The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.
— Malcolm X

No dis to Rep. Keith Ellison, but Malcolm X — like it or not — remains America’s most famous Muslim. If you’ve read Barack Obama’s autobiography Dreams From My Father, you know that he references The Autobiography of Malcolm X along with books by DuBois, Baldwin and Ellison. He sought out these books as a teenager in part to better understand the experience of black men in society who had gone before him.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a modern classic as is now Dreams From My Father. In Obama’s book, he recounts being inspired while reading Malcolm’s path from hatred and fear of whites to a strong belief in the possibility of brotherhood among men of all races and all nations. The change for Malcolm occurred during his Hajj, when he traveled to Saudi Arabia to worship with millions of other pilgrims and encountered for the first time, a shared and equal experience with Muslims just like him from all over the world in every color under the sun.

It was this change in his beliefs that made him a target of his former compatriots who remained dedicated to antagonism towards whites. Like Obama, I too read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teen and was also inspired by Malcolm’s change of heart at the end of his life. It also taught me an important lesson — Malcolm X remains a boogeyman in the eyes of many, still defined by the angry things he said borne of his own difficult experiences as a black man in America rather than those words that called for peace & equality among all people. Yet for those willing to pierce beyond the stereotype to hear the man’s own words, there is a compelling message and an life-changing perspective to encounter.

I know some ultra-conservative & bigoted Republicans are losing their natural minds reading the transcript of the speech which starts with him saying to the audience:

I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: assalaamu alaykum.

Now you know that somewhere, Malcolm X’s red head has snapped back and done a double take. Who could have foreseen a U.S. president who would so wisely see that the best path to increased safety for Americans is to help pierce the stereotype of Americans as hostile to Muslims. His goal was to reach young Muslims and inspire the coming generation to new attitudes to American while also engaging Muslims of all walks of life — the great and small — in the notion that we have more in common than separates us. Obama is following the words of Malcolm in laying the groundwork for a better future for our global culture, today through using translations, text/SMS, twitter, social networks and online video to get his message into the hands of not just the rich and powerful but to as many of the young and upcoming as possible.

It speaks to the power and strength of diversity that we now have a president who can bridge his own personal experiences so movingly and convincingly to people among whom there are real fears and real tensions with Americans. Truth and history are our greatest weapons to overcome suspicion and hatred and Obama used that with aplomb. I was moved by these words personally — for African-Americans, the struggle for freedom and equality is not theoretical and abstract. It’s something on which we can speak with authority having known our own personal roles and those of our family in the struggle.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

I think a lot of African-Americans like me want to see a strong, free, safe Israel that also treats Palestinians fairly and free from an apartheid-like system. I agree with Obama and am encouraged by these words:

So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

I love that Obama talked about America as a place where 7 million Muslims are living prosperously in a tolerant atmosphere. About 1/3rd of American Muslims are African-Americans and this must be a proud day for them to hear words like:

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Above watch a video created by the White House that highlights a few stories of Muslim Americans who are proudly serving their nation in the federal government.

Al Qaeda and U.S. Republicans are going to find themselves in the minority of those around the world criticizing Obama for giving this speech. It shows people like Rush Limbaugh for who they are — that their narrow-minded fearful suspicious and bigoted attitudes have more in common with the extremists who want to kill Americans than with the average American and the average world citizen.

I’ve read some say that Obama’s speech did not go far enough in criticizing the human rights violations and lack of freedoms in the Muslim world. I share Peter Daou’s disappointment that Obama did not speak out more strongly for the equal treatment of women. Women in some Muslim-majority countries lack freedom of movement, opportunity for education and livelihood, and equality before the law. The violence against women in some countries is shocking and should have been condemned clearly.

OK, but that was not the purpose of his speech y’all. A brother can’t cover everything — the themes were mutual respect, shared history and culture, the future of the Muslim world re: innovation & modernity and Palestine/Israel. Most directly, he delivered a pretty stinging backslap upside the head of Bibi Netanyahu, baby. He hit on a lot of topics, glanced on ’em. There were some subtle, pointed warnings to the leaders of certain countries though. It’s not the first and last speech he will give. He starts out saying he seeks a new beginning. So let’s give him a chance. My hope is that future speeches will meld more explicit defense of women around the world with the inspirational truths that countries that allow women to reach their highest potential possible are the most prosperous in the world.

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