Ali’s Death Exposes Establishment Double Standards – Yvonne Ridley

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US President George W. Bush (R) presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Muhammad Ali on November 9, 2005 in Washington, DC/AFP
US President George W. Bush (R) presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Muhammad Ali on November 9, 2005 in Washington, DC/AFP

YVONNE RIDLEY

SINCE Muhammad Ali bowed out of our lives a few days ago hundreds of thousands of words have been written and spoken with the great and the good trampling over the masses to get their soundbites on the mainstream news.

Quite frankly it has been bile-inducing but not unsurprising … after all, exactly the same happened when Nelson Mandela died.

The truth is Ali, like Mandela, like Malcolm X and many of the other leading black figures, was hated by the establishment; their incredible popularity and ability to reach out and touch the lives of ordinary people around the world made them feared and envied.

The truth is Ali, like Mandela, like Malcolm X and many of the other leading black figures, was hated by the establishment. The same media which is today eulogising Ali once vilified him in a vicious, unrelenting way for refusing to fight in Vietnam.

The same media which is today eulogising Ali once vilified him in a vicious, unrelenting way for refusing to fight in Vietnam; the predominantly white journalists who refused to acknowledge his conversion to Islam continued calling him by what he regarded as his ‘slave name’, Cassius Clay.

Just as he played with his opponents in the ring when he was at the top of his game, Ali played the media with a tongue just as devastating as the punches he landed. But now they are sanitising his life and creating their own narrative; for instance, I’ve yet to read one mainstream report about his attacks on Zionism and the injustices against the Palestinian people.

Out of all the photographs in the weekend newspapers, I’ve not seen one image or video clip of The Greatest walking through the Palestinian refugee camps as he did in 1974.

While his loss is being marked by millions of people of faith and no faith around the world, the Palestinians are among the chief mourners because, in their eyes, he was one of the greatest fighters for their cause which is rarely ever promoted in the mainstream media.

To show his solidarity with their struggle he visited Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon after announcing his retirement from the ring in 1974. “In my name and the name of all muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the zionist invaders,” he said during a press conference.

Out of all the photographs in the weekend newspapers, I’ve not seen one image or video clip of The Greatest walking through the Palestinian refugee camps as he did in 1974.

Ali admitted once that he was no scholar and didn’t read books, but he had enough intelligence to distinguish the difference between the political ideology of Zionism, which was founded in 1897, and the great faith of Judaism.

He illustrated this during a visit in 1980 to India where he was promoting the campaign to boycott the Olympic Games in Moscow after Afghanistan had been invaded by Russia. “Religion ain’t [sic] bad,” he replied when asked about religion, “it’s people who are bad. You know the entire power structure is zionist. They control America; they control the world. They are really against the Islam religion. So whenever a muslim does something wrong, they blames [sic] the religion.”

Howard Cohen, better known as the celebrated American sports commentator Howard Cosell, engaged in lots of playful banter with the sporting superstar. Unlike others, he called Ali by his Islamic name immediately after he announced to the world that he no longer wanted to be known as Cassius Clay.

I’ve read many reports of how the sporting hero demanded the release of an American journalist held in Iran but not one line about how Tel Aviv refused to meet him when, in 1985, he demanded the release of 700 Lebanese Muslims being held in the notorious Atlit Detention Camp during Israel’s illegal occupation of Lebanon.

This was one battle that the Israelis did not want and so the politicians in Tel Aviv refused to meet the fearless icon when he wanted to discuss the release of his “muslim brothers”.

After he converted to Islam he didn’t then turn on other faiths and try and belittle them, far from it. Shortly before his memorable lighting of the Olympic flame for the Atlanta Games in 1996 he said: “My mother was a baptist. She believed Jesus was the son of God, and I don’t believe that. But even though my mother had a religion different from me, I believe that, on judgement day, my mother will be in heaven.

Ali admitted once that he was no scholar and didn’t read books, but he had enough intelligence to distinguish the difference between the political ideology of Zionism, which was founded in 1897, and the great faith of Judaism.

“There are jewish people who lead good lives. When they die, I believe they’re going to heaven. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a good person you’ll receive God’s blessing. Muslims, christians and jews all serve the same God. We just serve him in different ways. Anyone who believes in one God should also believe that all people are part of one family. God created us all. And all people have to work to get along.”

The Parkinson’s Disease which afflicted Ali in later life was evident, but his sense of justice, balance and drive for equality remained undiminished.

Like Mandela, like Malcolm X and like so many other great, revolutionary figures, Ali was flawed and we loved them all for their frailties and faults because that is what made them human. They might not have set out to change the world but their amazing feats and achievements helped improve peoples’ lives and outlooks.

By all means, celebrate his life for his speed, style, grace, elegance and strength, but don’t airbrush his lifelong struggle against injustice, racism and war to suit political and media agendas. The truth is Muhammad Ali hated war, despised the double standards of governments that were prepared to send others to pay the blood price for their imperialistic ambitions and was prepared to go to prison for his principles and beliefs.

Don’t allow the establishment and the politicians within to hijack Muhammad Ali’s life or diminish his contribution to civil rights and exposing double standards.

www.commonspace.scot

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