Malcolm’s Troubled Legacy Part II

Posted: November 25, 2008 in Uncategorized
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a lecture I gave to George Washington University students examining the legacy of Malcolm X in which I informed them that Malcolm has been proven wrong.

Stanley Crouch has written an excellent piece in the NY Daily News in which he essentially agrees with what I told those students: Black Nationalism is an escapist ideology that leads to nowhere. It is a monumental failure and was a major loser on November 4, 2008:

Former Secretary of State James Baker once said that the free advice from a man who offered his opinions often was worth what the secretary had paid for it.

This is how blacks in America need to take Ayman al-Zawahiri‘s recent tape praising Malcolm X and condemning Barack Obama.

As Osama Bin Laden‘s top deputy, Zawahiri knows a mark when he sees one and believes black Americans to be a collective chump gullible enough to be swayed by arguments against Obama that try to smack him with the dead horse of black nationalism.

The threatening video issued last week was intended to whip up support for what is known as radical Islam by using a martyr to a lost cause, Malcolm X.

Malcolm X was one of the naysayers to American possibility whose vision was permanently crushed beneath the heel of Obama’s victory on Nov. 4. Though his ideas had nothing to do with the ultimate form of nonviolence – voting – those desperate to praise him will pretend now that he was actually a civil rights leader! This has been going on for an unforgivably long time, especially among black academics.

Malcolm X had nothing to do with Obama’s accomplishment as did none of the other militants who preached their own version of separatism and gleefully attacked the civil rights movement as offering no more than pie in the sky and misleading black people.

So Malcolm X was no more than a charismatic heckler of the civil rights movement and a man whose career was soaked in racism, potted history and absurd ideas of one sort or another.

He was a good rabble-rouser and he was a good saber rattler. On Feb. 21, 1965, he was murdered in public as one of the victims of the tribal wars that distinguished radical black nationalist cults and purported “revolutionary” leadership like the Black Panthers.

If not for Spike Lee‘s film about him, Malcolm X would have been forgotten. His legacy did not add up to inspiring one important piece of legislation, leading one important march or actually getting anything done that had objective significance.

So why would Zawahiri praise this dead horse of black nationalism as an “honorable black American” and say to Obama “in you and in Colin Powell, [Condoleezza] Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning ‘House Negroes’ are confirmed …?” Quite simply because he was also able to say, much more accurately, that the assassinated rabble-rouser had called for the “worldwide revolution against the Western power structure.”

Where exactly is that worldwide revolution taking place right now? Actually, it exists in every place where people are inspired by Obama’s victory to believe even more deeply in the ability that democracy provides for extraordinary hope and change.

That appeals to far more people than trash talking and gun waving and threatening to overthrow the federal government. Or making it all about, as Malcolm X predicted, “the bullet or the ballot.” He was wrong about that as he was wrong about almost everything that he said. He had plenty of verbal flourish but, in the end, it was all no more than hot air.

The real hero of that moment and the prophet of what we have seen over these last months since the Iowa primary is clearly the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He and all of those who rejected black nationalism and the threat of violence were the ones we should revere.

They amounted to such visionaries that they reached across the ethnic aisle and made so many friends and allies over the long march to this presidential election that it is an insult to their accomplishments to add the names of people like Malcolm X to the list of great Americans that they comprise

My own view:  Stanley Crouch nailed it. While I did not like a racist Arab trying to appropriate Malcolm, that does not negate what I wrote previously on this issue. Malcolm and the black nationalists were wrong. That is an entirely separate issue from allowing an Arab racist to appropriate Malcolm for his own evil ends.

At one time, I believed in the “revolutionary” talk of the Malcolm X’s, but I grew to see the futility and wrongheadedness of it. It is a dead end. PERIOD.

  1. Shibli Zaman says:

    Mr. Crouch said:

    “If not for Spike Lee’s film about him, Malcolm X would have been forgotten.”

    With all due respect, there is not a more accurate way to describe this other than being one of the most insipid and daft statements ever uttered by a human being.

    I can’t believe you are going to such extremes, brother. Critical analysis of history is welcome, as history is often romanticized and its heroes lionized. Yet, you are taking this to a level that is by no means balanced.

    Remember, the truth is always balanced between numerous extremes that often form a circle. Stay in the safety of the circle’s center and you’ll be safe. Tread on the fringe and you fall.

  2. Dr. A says:

    One thing that I believe that both you and Stanley Crouch are missing is that Malcolm X was a work in progress ideologically when he was assassinated in 1965. While he was in the Nation of Islam, he was a staunch separatist, but once he left the movement he was attempting to become part of the civil rights movement and even visited Selma Alabama while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was in jail. During that time although he did not meet with Dr. King, he wished his best to King through King’s wife. Shortly thereafter, Malcolm X was assassinated, and this visit, more supportive of King than earlier encounters, reflected the two leaders’ partial reconciliation at the end of Malcolm X’s life. I believe that Malcolm would have been a part of the civil rights movement and perhaps even at some point run for office

  3. Dr A

    With all do respect to you; would of, could of, should of does not a legacy make. All of the points you have made are true, but Malcolm becoming an active member of the civil rights struggle was never going to happen. He was simply too toxic for the leaders at that time, and despite his personal outreach to them, still preached a political philosophy that was anathema to their approach. The sad truth is that Malcolm was floundering terribly at the time of his assasination, and many contemporary commentators publically said so.

    He was a Muslim and no one can deny him that, but politically he was in a no man’s land, and the legacy of his militant rhetoric can be found in the dozens of lives that were either lost or destroyed during the violent “Black Power” “movements” of the late sixties and early seventies.

    What any of us “believe” he would have done is not only wishful thinking it is also irrelevent. It simply is what it is, let us just deal with it.

  4. Khadija says:

    Bro. Abdur-Rahman,

    Hmmm . . . I think you’re analysis leaves out several factors (other than America’s purported benevolence and the benefits of democracy) that influenced the outcome of the civil rights movement. I’ll mention one important factor.

    It wasn’t America’s benevolence that prompted the government to make concessions to the civil rights movement. One extremely important factor was the American government’s concern about losing propaganda points to the Soviet Union while trying to woo the elites of newly-independent third world countries.

    We often forget that racist Uncle Sam was in the middle of an ideological struggle with his cousin, racist Ivan during this era. Photographs and film of Sam beating, hosing, and siccing dogs on his local Black slaves was NOT a good “look” while competing with Ivan. In fact, Sam was extremely concerned by the way Ivan would and DID use these pictures to buttress his efforts at courting newly-independent third world countries into the Communist camp. There’s a really interesting book about this topic called “Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy” by Mary L. Dudziak.

    The fact that this country had a SERIOUS ideological competitor at the time impacted the government’s decision to make some concessions to the civil right movement. In this Cold War context, the existence of alternative, and less conciliatory potential mass Black leadership such as Malcolm X, the Panthers, etc. also gave the American government incentive to make some concessions.

    In short, the existence of the Cold War competition made many of Dr. King’s and the movement’s success possible.

    In light of Abu Ghraib, etc. we can see what the American government does when it feels that it doesn’t have any real competition: many evil actions without any concern whatsoever about the consequences.

    Wa Salaam.

  5. Shibli Zaman

    If you feel I am being unbalanced then you have an obligation to substantiate that don’t you think? Where precisely have I been unbalanced? The truth is that we are not accustomed to a seeing a fellow Muslim talk about Malcolm X in such frank and unromantic terms. Again, it is what it is.

  6. Dr. A says:

    Mr Muhammad,

    I am saying that you don’t seem to be taking into account the last few months of his life. He was moving away from the militant ideology and was actively trying to make new alliances in the civil rights movement. His legacy in this country is certainly pales in comparison to a figure like Dr. King, but we can not write out Malcolm X completely.

    Would you like to offer any proof for your reasoning that Malcolm would not have been accepted into the civil rights establishment?

    Certainly the 1970’s movements took Malcolm as a model, but they adopted the violence preaching model. That is how Malcolm’s legacy came to be developed.

    @ Khadija

    You bring up some important points as well, but I am not sure how much this had to do with Malcolm. One also can not downplay the significance of the civil rights movement and the white people that were helping in the cause. This issue was threatening to tear the country apart. Had this issue been allowed to fester, then by the 1970’s, the USSR may have successfully fomented armed rebellion amongst the black groups. In other words, the Black Panthers would have been exponentially more dangerous to America than they turned out to be. The best thing (and right thing) to do was to grant the civil rights before the country fell into a small scale armed resistance (backed by the USSR) similar to what we see between the Israelis and Palestinians. The choice was give civil rights or kick the can down the road and deal with a much larger problem. Thank God that this did not happen

  7. Khadija

    Excellent points. Yes, certainly there were outside factors like the cold war which showed up America’s hypocrisy, but that shame and embarrassment would not have been possible if the country’s founding principles had not been egalitarian in the first place, i.e.”All Men Are Created Equal. So that is my first point, let us give America credit, our home, for at least enunciating those lofty principles, the very ones that caused her that shame before the world, of which you mentioned.

    You are also correct when you speak of the “bogyman” role that Malcolm and the NOI played in presenting a frightening alternative to Dr King and the other civil rights groups like SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and URBAN LEAGUE. But all this means is that Malcom and the NOI were useful to the movement only because their philosophy and approach were rejected by the overwheming number of Americans, Black and white.

    Malcolm himself was embarrassed by the passive stance of the NOI, and knew as well as anyone that the civil rights movement was making the “Black Muslims” look arcane and useless. With every gain of the civil rights movement his rhetoric became more shrill and more hollow. In essence, Malcolm preached that it was impossible for something like Barack Obama to happen.

    Now this is a very important point; to the extent that Malcolm preached in his last year community “empowerment” and taking responsibility for our the affairs, building strong families, starting businesses, and this kind of thing, he could have easily accomodated those objectives in Islam. But Malcolm chose to divest Islam of “community empowerment” by telling people to keep their religion in the closet, and vested them instead in an escapist, separatist, completely unworkable philosophy of Black Nationalism.

    All we are saying Khadija is that history has now conclusively proven the futility and utter failure of Black Nationalism. Some Black people may continue to cling to it, but with the election of Obama most Blacks have thrown it, and all other types of radicalism (read Islamic), into the dust bin of history. We must decide to get past our romantic fixation with Malcolm (not necessarily you Khadija) and move forward into our bright future. The “house Negro” “field Negro” metaphor is hopelessly dated and arcane. We are in the house, the White House, so let us please stop all this conspiritorial nonsense about cointelpro and what not. That thing was dismantled about thirty five years ago! That stuff existed in the days when it was inconceivable to have a Black President and Attorney General. Folks, this is just not the 60’s and 70’s anymore, snap out it.

  8. Khadija says:

    Dr. A,

    I apologize for not making the connection clear in my earlier comment:

    What I’m objecting to is the notion that Malcolm X’s presence (as potential alternative leadership) was irrelevant to the ultimate success of the civil rights movement. I believe that his presence (along with that of others) in the Cold War context mattered. In the Cold War context, Malcolm X helped give the American government added incentive to NOT just let the civil rights issue fester.

    My point is that all of these Obama-inspired expressions of triumph over Black Nationalism are sounding as premature (and incomplete) as when many American commenters gloated over the triumph of American democracy & free markets over the Soviet Union. There were actually many additional causes for the Soviet Union’s demise. Also, we are currently learning that there are problems with the free market as well.

    Similarly, there were MANY factors that led to the advances we’ve made in this country. MANY strands of Black political thought during the 1960s played a part in getting us to the point where we are now.

    I believe that Obama-inspired dismissals of the value of Black Nationalism are premature and inaccurate.

    Wa Salaam.

  9. Khadija says:

    Bro. Abdur-Rahman,

    I typed the above before I saw your reply. My main concern is that credit is given where credit is due.

    It is true that, even with its many & severe flaws, there are possibilities in this country that don’t exist anywhere else. As I have often asked the severely disgruntled, “If African-Americans can’t make it in this country, please tell me where on this planet we could survive?” So yes, I give credit to that which is good in this country.

    I’m pleased to see you give credit where it is due to our Black Nationalist predecessors. They played a role in our progess. Even if that role sometimes consisted of being “bogeymen” to help worry Uncle Sam into doing better! LOL!

    Wa Salaam.

  10. Dr A

    Once you have been stigmatized in the public mind as an anti-white racist, demagogue, and anti-semite, it is almost impossible to shake. Yes, intellectuals, especially those in media (who really liked Malcolm) and academia, were elated with his post hajj views on race, but most Americans simply didn’t following it that closely. Because the civil rights organizations were interracial, with much of their money and support coming from influential whites, they wouldn’t dare get close to Malcolm for fear of loosing that support. There are many statements on the record of civil rights leaders like James Farmer, James Foreman, and others confirming what I have just said.

    Also, these leaders were still bitter about the names Malcolm X called them, like “Uncle Toms” and what not, and they also feared his charisma and charm, believing that he could possibly supplant their own positions if they were to take a chance on admitting him into their circles. Finally, they didn’t trust him, in the sense that he knew them too well and weren’t sure he could play ball with the whites as they could.

    It is just this simple; no matter what a Louis Farrakhan were to do today to redeem his image, there is no way on God’s green earth he is going to preside over the NAACP. Its just not going to happen and everyone knows that. Similarly, even though Malcolm X desperately wanted to go “mainstream civil rights”, they weren’t going to let him do it.

  11. Shibli Zaman says:

    Brother Abdur-Rahman,

    Do you seriously find the need for me to “substantiate” that the statement “If not for Spike Lee’s film about him, Malcolm X would have been forgotten..” is an utterly ridiculous statement?

    Regardless of whether one feels Malcolm was a hero or a confused individual, his impact upon the race relations in America would have been hotly debated ad infinitum whether Spike Lee made a film about him or not.

    I simply can not believe you would contest that and attempt to hypothetize that Malcolm X would have been forgotten if a film hadn’t been made about him. Are you seriously saying that?

  12. IBN ABDUL HAQQ says:

    ASA My dear Brother you win there is no amount of advice to deter you from this course.
    As a Muslim we are taught not to speak ill of the dead.

    “Our Lord! Forgive us, and our brethren who came before us into the Faith, and leave not, in our hearts, rancor (or sense of injury) against those who have believed. Our Lord! Thou art indeed Full of Kindness, Most Merciful.“Quran 59-10

    Reviling and criticizing our dead is a detestable act as the Prophet (SAWS) has said: “Do not speak ill of the dead for they have reached the deeds that they have put forth.“] It was also reported that the Prophet (SAWS) said: “Do not revile the dead because then you will torment the living.“1st Collected by Bukhaari 2nd Collected by Abu Esa at-Tirmithi

    You speak of one who died for what he believed in, May you have the same courage
    when its time to stand up for your beliefs. (Dont get silly and soft this is by no
    means a death threat to gather headlines with).I am saying time will tell if you walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I am no hero, but like I SAID WAS IN MANY A FOX HOLE WITH FLAG WAVERS WHO CRIED LIKE LITTLE GIRLS WHEN THERE WAS INCOMING. This is directed at that big mouth Stanley not you.

    Abdur Raheem please draw some lines for us on something you revere other than the Red White and Blue. AND For Gods sake ignore the suggestion to Attack the Sahaaba

  13. Ibn Abdul Haqq

    Brother, my name is Abdur-Rahman. Secondly, who have I “reviled”?

  14. IBN ABDUL HAQQ says:

    ASA MY Brother sorry about name typo
    [-viling, -viled] to be abusively scornful of: his works were reviled and admired in equal measure [Old French reviler]

    “his rhetoric became more shrill and more hollow.” “Do not speak ill of the dead for they have reached the deeds that they have put forth.“] Collected by Bukhaari

    Abdur -Rahman you think”The truth is that we are not accustomed to a seeing a fellow Muslim talk about Malcolm X in such frank and unromantic terms.”

    For me that’s not the case, its the above hadith. As an American you can espouse any cause you like like the President elect and gay rights ,but we are looking at you also as a Muslim. Thats my problem not yours if I look more at the issue from the former rather than the latter I see my error of being frustrated with you .

    I mean you no harm ,I will only comment in the future on secular matters. Only Allah knows Malcolms Heart as well as yours or mine. I foolishly fought for the wrong cause
    also, it was in S.E. Asia. So I know what it means to be duped.(“but I grew to see the futility and wrongheadedness of it”.)

  15. MT.Akbar says:


    Yo this is disgusting on so many levels. Br. Abdur-Rahman you are not the first to be critical of Malcolm and his philosophy, criticism and realism is part of our deen (also something advocated by Malcolm) but the reviling, diminishing and reduction of the impact and force of Malcolm’s movement and arguments by Stanley which you fully endorse is reprehensible and sick.

    Just as you proclaim that there is a sacrosanct mythology surrounding Malcolm there is also one around MLK and other’s in the so called “non-violent” struggle for Civil Rights.

  16. MT Akbar,

    There is enough myth to go around. Crouch is entirely corrct in his analysis! You can call it revilement if you like, but I certainly don’t see it that way. He doesn’t attack Malcolm personally, which to my mind is the meaning of revilement, only the bankruptcy of his Black nationalist philosophy. It is a travesty of history to try to equate Malcolm’s role with Dr. Kings in this instance. Malcolm essentially argued that a Barack Obama could never happen. He mocked and abused the entire civil rights leadership, and in very mean terms I might add. Now people are hurt because students of history are throwing the same taunts at him. It seems that Malcolm (or his admirers) can dish it out but he/they can’t take it. Let’s be honest and frank here brother, Malcolm’s convoluted, escapist, Black nationalist, world view was soundly defeated.

    Stop trying to spin it, Nov 4th 2008 was ideologically Dr King’s day, not Malcolm’s!

  17. IBN ABDUL HAQQ says:

    ASA Brother just as a point of not being Black P.C “It seems that Malcolm (or his admirers) can dish it out but he/they can’t take it.” The admirers of Dr. King take umbrage with mention of his drinking and adulterous affairs.

    As well they should, his affairs are only known to Allah, but if those allegations are true they go to the issue of morals and judgment. But since I no longer look at your posts in a Islamic point of view, I predict you will be very successful with your books, and maybe even a T.V. as the New Face of Islam. This is based on your statement of
    “I WANT IN”

    Allah has promised:

    [Nor can a soul die except by Allah’s leave, the term being fixed as by writing. If any do desire a reward in this life, We shall give it to him; and if any do desire a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give it to him. And swiftly shall We reward those that who are thankful.] (Aal `Imran 3:145)

  18. Kwame Madden says:

    Did not the civil right establishnment leadership have trouble in containing the black rebellion in cities all across America.After Dr.King was killed or even Malcolm many of the younger leadership in the movements of CORE,SNCC,NACCP, and other movements decided to drop the ideal of the struggle being contained in a paradigm of civil rights or inclusion by the power structure.Also many ideals from the the developing countries who had been under the yoke of colonaism were imported into our movements.Bottom line we all are to quick with the pen without really assessing and analyzing this time period.There alot of miscontrue points that going to made by all us being tha there so many perspectives on this issue.As far as Manning Marable goes he has been a disgracewhen it comes to blacks struggling for self determation.His eurocentric democratic socialist,nonsense ideals have proven to outdated and not in sink with the black masses.Yes , we should look at Malcolm with realistic lenses what he contributed and his shortcomings.Yes there has been alot of romanticism of Malcolm and he hasn’nt been scruntize the the same way Dr.King has been.When Ralph Albernathy wrote his book on Martin he tried to show that he was human and had shortcomings like all of us.Sorry to go on a tagent about Manning but he has been such a compromiser with his white leftist garbage.The Black Radical Congress split up because of house negroes like him.Yes, Im sure he has some insights to offer but this fake W.E.B. Bubois negroe is also about the buck and fame.

  19. Kwame Madden says:

    Manning Marable leftist postions are so extreme he is a ardent supporter of gay rights .From Dubois to Malcolm he will will attack anyone who isn’nt a supporter of gay rights. He is a straight up a fasiq.

  20. The Student says:


    Please put down the hatchet and rejoin the ummah. Your attacks on the personality of Malcolm are sad.

  21. mtakbar says:

    So do you think Malcolm X was the “Elvis Presley of race politics” too?


  22. Shakeer says:

    As-salaam alaykum Abdur-Rahman! What’s up akhi?
    I would like to say that its unfortunate that in this day and age many of us are still grappling with the “which is better, separation or integration” issue or whether the oftern misunderstood and inaccurate concepts enunciated by Malcolm X was more/less effective and relative than the integrationist, inclusive (often apologetic) postures of the more traditional civil rights leaders and movements. While the form of black nationalism that was often attributed to Malcolm and frequently exhorted by many is dead, I would venture to say that the integrationists policies promoted by many bereft of economic empowerment is dead also. Any sensible person with a passing knowledge of American cultural history knows that all immigrant communities that came to this country developed and invested in their own institutions first before they begin to push for political involvment. Its just sad that many black americans (including muslims) omit this in their analysis. As dead as Malcolm’s separatist ideology may be, the irony is that the black community owns less of its communities than it did 43 years ago. Sure, integration made Barack’s nomination possible, but it also sounded the death knell for those black businesses, institutions, colleges, etc. who labored for years to provide viable alternatives to certain toxic aspects of the dominant culture. Since we are in to quoting Malcolm and taking snippets of his speeches, what about “Integration is a temporary solution, but it will never totally solve our problem”.
    Its interesting and a travesty that many black americans have extolled the virtues and benefits of integration yet own less collectively than any group in America. We have become more thoroughly integrated and yet our children lag behing mostly every other group educationally in America! I agree that Malcolm might have been confused but challenge any of you to struggle to build and craft a viable approach for our people in those days and times all the whild being stalked by the NOI, FBI and the CIA. Certains aspects of Malcolm’s strident rhetoric may be dead but whose approach really benefitted us in any collective sense? Just the two cents coming from a sheikh (milk shake that is).

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