Black Power and the American Christ

The following essay was published in 1967 by Vincent Harding, printed here from the volume, The Black Power Revolt – A Collection of Essays, Floyd B. Barbour editor [Extending Horizons Books].

The mood among many social-action-oriented Christians today suggests that it is only a line thin as a razor blade that divides sentimental yearning over the civil rights activities of the past from present bitter recrimination against “Black Power.” As is so often the case with reminiscences, the nostalgia may grow more out of a sense of frustration and powerlessness than out of any true appreciation of the meaning of the past. This at least is the impression one gets from those seemingly endless gatherings of old “true believers” which usually produce both the nostalgia and the recriminations. Generally the cast of characters at such meetings consists of well-dressed, well-fed Negroes and whites whose accents almost blend into a single voice as they recall the days “when we were all together, fighting for the same cause.“ The stories evoke again the heady atmosphere, mixed of smugness and self-sacrifice, that surrounded us in those heroic times when nonviolence was our watchword and integration our heavenly city. One can almost hear the strains of “our song” as men and women remember how they solemnly swayed in the aisles or around the charred remains of a church or in the dirty southern jails. Those were the days when Martin Luther King was the true prophet and when we were certain that the civil rights movement was God’s message to the churches-and part of our smugness grew out of the fact that we knew it while all the rest of God’s frozen people were asleep. Continue reading “Black Power and the American Christ”

Does America Have A Muslim Problem?

In a recent article featured in The New York Review of Books, Malise Ruthven postulates on the phenomenon of Islam in Europe.  He interrogates the question by examining Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, in tandem with Tariq Ramadan’s What I Believe.  Essentially, Ruthven sees both authors, while articulate, essentially digging the respective posts of their respective fences further into the ground.  Caldwell, in Ruthven’s opinion, does not provide substantiated evidence to support the claims of his argument which endeavors to pit a large “believing” population of Muslims against a skeptical, atheistic Europe.  Caldwell’s evidence looks impressive as he calls upon a number of wide ranging sources such as government statistical reports and social/census data.  Ruthven questions the validity of these findings by presenting some facts of his own, namely that in 2001, a French survey found that approximately 60% of French Muslim men did not practice, while French Muslim women came in at around 70%.  Though non-practicing, according to the findings, these Muslims still observed what they felt were “cultural attachments” such as avoiding pork or alcohol, or fasting during the month of Ramadan.

When turning her attention to Ramadan, Ruthven’s findings were no less scathing.  She accuses Ramadan of being a moral elitist, whose academic work is more like a Friday sermon in sheep’s clothing.  He also finds that Ramadan’s willingness to engage in difficult debate, where he might have to face some heavy-handed criticism coming from Europe’s intelligencia, too shallow for his taste.  In the introduction to What I Believe, Ramadan writes, “I will not waste my time here trying to defend myself.” For Ruthven, this is self-indictment on Ramadan’s part, a form of “doublespeak”, as he puts it, which only provides more ammunition to some of Ramadan’s staunchest critics, not the least of them is Caroline Fourest.  Fourest, whose dealings with Ramadan can seem to almost border on the obsessive, continues to find plenty of fodder to infer  a type of “double-talk”.  Fourest examines the tone and topic of Ramadan’s public works and those that speak to a young Muslim audience.  The topics range from his familial ties and history [his grandfather, Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood] to his academic work, which at times seems conflicted between accepting or rejecting Darwinism as well as the philosophies of the likes of Kant and Pascal.

I bring these issues to light, not because I concur with Ruthven’s or Fourest’s viewpoints, but rather because they do highlight a key issue: ethics.  There is a need for greater adherence to ethics and integrity on the part of Muslim leaders and intellectuals; an ethics that avoids the “doublespeak” and disparate opinions that morphs from arena to arena, depending on who is being “served”.  There are plenty of examples of political doublespeak on the part of prominent Muslim leaders, whose condemnations, before 9/11, included claims like, “the US being the Dajjal”, just to name one.  There is also the moral doublespeak on the part of Muslims in America, where the fiasco of MANA releasing a letter in condemning domestic violence, only to have the author of the letter, guilty of the same charge.

This is not a clarion call to not speak out to injustices when we see them. Like Moses [peace be upon him], we are commanded to speak that World of Truth to tyranny.  And in reference to Tariq Ramadan, my advice would be: Stick to your guns.  If you reject Darwinism [as this writer does], then state that plainly.  And while I would not suggest bogging oneself down in trivial debates, there are times when one must engage critical thought, even if much what is being said has little to no validation.  I am becoming more keenly aware of how hard and how difficult a challenge it is to be a Muslim who is on the minbar, in the classroom, or in the public eye, and maintain that level of ethical and moral fortitude.  There are times, quite frankly, when the weight of being a public spokesperson or leader is daunting.  Even the Prophet [s] faced this enormous task of delivering this message.  God articulates this dilemma the Revelation itself: “Had We not made you firm, you would have inclined towards them a little” [Q: 17: 74].  This verse is not so much about Muslim/non-Muslim relations as it is about the weighty task of the Prophet had in delivering the Message and his [s] desire to succeed in that task.  Likewise, we must be cognizant of audience bias and know that there are “Noble Guardians, recording, who know what we do” [Q: 82: 10-12].  With this approach in mind, we can hope to be better for Muslims in the short- [Dunya] and long-term [Akhirah], God willing.

Read in contrast of the article, Does Europe Have A Muslim Probelm, at the Immanent Frame.

The Aesthetics of War: John McCain and Nativist Patriotism

I am not given over to commenting on politics [at least on-going discourses] with great frequency; I tend to prefer bigger picture issues, but I thought I would share a short piece on my reaction to John McCain and the rhetoric I’ve heard coming from the Republican party. This should not be seen as anti-Republicanism, as I am not a part line personality. Rather, it is a critique on what they are presenting to the American public, particularly as one coming from the Blackamerican population.

John McCain’s legitimacy, based on his service in the military, is a telling point. While it is certainly a terrible thing to be held in a POW camp, no one in the media has yet to look at the Vietnam war in terms of a) was this a beneficial war b) what did it accomplish for the United States and c) what has been done for all of the veterans who returned from the war, permanently scared [mentally and physically]. I find this whole legitimacy based on participation in an unjust war disgusting and misleading. It smacks of classic nativist ideologies. In fact, I was fully reminded of Marinetti, when listening to members of the Republican Party laud their support of McCain at the GOP convention:

“For twenty seven years we Futurists have rebelled aginst the the branding of war as antiaesthetic… Accordingly we state: … War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others… Poets and artists of Futurism!… remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art… may be illuminated by them!”

Some may find it an unduly harsh step to brand this kind of talk as facist/futurist but it does have many of the same talking points. Like Marinett’s Futurists, the GOP barked the very same anti-intellectualism that is present in Marinetti’s writings. That fact that the Republicans put forth war as an aesthetic, as something beautiful, is undeniable. The War On tError has certainly shown us plenty of burning villages and civilian casualties. And for what? What “evil criminal force” has been detained, dismantled or destroyed? Many a young man or woman returns home, their limbs replaced by that very same “dreamt-of metalization”. The poppy fields of Afghanistan are indeed ripe with “the fiery orchids of machine guns” and yet, drugs still pour into our country, not debilitated in the slightest. And as for the cannonades, we have our “shock and awe” and Missions Accomplished, yet do we have anything to show for it?

I cannot say with any certainty that Barack Obama will be able to bring about wide, social or economic changes, but given the doctrine that McCain and his party are spewing forth, given that someone as obviously unqualified as Palin has been championed over the accomplishments of the likes of Obama, we have to look and work for an auspicious outcome. The alternative seems grim indeed.