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News & Analysis > All
News & analysis from Proletarian Internationalist Notes—news, reviews and analysis from a global perspective
Muslim world citizen Muhammad Ali passes away
June 5, 2016
Muslim world citizen Muhammad Ali passed on June 3 in Arizona, U$A.
The words “world citizen” are on the minds of many at this time due to the boxing champion who won Olympic gold in 1960 and knocked out George Foreman in the Congo. It being election season in Amerika, it is interesting that a wide of variety of news outlets in the united $tates including Fox News are remembering Ali as a world citizen. What are these Amerika-first, “American workers first” (Obama) or Amerikan-middle-class-first people doing talking about “world citizen,” one might wonder.
For some, the idea of being a world citizen involves traveling internationally and being involved in other countries – even militarily. It can involve world-minded people who think themselves caring, compassionate, and even unprejudiced, wanting to improve Amerika’s image in countries thought to be backward – in order to influence them supposedly for their own good. So, many Democrats (careerist narcissists or not) involved in diplomacy/spying think of themselves as being particulary cosmopolitan.
However, Muhammad Ali in eir mid-twenties raised the idea that one could be a good world citizen without leaving one’s country. Indeed, Ali didn’t just refuse to be drafted during the Vietnam War. Ali showed up to refuse in persyn, did so knowing ey could go to prison for refusing, and almost sacrificed eir whole athletic career. Ali was stripped of titles and prevented from boxing legally, and had to overcome a defeat. Ali explicitly rejected the idea of leaving the united $tates as some with the means did. To Ali, to do so would have been to abandon an Islamic New Afrikan nationalist struggle. For Ali, refusing Army induction was based on both Islam(1) and a belief that it wasn’t the Vietnamese people oppressing New Afrikans.
“All of you white boys are breaking your neck to get to Switzerland, and Canada, and London. I’m not gonna help nobody get something my Negroes don’t have. If I’m gonna die, I’ll die now right here fighting you – if I’m gonna die. You my enemy. My enemy is the white people, not Vietcongs, or Chinese, or Japanese.”(2)
The U.$. State Department started viewing Muhammad Ali as a threat to u.$. interests in the early 1960s. It is less known among the less internationally oriented, including some liberal u$-centered Amerikans, focusing on Ali’s draft refusal. Ali was viewed as a potential threat because ey was in a position to help or hurt Amerika’s image in other countries, and impact other countries’ view of u.$. adversaries such as imperialist rival Soviet Union, depending on what Ali said or did. Ali made statements such as, “It is a shame how they tell lies about great people like [Gamal Abdel] Nasser.”(3) The united $tates opposed Nasser’s pan-Arabism and in doing so contributed to much current division and conflict in the world today. The united $tates also opposes pan-Islamism and pan-Africanism.
It’s easy for Amerikans to regard Ali’s draft refusal, based on conscientious objection and being a Nation of Islam minister, positively today. It is easy to do so after the Vietnam War – the military draft in particular – became very unpopular in the united $tates. There is no military draft in the united $tates today – except unofficially via the employment difficulties of New Afrikans with police records, etc. – but international spying, gunboat diplomacy, drone strikes and assassinations are all supported by Amerikans who were against the Vietnam War after or before the war ended.
Amerikans’ response to what NBA rebounding king Dennis Rodman did with athlete diplomacy and northern Korea shows that actions conflicting with what the State Department is doing remain highly controversial. White people in the united $tates can oppose a military draft, but opposing their state’s diplomatic bullying and gangsterism is another matter. Supporting New Afrikan nationalism (other than the most watered-down) also remains controversial, even after massive global media coverage of Black Lives Matter.
Once known as “Cassius X,” Ali was the most highly regarded athlete globally who at one point openly opposed integrationism from the perspective of the oppressed. As a promise of life together with Euro-Amerikans in equality, integrationism involves both a deception and a bribe. Integrationism displaces New Afrikan, First Nation and Chican@ struggles: those for independent institutions, self-determination and liberation, and against u.$. imperialism. Ali came into conflict with many middle-class New Africans, Martin Luther King, and the mainstream civil rights movement, for opposing integrationism while regarding Euro-Amerikans as enemies.
Integrationism is a particular problem in the context of the privilege that people in the united $tates have. People in the united $tates with a legal right to work are generally exploiters of Third World workers. Despite this situation, New Afrikans continue to exist as a distinct nation inside u.$. borders; New Afrika is no less a nation than a variety of other nations. There are contradictions between the New Afrikan nation and the Euro-Amerikan nation, including in employment, imprisonment, policing, psychiatry, and control of territory. Anti-Amerikan New Afrikan nationalism, not seeking a share in the wealth stolen from the Third World, plays a role in progress both inside the united $nakes and globally.
Muhammad Ali was an inspiration to many members of the Black Panther Party. Before its decline and destruction by the state, the Black Panther Party related New Afrikan self-determination and liberation to internationalism and Maoism, and recognized a significant labor aristocracy/parasitism problem in the united $tates impacting strategy in that country.(4) Huey Newton said, “How can we say that we have accomplished revolution if we redistribute the wealth just to the people here in North America when the ruling circle itself is guilty . . . they have taken away the goods of the people of the world, transported them to America and used them as their very own.” Similar to Muhammad Ali in not seeing eir world citizenship as complementing or additional to Amerikan citizenship, Newton also said, “Certainly, we are not citizens of the United States.”(5)
Ali’s death happens to coincide with a renewed push for a two-state solution for I$rael and Palestine and an ongoing struggle for Arab or Muslim leadership versus Amerikan influence, false leadership and obstruction. An idea of world citizenship in which conditions in different countries are connected can bring to the fore crucial and urgent issues of economic and political inequality at the global level. The Palestinian state’s lack of recognition by many other states and lack of control over its territory is related to, and results in, privilege for people in imperialist countries.
Conditions in poor countries may be seen as caused by oppression by rich countries. Equality in one country may be equality of a people who are all oppressors or all still oppressed. It’s important not just to “act locally, think globally” – a slogan appropriated by imperialism – but to consider conditions in the context of global systems of oppression and global class/social structure. A wrong idea about global citizenship can lead to local demonstrations supporting Amerikans’ use of global power to end suffering thousands of miles away, but in a way that actually perpetuates suffering and serves u.$. imperialist interests.
Atheism became more popular in Amerika after 9/11, making current attention to Muhammad Ali as a Muslim interesting. Apart from formerly socialist countries, atheism is disproportionately bourgeois and First-World at this time. Yet, atheists are often mistakenly thought to be more politically advanced because of a misleading perception that there is something particularly educated, scientific or materialist about Western idealism and idolatry calling itself “atheism.” Though chauvinism against Muslim countries was prevalent in the West before 9/11, notions of religion being more important than class spread after 9/11 and exacerbated existing problems involving ignorance of the bourgeois class structure of the West. People claiming to be interested in global poverty and humyn rights ended up contributing to Islam-bashing as if Amerikan atheists and Amerikan (pseudo-) Christians, rather than being oppressors, were an international vehicle for revolution.
One of the most famous non-drinkers among other things, Muhammad Ali was known for eir faith, love for the Quran, and concern about others’ experience of injustice. Millions of Muslims around the world consider The Greatest to be one of their own. So do millions of people in Africa, for whom Ali’s greatness wasn’t just about “racial” pride in a narrow, Amerikan sense. Ali’s greatness was significant from the viewpoint of opposing a sense of inferiority – a feeling and self-image produced by a system of oppression – in colonized nations in Africa and elsewhere. The oppressor nations’ status and privileges came from an oppressive system that could be defeated. Ali seemed to prove this in taking advantage of eir rare success in what was a white business (Amerikan boxing) to prominently support positions that were controversial in the united $tates or perceived as threatening. Even when Ali taunted opponents and would-be opponents, ey often did so in a way that challenged Euro-Amerikan domination, on live TV. Ali inspired revolutionaries around the world, Muslim and non-Muslim.
Islam is disproportionately a religion of exploited and oppressed people, and Third World oppressed nations today are proletarian nations while oppressor nations are generally bourgeois nations. Hopefully all of the tributes to Ali as a Muslim and as a world citizen will remind people of the possibility of, and need for, Muslim non-Amerikan leadership in peace in the Middle East. Reactionary idealists are among those holding out for rich atheists in the West to wake up and make revolution; they undermine progress and contribute to repression in the meantime. ◊
1. “Clay refuses Army oath; stripped of boxing crown,” 1967 April 29. https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/25/specials/ali-army.html</a>
2. “Muhammad Ali on the Vietnam War-Draft,” 2011 February 20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeFMyrWlZ68
3. “The king of the world,” 2016 June 4. http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2016/06/when_cassius_clay_became_muhammad_ali_an_excerpt_from_the_book_blood_brothers.html
4. “Maoism restored: the Black Panther newspaper, 1968-69,” 1995 May. http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/mt/mt10bpp.html
“On the internal class structures of the internal semi-colonies,” 1998 February. http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/contemp/internalclass3.htm
Black Panther Newspaper Collection. http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bpp/
5. “Huey Newton on Blacks having no homeland to return to (1971).” http://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bpp/books/worldcitizens.html