may start putting pressure on the State Department, the Pentagon and other war interests rather than simply classifying them as hate crimes.

“I’m asking us to expand our political horizon,” Daulatzai said.