The Transnational Black Imagination: The Muslim International and Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star and Crescent Moon

In our post-Reagan, and post-Iranian Revolution moment, black and Muslim bodies have become increasingly entangled as sources of fear, nationalist narratives, and racial scapegoating. Amid the ongoing war on drugs and the war on terror, blackness and Muslimness is consistently used to mobilize consent for and support for increased state power, systemic policing, and a culture of violence. According to Vijay Prashad, “the international Muslim terrorist and the domestic black criminal stand as alibis for revanchism.  Race free criminals (read white) are free from extra detection or from pious fulminations of the political class” (Prashad 2003, p. 75).  Sohail Daulatzai similarly elucidates the dialectics and shared experiences in “Are we all Muslim now? Assata Shakur and the Terrordome,”

As scholars such as Michelle Alexander and Khalil Gibran Muhammad have noted, once the US state defined particular activities as “crime”, it then sought to crack down and control it. As the fears of the “black criminal” were stoked, the political will was generated in mainstream America to pass repressive laws that normalised “crime” and linked it almost exclusively to blackness, making all black people suspicious, and leading to state-sanctioned racial profiling, the creation of an urban police state, and the explosion of a massive prison archipelago that Michelle Alexander has called “the new Jim Crow”.

            The “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war.

Similarly in the “war on terror”, the US has named particular acts as “terrorism”, delegitimising them and generating the political will through fear to normalise the figure of the “terrorist”, making Muslim-looking people, and even Muslim countries themselves, suspects under deep suspicion in their struggles for self-determination.

As a result, the need for state security created broad “anti-terrorism” measures that expanded state power, making Muslim countries subject to invasions, sanctions, bombs, and drones, and making Muslim bodies subject to indefinite detention, torture, surveillance and targeted murder, as Muslims got marked as people who don’t have the right to have rights.

While the system of mass incarceration used the face of the “black criminal” to legitimise itself and disproportionately target black men and women, the tentacles of incarceration soon expanded to include Latinos and other poor people in its orbit.

Similarly, the “war on terror” has used the face of the “Muslim terrorist” to narrow the scope of dissent, expand state control, and prevent the creation of alternatives to exploitation and war. But while the Muslim has been the face of this, the logic of “terror” is now being used to target other countries and also black and brown communities domestically, as the fluid category of the “terrorist” continues to morph.

These entrenched narratives, racializing stereotypes, and white racial framing not only impact policy, but cultural representations, public discourse, and everyday interactions. It results in stop and frisk, and racial profiling on the streets and in airports; it contributes to daily microaggressions and flattened cultural representations. Black or brown bodies and criminal are imagined as interchangeable, Muslim and terrorist are positioned as inseparable, reflecting the entrenched nature of “post-racial” hyper racial American discourse and practice.

The connection between black and Muslim subject is not limited to white supremacist discourse, state violence, and shared racialization, but is equally evident in the “political and cultural history of Black Islam, Black radicalism, and the Muslim Third World.” Herein lies the focus of Sohail Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America (University of Minnesota Press 2012), a very important work that pushes readers to look at resistance, to look at a history of radicalism, and examine Diasporic challenges to white supremacy.

Black Star, Crescent Mood decenters whiteness and antiblack racism, spotlighting the shared histories and interconnections beyond policing and state violence in the everyday resistance and the ongoing struggle for justice. Challenging the conventional narratives surrounding the black freedom struggle, that centers nonviolence, the South, Christianity, and civil rights, Dr. Daulatzai centers everyday resistance, the black radical imagination, the Muslim International in an exploration of artists, activists, intellectualist, and change agents.

Black Star, Crescent Moon begins its discussion of the Muslim International subject, black internationalism, and the “Afro-Diasporic imagination” (xxxiii) with Malcolm X. Given Malcolm’s position within the Nation of Islam, given his internationalist politics, and given his symbolic meaning into present-day discourses, it is no surprise that Malcolm anchors this work. “In mapping Third World solidarity against white supremacy onto the racial terrain of the United States and arguing that the man who colonized Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Congo, and Kenya is the ‘same man’ who is in Georgia, Michigan, California, and New York, Malcolm radically challenged the sacred narrative of American exceptionalism” (29). Reflecting on the dialectics between Malcolm’s faith, his transnationalist politics, and Black Islam Dr. Daulatzai narrates a history whereupon Malcolm expanded the political imagination, foregrounding alternative freedom dreams and new methods and approaches to turning those dreams into reality.

Black Star, Crescent Moon builds upon its discussion of Malcolm to highlight the ways the Muslim International and transnational black politics are equally visible with respect to the Battle of Algiers (which would be highly influential to the activists and black cinematic imagination), Sam Greenlee’s The Spook who Sat by the Door and Baghdad Blues, and Frantz’s Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Mask all of which furthered the message of a black radical politics anchored in internationalism, decolonization, and an imagined (and real) community based in Afro-Asian (Afro-Muslim) solidarity. “Black cultural activists in the Civil Rights and Black Power era positioned themselves, their art, and their politics in relation to the anticolonial and anti-imperialist movements taking place in Asia, Africa and Latin America, writes Dr. Daulatzai. “The Cold War inaugurated a new phase in American power that simultaneously sought to contain both the anticolonial impulses emanating from the Third World and a burgeoning Civil Rights and Black Power movement domestically” (69). The power of this work rests not just with its detailed textual analysis, its examination of aesthetics, and the Diasporic context, buts its emphasis on geo-politics and the responsive utterances from black radicalism.

Black Star, Crescent Moon ends with discussions of both Muhammad Ali and hip-hop, making clear how each has used, deployed, and been influenced by the intersections of blackness, Islam, and transnational radical politics. “In reinvigorating and reshaping the already vibrant space of the Muslim International, these artists and activists force and compel the Muslim international to be a broad and inclusive space that understand the overlapping histories and interconnected struggles that not only have shaped the modern world” Their work “also shape the conscience of the Muslim International as a site for radical justice and equality” (196). Like Malcolm and the Battle of Algiers, Ali and Greenlee, Immortal Technique and Jasiri X, Black Star, Crescent Moon and Sohail Daulatzai expands our radical imagination, indexing transnational dreams and pathways to freedom, justice, and social transformation. Powerful and inspiring, this work reshapes our understanding of social movements and the ongoing struggle for black freedom.

 

 

Questions

In what ways is black internationalism not inherently radical? What sorts of examples demonstrate the liberal or conservative use of black internationalism?

How and why is Black Islam seen as a threat to post-civil rights state formation?

What are the connections between culture wars, “Islamic terrorist” and “black criminal”? How do they exist at a crossroads?

What is the significance of the connection between Killer of Sheep (and the LA Rebellion) and Battle of Algiers?

How did technological shifts impact the black radical imagination and the Muslim International?

How do we account for antiblack racism within Asia and the Middle East given these histories?

Why is the Caribbean and Latin America (or is it) not as prominent within these Diasporic and transnationalist black radical formations

How does India.Arie “ghetto” fit within this discussion?

NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout

 

 

Not a Question of Courage:

Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout

by David J. Leonard

Following an exhibition game in Philadelphia, Michael Tillery asked the following of Carmelo Anthony:

Michael Tillery: Carmelo I don’t know if anyone asked you this but the fans are wondering why there isn’t such of a…NBA presence…NBA players coming out and speaking on this issue (NBA lockout) publicly like in the NFL…like in other situations.

Carmelo Anthony: “We’re not allowed. We’re not allowed. I mean everybody has their own opinion…you hear people talk here and there…but nobody don’t really come out and say what they really want to say. That’s just the society we live in. Athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali type statements.”

Not surprisingly, his comments have led to questions about today’s NBA players, their resolve, their commitment, heart, and courage. For example, one blogger offered the following: “What does Carmelo mean by “we’re not allowed”? Who’s stopping them? Is Carmelo right? Do you think athletes are punks in the modern era as opposed to the way Muhammad Ali stuck his neck out for Vietnam? Maybe these guys should just man up and make changes!” Kelly Dwyer was similarly dismissive, questioning Anthony’s reference to Ali:

Oh, Carmelo. He’s not lying. He’s not wrong. But comparing Ali’s stand against a conflict in Southeastern Asia that had gone terribly wrong to a discussion over the sharing of actual billions of dollars in Basketball Related Income is the absolute height of absurdity. Yes, athletes today are scared to make Muhammad Ali-type statements (as is the case with most people that want to keep their jobs), but the application of an anecdote like that to a situation like the NBA lockout is completely and utterly wrong.

While folks in the blogosphere used Melo’s comments to incite division and to chastise the union for silencing its members, it would seem that his comments demonstrate the ways that race impacts the lockout while illustrating the potential efforts from the union to manage and mediate the racially based contempt faced by NBA players. As Michael Tillery told me, “The NBA more than any other pro league seems to have an image problem based more on race than anything. You could say the league is more popular when a white player is doing superstar things.” As such, you cannot understand these comments outside a larger of this large racial landscape.

To understand Carmelo Anthony’s comments require a larger context. His comments (and the lockout itself) are very much tied to the larger history of the NBA and race. For example, in wake of the Palace Brawl, the NBA implemented a series of draconian policies that sought to both appease white fans and corporate sponsors who were increasingly uncomfortable with its racial optics, all while disciplining the players to comply and embody a different sort of blackness. According to Michael Tillery, the brilliant commentator, “Since the Brawl and even going back to Kermit Washington’s punch of Rudy Tomjonovich, a case could be made that any outspoken player in any regard is influenced to be silenced simply to protect the NBA brand because of an apparent race disconnect.”

The owner’s intransigent position and demands for a hard cap (although at the time of writing the owners appear to have softened on this position, at least at a surface level), major reduction in player access to league revenues, and a myriad of others positions all seem to reflect a sense of leverage. In other words, the owners seem to be trying to capitalize on the contempt and animosity that has long plagued NBA players, a fact worsened by the assault on blackness that followed the Palace Brawl. In a brilliant interview with Michael Tillery, Ron Artest reflects on the public perception and demonization of NBA players that reflects larger racial animus and ideology: “The NBA is not a thug league. There’s a couple of players that grew up similar to rappers who have grown up. What are they going to lynch us for that too? It’s not our fault that we grew up that way. We are talented and smart.”

The lockout represents an attempt to capitalize on the perception of NBA players as thugs, as criminals, as greedy, and undeserving anti-role models. It appears to be an effort to convert the leverage and power that comes from the narrative and ideological assumptions so often linked to black players into greater financial power for the league’s owners.

In thinking about Melo’s comments and the overall reticence of players to speak about the current labor situation leaves me thinking that this is a concerted strategy to combat the advantages that the owners possess (the NBA version of a southern strategy). The union is most certainly trying to correct the public relations difficulties that faced in 1998 (and throughout its history), obstacles that emanate from America’s racial landscape.

Continue reading NewBlackMan: Not a Question of Courage: Anti-Black Racism and the Politics of the NBA Lockout.