The day when we are supposed to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and struggle for civil rights, justice and freedom is marked today, January 16th, 2012. It goes without saying that everyone owes MLK Jr. a debt of gratitude. Reflecting on his life the past few days, I have re-read the “Auto-biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson, mostly using material from his collected letters, speeches and writings.
There are innumerable ways in which we can remember his legacy, but there is a specific context and relevance that I want to highlight, one that American Muslims and all despised minorities can relate to and understand.
It begins with first acknowledging that, as Svend White noted, Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t exactly the universally loved and admired individual that we honor today. In his time, MLK was reviled, considered by some in their hysterical conspiratorial craze “a Communist,” the FBI followed his every movement, and while he was alive he was considered a national security threat.
…contrary to the comforting revisionism that reigns, King was not universally acclaimed and supported after his advent in American national consciousness, even a decade after his legendary speech.
It’s relatively well-known that elements in the government—especially J. Edgar Hoover, who was convinced that he was a Communist plant—ignored the fact that by the end of his life he was a radical social critic who applied his vision to far more than race relations. As he began to apply his values holistically and across racial lines, he lost support among many erstwhile allies.
King’s bravery and vision did not end at “race relations,” his dream was larger, that is why he condemned the Vietnam war and joined striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
MLK day is an awkward day for Islamophobes. His life stands in sharp contradistinction to their hate-filled polemic and activism. While MLK waged jihad for civil rights and freedom, anti-Muslims lobby to restrict freedoms, while MLK pushed for non-violence and opposed aggressive wars, Islamophobes stand in support of such wars–or at least the by-product of slaughtering “towel-heads.”
Can you imagine what their reaction would be to one of King’s most famous, if less well known statements given during his “Beyond Vietnam” address,
The USA is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.
If MLK said that today (and it is as true today as it was in his time), rest assured he would be called a leftist, terrorist sympathizer, or perhaps even a “secret Mooslim.”
MLK represented the highest qualities of his Christian faith, but this did not lead him to exclusivist narrow mindedness, instead it opened doors of knowledge and reflection upon unifying principles between the various world religions:
‘I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate — ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another, for love is God. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.’ If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.”
For saying the above MLK would be considered a “dhimmi” by the radical anti-Muslim Islamophobes. That is why a commemoration of MLK is awesome, it exposes the futility of hate, the absurdness of it, while also reminding us that there is much work to be done to reach a dream that has not been understood or realized.