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Malcolm X To Lupe: Speaking Truth to Power

Malcolm X to Lupe, Islam & the U.S. Empire

Malcolm Little was born in the belly of the beast – a white supremacist American society. He was disenfranchised and exploited, and was living in an internal colony. His father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, and subsequently his mother was placed in an asylum home for the mentally ill. Though he received better grades than his white peers in school, when he told the school staff he wanted to be a lawyer, his white teacher scoffed at him and told him that as a negro he would be better off working with his hands. Eventually, Malcolm Little would earn the nickname Detroit Red as he involved himself in gambling, robbery, prostitution and other vices, and he soon became a victim of the prison-industrial complex. While in prison, Detroit Red became Malcolm X, converting to Islam and he began devoting himself to knowledge by studying U.S. history, philosophy, and even memorizing the dictionary. Malcolm X came out of prison an incredibly learned man and became a vocal advocate for oppressed black people in the United States. Malcolm X was assassinated, but his legacy has influenced African-American culture greatly.

 

The hip-hop artist Nas once stated, ”Rap became a version of Malcolm ” Hip-hop is an art form which emerged in the ghetto and gave disenfranchised youth a voice to express their politics and their beliefs  or ‘speak truth to power’- something they were denied in mainstream American society. Thus, hip-hop was an extension of the tradition of black political defiance of Malcolm X. As Malcolm X was getting out of jail, another influential thinker visited America. Sayyid Qutb visited the U.S. and critiqued American society for its materialism and what he essentially saw as a hedonist lifestyle lived by members of the west. Qutb would eventually become the leader of the still influential organization in Egypt: the Muslim Brotherhood. What’s often ignored is the anti-blackness which exists Sayyid Qutb’s critique of American culture. He would write:
The American is primitive in his artistic taste, both in what he enjoys as art and in his own artistic works. “Jazz” music is his music of choice. This is that music that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations, as well as their desire to be noisy on the one hand and to excite bestial tendencies on the other.

Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential Islamic thinkers, believed that jazz was invited by negroes due to their primitiveness and beast-like nature. To hip-hop artist Nas, whose father is an African-American Muslim jazz musician, jazz music was a part of a black oratory tradition for political expression for those who were given no voice. He states, ”Bridging the gap from the blues, to jazz, to rap. The history of music on this track.”  Muslims in the Middle East have been utterly silent on the anti-blackness in their societies, such as the frequent occurrence of calling of blacks abeed (meaning slave) at Hajj, as well as the anti-black prejudice among one of the most influential “Islamist” thinkers, Sayyid Qutb. These individuals will evoke Bilal and Malcolm X’s letter after going to Hajj to selectively to demonstrate how racially inclusive Islam is, while being silent on the racial injustices in their societies today.  Dabashai Notes:

Islam for Malcolm X was an equally combative occasion, but as an infinitely more liberating, progressive, alive, and living organism. In more than 200 years of encounter with colonial modernity, and literary hundreds of radical Muslim thinkers, no Muslim revolutionary comes even close to Malcolm X in the liberating, global, and visionary grasp of his faith and its place in facing the barefaced barbarity of economic and military world domination…. If Islam does not have anything to say or to offer to these disenfranchised communities…   without asking them to convert to Islam, then it is nothing but the fatuous  faith of the Khaliji, Kuwaiti, and Saudi sheikhs having difficulty bending their overfed bellies when pretending to prostrate to pray, or else the rambling gibberish of Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar when replicating the American neocons in their advocacy of terror. There is another Islam unknown to those crooked bodies… the Islam of Malcolm X.”

In the  tradition of Malcolm X and an anti-racist and anti-imperialist tradition that has emerged in the African-American tradition. Lupe Fiasco, whose real name is Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, was s a rapper who grew up in Chicago and has arguably been the most politically vocal artists since Tupac Shakur. The son of a Black Panther, his lyrics blend together critiques of U.S. state racism, American foreign policy, and Muslim extremism. Lupe writes, ”I grew up in the hood around prostitutes, drug dealers, killers, and gangbangers, but I also grew up juxtaposed. On the doorknob outside of our apartment, there was blood from some guy who got shot; but inside, there was National Geographic magazines and encyclopedias and a little library bookshelf situation. And we didn’t have cable, so we didn’t have the luxury of having our brains washed by MTV.” Lupe Fiasco states he was influenced to rap after listening to Nas’ “It Was Written,” who was also  influenced by  Malcolm X .

“G’s up along with Muhammad and Jesus
In the Quran they call him Isa
Don’t think Osama and sadaam are is our leader.”

This makes it clear that, as a Muslim, Osama is not his leader. In another song, Lupe states, “Jihad is not holy war. Where’s that in the worship? Murdering is not Islam! And you are not observant. And you are not a Muslim.” This is a message to all extremist vigilante groups who misuse Islam to carry out violent attacks against innocent lives. Yet, Lupe does not stop there – his lyrics also condemn U.S. foreign policy and the military industrial complex, stating, ”I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullsh*t. Just a poor excuse for you to use up all your bullets.”  Lupe Fiasco then argues that:

 

“Limbaugh is a racist, Glenn Beck is a racist
Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say sh*t
That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either
I’ma part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful”

Lupe Fiasco criticizes right-wring television cast while also condemning Obama for allowing Muslims in lupefiascioPalestine to be bombed. Interestingly enough, Lupe Fiasco condemns Osama for not being “observant,” and the reality is that Muslim vigilante groups are not fundamental to Islamic text – rather, they are reformists who break Islam’s clear prohibitions to justify war tactics that Islam finds despicable.  Through Lupe Fiasco, the revolutionary politics of Malcolm X is alive and well.

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Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire: Hamid Dabashi

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