Was Malcolm X a political Islamist?
by Nu’man Abd al-Wahid
“Malcolm had an inclusive secular approach to the African-American struggle and not an exclusive religious approach rooted in the superiority of any given religion.”
The only way we can assess if Malcolm X became an Islamist or his political trajectory was heading towards that direction is to unpack what he said or did not say after his split Elijah Muhammad’s ‘Nation of Islam’ (NOI). It goes without saying that for as long as he was a member of the NOI he was the leading advocate of its distinctive cultural, social, economic and political theology and/or ideology.
First of all what do we mean by Islamism and/or radical political Islam? According to the scholar Oliver Roy in a study for the United Nations, Islamism “is the brand of modern political Islamic fundamentalism which claims to recreate a true Islamic society, not simply by imposing sharia, or Islamic law, but by first establishing an Islamic state through political action.” Earlier in the study he had unpacked and defined “fundamentalism” as “a call for the return of all Muslims to the true tenets of Islam (or what is perceived as such): this trend is usually called ‘salafism’ (‘the path of the ancestors’).” Individuals who uphold this ideology are referred to as Islamists of one variety or another.
Split with NOI
Malcolm X’s split with the NOI began with a suspension for ninety days following his now famous comment, “chickens coming home to roost” with regard to the assassination of President Kennedy on the 2nd December 1963. The NOI hierarchy had previously sent out instructions to its ministers not to say anything on the assassination.
However, there had already been brewing antagonism between certain members in the hierarchy within the NOI and Malcolm X for several years. Malcolm’s growing media popularity coupled with the fragile health of the leader of the NOI, Mr. Elijah Muhammad, caused those in the latter’s immediate circle to fear their positions if Malcolm were to succeed to the top of the organization. After all, to even Malcolm’s distress, the media was referring to him as the NOI’s “Number Two.” As Minister Louis Farrakhan was to say many years later: “They had these positions that they wanted to keep, [so] they began to persecute brother Malcolm from headquarters.” Furthermore, Malcolm’s growing politicization in his analysis of the African-American civil rights struggle and his urge for the NOI to be more active in this fight may have further alienated him with the hierarchy. As he stated in his biography:
“If I harbored any personal disappointment whatsoever, it was that privately I was convinced that our Nation of Islam could be an even greater force in the American black man’s overall struggle – if we engaged in more action...I felt that, wherever black people committed themselves, in the Little Rocks and the Birminghams and other places, militantly disciplined Muslims should also be there – for all the world to see, and respect, and discuss.”
“Malcolm’s growing politicization in his analysis of the African-American civil rights struggle and his urge for the NOI to be more active in this fight may have further alienated him with the hierarchy.”
During the ninety day suspension Malcolm found time to visit Cassius Clay’s (later Muhammad Ali) camp as he was preparing for his boxing championship bout with Sonny Liston, set for the 25th February 1964. As Manning Marable noted in his biography, Malcolm was expecting to be reinstated to his position in the NOI and indeed during “most of February Malcolm continued to appeal to Muhammad for reinstatement, to no avail.”
When Malcolm was advising Muhammad Ali in February 1964, he was doing so a member of the NOI, albeit a suspended one. At this stage he was still expecting to rejoin his teacher, Elijah Muhammad in the NOI. In other words he had not fully departed from the NOI at this point. Many of the iconic film, photographs and images of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali together come from the suspension period.
Malcolm received a letter from Elijah Muhammad on the 5th March 1964, informing him of his indefinite suspension.viOn 8th March he announced to a New York Times reporter that he has organizationally split from the NOI but not the teachings of Mr. Muhammad. He added that although he was no longer in the NOI, he could still “best spread Mr.Muhammad’s message by staying out of the Nation of Islam and continuing to work on my own among America’s 22 million non-Muslim negroes.”
At a press conference four days later, Malcolm continued to hold that “Mr. Muhammad’s analysis of the problem” of the African-American situation as the “most realistic” and his solution as “the best one.” He confirmed that he will establish a new Organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. (MMI). This new mosque was to be organized “in such a manner to provide for the active participation of all Negroes in our political, economic and social programs, despite their religious or non-religious beliefs.” His stated political philosophy at the point was black nationalism which he defined as African Americans controlling “the politics and politicians of the community” in an independent manner with a view to “sweep out of office all Negro politicians who are puppets for the outside forces.”
Although Malcolm must have been aware of the presence other forms of Islam especially as practised by Asian or Arab migrants, his prime political commitment upon leaving the NOI was not to seek them out but to reaffirm his loyalty and commitment to the African American struggle for political rights and equality. There is no sudden move towards “orthodox” Islam at this point. Indeed many of the people that followed Malcolm into the MMI were people who had no issues with NOI’s theology but simply wanted to see more political action.
Ballot and the Bullet
In the month between the 12th March 1963 and his departure for Cairo enroute to making the Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj) in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia on April 13th 1964, Malcolm delivered one of his most famous speeches, “the Ballot and the Bullet.”
In this speech which stressed the importance of African-Americans voting wisely and moulding their collective vote for their united benefit. He argued that the majority white vote is equally split therefore the minority black vote used collectively contains within it the balance of power. He argued African-Americans should pool their franchise together and become a deciding force in elections. In effect become a voting bloc to be taken seriously. Furthermore, he argued that the civil rights movement should widen its horizons and campaign for African-American human rights: “When you expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights, you can then take the case of the black man in this country before the nations in the UN.”
He also had this to say about religion:
“Although I’m still a Muslim, I’m not here tonight to discuss my religion. I’m not here tonight to try and change your religion. I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it’s time to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem – a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim, or a nationalist...We’re all in the same boat...Whether we are Christians or Muslims or nationalists or agnostics or atheists, we must first learn to forget our differences, let us differ in the closet.”
Such a statement delivered today by a supposed so-called “Muslim leader” would certainly expose him to belittling and disparaging categorizations if not outright excommunication from certain brands of Islamists. It is quite clear from this paragraph that Malcolm had an inclusive secular approach to the African-American struggle and not an exclusive religious approach rooted in the superiority of any given religion.
“Malcolm clearly saw the African-American struggle as part of the decolonisation struggle against the UK, France and other Europeans powers in Africa and Asia.”
If anyone had missed the point, Malcolm later elaborated on how his new organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. intends to operate:
“It’s true we’re Muslims and our religion is Islam, but we don’t mix our religion with our politics and our economics and our social and civil activities – not any more. We keep our religion in our mosque.” r
He then encourages the audience to join any organization regardless of its religiosity or non-religiosity as long as it practises complete cultural, social, economic and political accountability to African-Americans in areas where African-Americans constitute the mass majority.
On the 8th April Malcolm gave a speech titled “The Black Revolution” and once again he calls for the African-American struggle to be expanded from the status of civil rights to human rights. Also, as in the “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, he warns that non-violent struggle may have past its sell-by date and there were now seeming sporadic acts of violence taking place which may evolve and morph into outright guerrilla warfare. Malcolm clearly saw the African-American struggle as part of the decolonisation struggle against the UK, France and other Europeans powers in Africa and Asia. He confirmed that the black nationalists,
“look upon themselves as a part of dark mankind. They see the whole struggle not within the confines of the American stage, but they look upon the struggle on the world stage... they see that the dark man outnumbers the white man. On the world stage the white man is just a microscopic minority.”
Before departing for the Hajj, Malcolm according to Manning Marable met with a certain Dr. Mahmoud Shawarbi who gave him a book by the Egyptian diplomat, Abd al-Rahman Azzam, titled the “Eternal Message of Muhammad.” In this book Shawarbi had written the contact details of Azzam’s son. This contact greatly assisted in Malcolm’s passage to perform the Hajj.
Just after he completed the Hajj, Malcolm wrote his famous letter dated 20th April 1964 about his experience in Mecca where he had never “witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient holy land…” and furthermore America “needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases the race problem from its society.”
After departing the Hajj he visited Lebanon, Cairo, Nigeria and Ghana. While at the latter he wrote another letter dated 11th May 1964 reflecting on his African visit. He noted that upon “close study, one can easily see a gigantic design to keep Africans here and the African-Americans from getting together.” And more importantly, he thought “it is time for all African-Americans to become an integral part of the world’s Pan-Africanists, and even though we might remain in America physically while fighting for the benefits the Constitution guarantees us, we must ‘return’ to Africa philosophically and culturally and develop a working unity in the framework of Pan-Africanism.” He reiterates this notion of “return” in the biography:
“...philosophically and culturally we Afro-Americans badly needed to ‘return’ to Africa – and to develop a working unity in the framework of Pan-Africanism.”
So it is resolutely and abundantly clear that in the immediate aftermath of his leaving the NOI and also after he made the pilgrimage to Mecca he remained committed to the African-American struggle and more specifically he wanted to connect the struggle of African-Americans to a larger anti-imperialist Pan-African agenda. There is no mention of or prioritizing the establishment an Islamic state, no advocacy of shari’ah (Islamic) law and certainly no embrace of any religious exclusive ideology i.e. sectarianism.
Who am I?
When he finally returned and touched down in the United States on May 21st 1965 he had this to say about his journey and whether he would be widely using the name on his passport, Malik al-Shabbaz:
“My going to Mecca and going into the Muslim world and into the African world and being recognized and accepted as a Muslim and as a brother may solve the problem for me personally but I personally feel that my personal problem is never solved as long as the problem is not solved for all of our people in this country. So I remain Malcolm X as long as there is a need to protect and struggle and fight against the injustices that our people are involved in this country.”
He then reiterated his intention to lead a campaign to charge the United States at the United Nations for its treatment of African-Americans as well as to continue to articulate the case for African-Americans to form rifle clubs for self-defence.
“He wanted to connect the struggle of African-Americans to a larger anti-imperialist Pan-African agenda.”
By May 23rd Malcolm was on the political stomp in Chicago. In this period he observed that many of the nations of Africa and Asia freeing themselves from imperialism and colonialism were turning to socialism and communism. In other words, the nations freeing themselves from imperialism that he admired were not advocating any form of Islamism.
Come early June 1964, a good six months after his initial suspension from the Nation Of Islam, Malcolm began openly speaking about Elijah Muhammad’s wives which he had heard “hints” about since the 1950’s, in an uncomplimentary manner. Malcolm’s remarks poured more fuel and exacerbated further hostility between himself and the Nation of Islam’s hierarchy.
On June 28th Malcolm publicly inaugurated the first meeting of his new organization, the Organization of African-American Unity (OAAU). The purpose of the OAAU was to unite “everyone in the Western Hemisphere of African descent into one unified force.” The new organization was resolved to establish “a non-sectarian program for human rights” for all people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. Malcolm sets out the new agenda very early in this speech and it clearly has nothing to do with Islamism. Once again there is no indication that he is developing an Islamist polity or even laying the foundations for one. Three main themes come to the attention when reading this address.
Firstly and mainly he wants Africans and African-Americans to take pride in African history and acquaint themselves with the likes of Nat Turner, Toussaint and Hannibal. African-Americans should establish independent schools which teach and install pride by way of teaching African history in a positive light. Once again, there is no mention of an Islamic or Islamist school system.
Secondly, politically and economically, he wants the exploitation of the African-American community to come to an end. One of the ways this was to be ended was through controlling the decision making process the community and that the OAAU “is responsible only to the Afro-American people and the Afro-American community. This organization is not responsible to anybody but us.”
Thirdly, culturally, this is what he had to say:
“Our cultural revolution must be the means of bringing us closer to our African brothers and sisters. It must begin in the community and be based on community participation. Afro-Americans will be free to create only when they can depend on the Afro-American community for support, and Afro-American artists must realize that they depend on the Afro-American community for inspiration.”
In the question and answer session after this founding address he affirmed the need of internationalizing the African-American struggle and taking it out of the hands of the United States. For the OAAU, judicial recourse was to be sought elsewhere:
“So we must take it out of the hands of the United States government. And the only way we can do this is by internationalizing it and taking advantage of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Charter on Human Rights, and on that ground bring it into the UN before a world body wherein we can indict Uncle Sam for the continued criminal injustices that our people experience in this government.”
“He affirmed the need of internationalizing the African-American struggle.”
According to Manning Marable’s biography, Malcolm had a new attitude to white Americans and he “now offered them a role in his human rights initiative. White allies could contribute financially to the OAAU, and they were encouraged to work for racial justice within white communities.”
This is actually what Malcolm said:
“No organization that is financed by white support can ever be independent enough to fight the power structure with the type of tactics necessary to get real results... And the only way we can be independent of it is to be independent of all support from the white community. It’s a battle that we have to wage ourselves.
“Now, if white people want to help, they can help. But they can’t join. They can help in the white community, but they can’t join. We accept their help. They can form the White Friends of the Organization of Afro-American...
“So we don’t question their sincerity, we don’t question their motives, we don’t question their integrity. “We just encourage them to use it somewhere else—in the white community. If they can use all of this sincerity in the white community to make the white community act better toward us, then we’ll say, ‘Those are good white folks.’ But they don’t have to come around us, smiling at us and showing us all their teeth like white Uncle Toms, to try and make themselves acceptable to us...
“This is why Garvey was able to be more militant. Garvey didn’t ask them for help. He asked our people for help. And this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to try and follow his books.”
There is no wishy-washy preaching of any kind of religious brotherhood in this statement. And it is in this atmosphere of a free, independent, self-sufficient and determined organization that something new will be born amongst Africans in America. According to Malcolm:
“And in that atmosphere, brothers and sisters, you’d be surprised what will come out of the bosom of this black man. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen black musicians when they’d be jamming at a jam session...he picks up his horn and starts blowing some sounds that he never thought of before. He improvises, he creates, it comes from within. It’s his soul...it’s that soul music. It’s the only area on the American scene where the black man has been free to create. And he has mastered it. He has shown that he can come up with something that nobody ever thought of on his horn. Well likewise he can do the same thing if given intellectual independence. He can come up with a new philosophy. He can come up with a philosophy that nobody has heard of yet. He can invent a society, a social system, an economic system, a political system, that is different from anything that exists or has ever existed anywhere on this earth. He will improvise; he’ll bring it from within himself. And this is what you and I want.”
Here Malcolm pictures or visions a future notion or ontology of what will become of independent minded African-Americans by drawing an analogy with the creativeness of the African-American music scene. Such an analogy is an anathema to many, if not all, varieties of Islamist leaning politics whether it be the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis.
He goes on to end the question and answer session by claiming that Patrice Lumumba, was the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent and that his newborn will be named after him.
Return to Africa
No sooner had he launched his new organization than he was off on his travels again. He arrived in Cairo, via London on the 12th July 1964. He spent the first 2-3 months in Egypt attaining more knowledge of the Islam as was practised there, visiting the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor as well as taking in trips to Alexandria. On August 2nd he was ceremonially awarded with 20 tuition-free scholarships by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA) for his organization, MMI. On September 11th he addressed Cairo students in the African Association protesting USA intervention in the Congo. Later in the same month, after he visited Gaza he wrote a condemnation of Israel’s Zionist colonialism of Palestine which included the still very pertinent question:
“Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the ‘religious’ claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago?”
He finally left Egypt on the 18th September for Saudi Arabia for what turned out to be an 11-day visit. Here he further secured 15 scholarships for American students wishing to study Islam. In the final days of September 1964 he arrives in Kuwait and from there he visited Beirut before flying out to the Khartoum in Sudan. He arrived in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, on the 30th September 1964. He lectures in the Ethiopian capital before flying out to Kenya on the 5th October and he stays there until the 28th October. In October he makes a quick a journey to Zanzibar and Tanzania before returning to Kenya to make a speech in the Kenyan parliament. After the speech the Kenyan parliament passes a resolution in support of the African-American “human rights struggle.” In late October he is in Nigeria and arrives in Ghana on the 2nd November before moving onto Geneva on the 16th November, he takes in Liberia, Guinea and Dakar, Senegal. While in Geneva he met the exiled Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood operator, Said Ramadan for an evening. The Brotherhood had been proscribed and some members imprisoned in Egypt after their failed assassination attempt on President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. He arrives back in New York on the 24th November after spending a week in Paris.
The Final Months
Just like his return from his journey earlier in the year, there is nothing upon his return in late November 1964 which even indicates or suggests that he is on the verge of re-prioritising his politics away from the social, economic and political predicament and struggle facing twenty-two African-Americans and embracing the then Islamist agenda of the leading Islamists of that period, the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia.
From the 30th November to 6th December Malcolm visited England. The main purpose of this visit was to participate at Oxford University Union debate. In this debate Malcolm’s delivers a scathing account of the western intervention in the Congo and the way the media assists in this intervention:
“When the people in power want to...create an image to justify something that’s bad, they use the press. And they’ll use the press to create a humanitarian image for a devil, or a devil image, for a humanitarian. They’ll take a person who’s a victim of the crime, and make it appear he’s the criminal, and they’ll take the criminal and make it appear that he’s the victim of the crime.”
This observation was nothing new to Malcolm. When in prison he had noted that the first European imperialists always “branded ‘heathen’ and ‘pagan’ labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilisations. The stage set, he then turned upon his non-white victims his weapons of war.”
In the debate he informs the learned gathering that he is a Muslim, he is mainly “speaking as a black man from America.” Another major part of the debate is that he delineates the limits of American democracy. He points out that many influential senators and congressman who control the decision making process in Washington are representatives of constituencies where African-Americans are barred from voting. Once again, this is nothing new. He had highlighted this outrageous and brazen democratic shortcoming after he had left the NOI and before he his first visit to Mecca in his “Ballot or the Bullet” speech.
“He spoke as an American black man seeking justice for 22 million African-Americans.”
An Oxford University Union debating event would have provided Malcolm with one of the world’s greatest platforms to propound many of the cliches of Islamism such as the need to establish an Islamic State; the importance of Muslims following Islamic law; he could’ve also spoke about how the Prophet Muhammad’s time and those of his immediate successors was the most important time in history and it is imperative that contemporary Muslims hold this up as the ultimate ideal. Malcolm never quoted any Quranic verses or any spoke of any hadiths (Prophet’s sayings or traditions). He may have done, but he didn’t. He didn’t because he spoke as an American black man seeking justice for 22 million African-Americans who are a part of other Africans seeking liberation and justice from Western Imperialism in Africa.
Actually in all of Malcolm’s speeches after he left the NOI or after he visited Mecca there is probably not one moment whereby he quotes the a verse from the Qur’an or a saying of the Prophet Muhammad i.e. a hadith, in support of his new post-NOI, (after Hajj) politics. According to an early biographer, George Breitman, Malcolm made 17-18 speeches in Harlem after he left the NOI and one would be hard pressed to find any references to an Islamist agenda in any of these speeches. This is not to say that he wasn’t really a Muslim its just that he had a secular approach to politics. In the “Ballot or the Bullet” he had this to say about the position of religion:
“I’m not here tonight to discuss my religion. I’m not here to try and change your religion. I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because its time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we that we have the same problem – a problem that will make you catch hell whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim or a nationalist.”
After he had returned from Mecca, set up the OAAU and returned from his second journey, Malcolm was more nuanced. In December 1964 he had this to say about his Organization:
“The Organization of African-American Unity is non-religious group of black people who believe that the problems confronting our people in this country need to be re-analysed and a new approach devised toward getting a solution.”
On the evening of the morning his house was fire-bombed in February 1965, Malcolm delivered a speech called “A Worldwide Revolution” which affirmed his continued dedication to the “organizing of Black people into a group that are interested in doing things constructive, not for just one religious segment of the community, but for the entire Black community. This is what the purpose of the Organization of Afro-American Unity is.”
Furthermore, in the following evening (of the week he was to be murdered), Malcolm reiterated that his new organization was set up to help all African-Americans overcome the “complex” problems that they face. The OAAU is a “non-religious organization...and is so structured organizationally to allow for active participation of any Afro-American, any Black American, in a program that is designed to eliminate the negative political, economic, and social evils that our people are confronted by in this society.”
On January 24th 1965, less than a month before his assassination, Malcolm delivered a speech on Afro-American history. Now what is resolutely telling is that if Malcolm had become an Islamist he would have a delivered a speech on Islamic history or given an Islamist rendition of what Islamic history – replete with references to sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, his companions and assorted Islamic theologians and scholars. Instead Malcolm gives a rendition of black or African history that takes Carthage, Sumerian, Dravidian, Egyptian and Ethiopian civilizations into account. In his reading, the Moors of Spain were an example of black or African history whereas today Islamists refer to the centuries old Moorish rule of Spain as “Muslim Spain.” The Arab historians refer to it as, al-Andalus.
What’s clear in Malcolm’s speeches in the final year of his life and especially after his return from Africa in November 1964 is that they are replete with references to anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in African and Asia. The Chinese, Algerian and Cuban revolutions were reference points held up as models of change that African-Americans needed to aspire to. In his biography he praised the overthrow of King Farouk in Egypt and the succession of President Nasser as “an example of a true revolution.” Patrice Lumumba of the Congo was clearly one of Malcolm’s heroes. On December 13th 1964, Che Guevara was invited to address an OAAU meeting but sent a sent a message because of his tight schedule. Not one of these individuals or any other movements Malcolm referenced after his break from the NOI or after he returned from Hajj in Mecca were advocates of Islamism or an Islamic revolution.
The main Islamist (or those connected with Islamism) argument to claim Malcolm X as an advocate of their cause is rooted in chicanery. Professor Tariq Ramadan, the son of Said Ramadan, claims that Malcolm’s “coming back to Islam was the best way to become universal.” The problem with this is that Malcolm never “came back” to Islam. Yes, he embraced “orthodox” Islam to make the Hajj in Mecca. At the time Malcolm’s Hajj, “orthodox” Islam could either mean sunni or shia branch of Islam as there was limited sectarian tensions during that period largely because both Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shia) were in the pro-Western camp against the Soviet Union and both these countries were united against indigenous nationalist or left-wing movements.
The attempted Islamist appropriation of Malcolm X’s legacy and who Malcolm was is centrally rooted in placing his pilgrimage (Hajj) within the paradigm of Malcolm coming “back to the very meaning of his religion.” For Muslim proselytisers, a person outside of their interpretation of Islam who becomes a Muslim does not convert to Islam but reverts to Islam. Islamic theology considers all people to be born in a natural state of “fidhrah” (which is interpreted as a being born Muslim) and it is their upbringing which makes them non-Muslim. Therefore, a non-Muslim who becomes Muslim is reverting to his natural state. The problem with this, as we have already seen, is that Malcolm never spoke of a “coming back” or a “return” to Islam. Or at the very least he never spoke how a supposed “coming back” or “return” to Islam informed his politics. Actually, the only “return” that Malcolm X in his role as a leader of Afro-Americans was interested in, was a philosophical and cultural one:
“...philosophically and culturally we Afro-Americans badly needed to ‘return’ to Africa – and to develop a working unity in the framework of Pan-Africanism.”
Also, Malcolm’s internationalism and his open solidarity with revolutionary forces struggling against American, British, French and Belgian imperialism is what it is and not some ‘universality’ rooted in a non-existent “coming back” to ‘true’ Islam. He was very clear that African-Americans should abjure the minority approach to their struggle for equality and see themselves as part of the majority African and Asian struggle rising against the western imperial powers. In the final month of his life, he said this of his new organization:
“We think of things worldly, or as the world is; we think of our part in the world, and we look upon ourselves not as a dark minority on the white American stage, but rather we look upon ourselves as a part of the dark majority who now prevail on the world stage.”
There clearly wasn’t anything vague or opaque in Malcolm’s internationalism as it was rooted in the radical and revolutionary politics of his time.
“He was very clear that African-Americans should abjure the minority approach to their struggle for equality and see themselves as part of the majority African and Asian struggle rising against the western imperial powers.”
During the Cold War years, Islamism as was represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan was in the Western imperialist camp against communism and third world movements.xli The Islamist hijacking and remolding of Malcolm X’s legacy as someone who ‘returns’ to Islam by virtue of making the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) is about hollowing out and stripping Malcolm X’s anti-imperialism and repackaging him in their image and agenda.
In the same vein that many in the West limit the meaning and narrative of Martin Luther King to someone who made the “I Have a Dream” speech, the Islamist attempt to capture Malcolm X’s legacy is based on what they perceive to be his “coming back” or embrace of “true” Islam as exemplified in his pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca. By making the Hajj the central motif of his mission after he leaves the NOI, the Islamist attempts to define Malcolm in his image.
The grotesque irony is that the Islamist image of Malcolm X can then be used to justify western imperialist led interventions in Africa and Asia when it is compatible with Islamism. For example, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) celebrate the life of Malcolm X and yet called for international military intervention in Libya in 2011. NATO, the most powerful western military alliance ever, became the air force of the Islamist “rebels” in this intervention. While Yvonne Ridley, a politician and a supporter of Islamist causes, quoted Malcolm X to justify the bombing of an African country by the imperialists. The Islamist Moazzam Begg, who meets with British intelligence officials before entering war-torn Syria, delivers lectures on Malcolm X.
The Islamist anchoring of and the incubating of their ideology and program by mischievously, shamelessly and corrupting what Malcolm X actually stood for after he left the NOI is to be expected from a political trend that has no relevant and acceptable political role models for young black and brown living in the West.
Nu’man Abd al-Wahid is a Yemeni-English independent researcher specializing in the political relationship between the British state and the Arab World. His main focus is on how the United Kingdom has historically maintained its political interests in the Arab World. His essays have appeared in Alternet, al-Akhbar (Lebanon), Mondoweiss and Black Commentator. A full collection of essays can be accessed at www.churchills-karma.com. Twitter handle: @ChurchillsKarma.
37 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy7k_mdJYjE 37m 58sec (accessed on 16th February 2015)
41 Robert Dreyfuss, “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam”, New York, Metropolitan Books, 2005 and Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: Britain’s collusion with Radical Islam, London, Sepant’s Tail, 2010.