Saturday, February 21, 2015

"How long shall they kill our prophets"?: Remembering Malcom X

Perusing my Twitter feed this morning I ran across a link to Tim Stanley's article in Great Britain's Telegraph newspaper alerting me to the fact that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X: "Malcolm X's assassination robbed the world of a Muslim civil rights visionary." At least from where I sit, I think Stanley is spot on (see "MLK/Human Rights Day- X Factor Ed(Add?)ition").

Stanley begins his article by noting that, at the time of his murder at the hands of agents of the Nation of Islam (the radical group with which he had be associated until his conversion to Sunni Islam), Malcolm was not held in high esteem, even by the liberal media. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that, in many quarters, his untimely death was seen as something largely positive.

"Fifty years on," Stanley notes, "Malcolm’s reputation is very different. With a better understanding of what Malcolm really thought and what he really stood for, he now stands out as a prophet of the civil rights era and the embodiment of black pride."

In terms of religion, Malcolm was not content to wait for an ethereal kingdom that was to come, a view tailor-made to let the gross injustices he experienced first-hand as a black man in the twentieth century United States stand.

Malcolm X

It seems to me that the function of a prophet, for the most part, is not to mystically and magically foretell the future (we can leave that to the spiritualists of all stripes), but to diagnose what ails us and to simply point out the devastating effects of our dis-ease with each other and so with God. In fact, the Scripture reading for Morning Prayer this Saturday after Ash Wednesday notes this with clarity:
Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD (Isa 1:16-18a)
This is perfectly consistent with Pope Francis' call to the Church this Lent to resist what he calls "a globalization of indifference." In His own words, our Lord told us that He was sent "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18). Because we're not angels, there is no such thing as "spiritual liberation" that does not also include both mind and body.

"Nowadays," Stanley points out, "we’ve been trained by media portrayals to see Islam as politically radicalising and divisive." It is important not to forget, he continues, that Islam "helped transform Malcolm from a black leader who preached separation into a proponent of the hope that African-Americans could advance as part of a broader coalition with oppressed people – something closer to a socialist. Now advocating democratic participation." As proof, Stanley cites this quote of Malcolm's, made after his conversion from the weird sectarian version of Islam espoused by the Nation: "It's time for us 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."

It would've been a shame pass over this anniversary in silence. No matter what your view of Malcolm X, who was murdered when only 39 years-old, I hope we can all agree that we were deprived of a valuable voice and, at least in my view, we've been poorer for it.

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