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Jonathan Eig’s hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali

Jonathan Eig’s hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali

Dave Davies, guest-host of NPR’s Fresh Air, introduced his guest and subject this way: 

Muhammad Ali may be the most famous American athlete ever. His life is the subject of books, documentaries and feature films. But our guest, writer Jonathan Eig, says he was surprised to discover no one had ever done a complete, unauthorized biography. Eig spent four years researching Ali’s life, speaking with his three surviving wives, his managers and hundreds of others.

The author, Jonathan Eig, tried to build credibility for his work thus describing it:

Based on more than 500 interviews with almost all of Ali’s surviving associates, and enhanced by the author’s discovery of thousands of pages of FBI records and newly uncovered Ali interviews from the 1960s, this is the stunning portrait of a man who became a legend.

The conclusion of this “meticulous” research, according to Mr. Eig, reveals that Muhammad Ali was “a flawed rebel who loved attention.” 

Here are some basic facts that readers (and listeners) ought to remember. First, Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016–just two ago. Second, the book “Ali: A Life” was published October 3, 2017. Third, the author claims that he spend four years researching his subject matter, Ali. This means that work on the book must have concluded sometime late 2016 or early 2017 to allow for the technical review and production of the manuscript. That would suggest that Mr. Eig was doing his research about Muhammad Ali when Ali was alive. But Ali’s perspectives are absent in this work because the author did not sit down with the subject of his book. The book is filled instead with psychoanalytical statements, hyperboles, assumptions, and baseless interpretations intended to smear a figure towering above even those who hated him. Mr. Eig could not have sat face to face with Ali because Mr. Eig is a coward who would like to profit from telling a fake life story about a giant with the courage and sacrifices that no one can dispute–
after his death.

Neither Ali nor those who loved Ali claimed that Ali was a saint. To write a book telling the readers just that is most telling about the character of the author and to some extent, NPR staff who gave such an opportunist fame seeker space to delegitimatize a symbol of Black Americans’ struggle for dignity and personhood.

Revisionist history is common. This work gives revisionist historians a bad name. It is especially common for members of the elite to destroy the image of leaders of marginalized racial groups. This work do so without shame and with total lack of sensitivity to the family of the deceased. 
Building negative narratives about Black Muslim Americans is swift. It is also callous. This hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali, taking place when the dirt of the earth in which Ali’s body is buried is still fresh and when most of the people who loved Ali are still mourning, is offensive and bigoted. This is just another building block in the long history of white elite Americans telling Black Americans who their real leaders ought to be and why the leaders that Black Americans chose are flawed.



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The Depravity of Racism is Rooted in its Selective Outrage

The Depravity of Racism is Rooted in its Selective Outrage

Reacting to news reports that an attack with chemical weapons took place in the city of Douma (Syria), president Trump tweeted the following:

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!



Evidently, Trump’s statement was intended to express outrage: how could someone kill his own people! The outrage, then, justifies attacking Syria. This selective outrage is present in the minds and attitudes of all individuals who suffer from the pathology of supremacism, be it race-, ethnicity-,  religion-based supremacy.
They would like us to believe that not all human lives are equal and they would jump on every opportunity to qualify the loss of life, the cause of the loss of life, the method of taking away life, and the kind of person losing her life.

In this particular case, Trump thinks that when the head of a state kills his own people, that is worse than when the head of another state kills people of another state. It explains the joy he feels as he brags about unleashing a salvo of “nice, new, “smart!” weapons.” It does not matter if these “beautiful” weapons kill people, as long as they are killing people of other nations. It explains the lack of remorse of launching an illegal war on Iraq under false pretext in 2003, killing nearly a million people. It explains the peace of mind European leaders felt when they colonized African nations and killed millions of people.

What ought to make Americans of diverse backgrounds uneasy is this: when supremacists say “own people”, they don’t mean “own citizen.” They mean “own kind.” That means, killing Black people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people” therefore it should not elicit outrage. That means, killing Native American people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not provoke outrage. That means, killing Hispanic people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not prompt outrage. That means, killing Muslim-Americans would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not educe outrage. That means, killing any non-White people would not qualify as “killing one’s own people”, therefore it should not cause outrage.

The Syrian people, who endured seven years of brutal war, lost hundreds of thousands of their family members, sustained mental and physical injury may not be so eager to live through another barrage of “nice, new, “smart!” weapons” that can only increase their suffering.

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Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: Teaching future generations is indeed a costly endeavor, especially when governments allocate little or no money to higher education. Universities’ administrators are always under extreme pressure to keep their institutions afloat. However, as learning and training institutions, universities instill values and norms that guide future citizens and professionals towards a better future. Therefore, the source of money is just as important as the amounts of money for universities and for the people they serve. It has been revealed that Georgetown University would not have survived if it did not profit from selling hundreds of human beings and participate in the cruel slave trade. Ostensibly, Georgetown is unable to totally break from its legacy of profiting from slavery and racism. Its dependence on money provided by Muslim individuals and/or Islamic regimes with a history of human rights abuses, sectarian, and racist practices raises questions about its ability to overcome and dispose of both Catholic and Islamic legacies of depravity and decadence.

About 200 years ago, to save Georgetown College, priests sold human beings thus fully endorsing and profiting from the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery. To date, we’ve learned of the existence of records documenting at least 272 human beings, like Mr. Frank Campbell, who were sold so that that college would survive to become the institution we now call Georgetown University.  Evidently, for these priests, the survival of an educational institution outweighed the abuse of the dignity of hundreds of human beings. Today, to gain prominence as an elite university, Georgetown has established financial ties to individuals and governments with social and ideological affinity to racism, sectarianism, and absolutism. Georgetown’s connections to Wahhabism and individuals who are interested in whitewashing that sect adds to the University’s legacy of exploitation in pursuit of elitism and financial advantages. Recently, Georgetown’s dark history with slavery was brought to the forefront once again when one of its faculty members used dubious logic and absolutist interpretation of ancient texts to argue that slavery is morally justified in Islam, a position that conforms to that held by groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda.

In an audio recording, the director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Jonathan Brown, is heard equivocating: “The Prophet of God had slaves… There’s no denying that. Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God? No you’re not.”  The implication is that, since, reportedly, Prophet Muhammad had slaves 1400 years ago, it is morally right to own slaves and it is morally right to continue to own slaves today. While Georgetown sanctified the university and relativized slavery in the 1830’s, today, one of its faculty sanctifies Muhammad and relativized slavery the same way ISIL sanctifies the “Islamic State” and relativized slavery, rape, and religious and sectarian cleansing.

Parents sending their children to learn from faculty members who use this kind of logic and embrace a morality rooted in absolutist reading of contested texts should be concerned. Muslims who seek guidance from a scholar associated with an endowed chair funded by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, demonstrably known for its abuse of human dignity, should be wary about the recasting of Wahhabism as Sunni Islam. Besides the conflict of interest and the methodological absurdity, Brown’s assertions are flawed for many factual and logical reasons.
First, there is no absolute evidence that Prophet Muhammad owned slaves. Those who contend that Muhammad had slaves rely on oral reports (written down three centuries removed from the time of Prophet Muhammad) invoked, preserved, and transmitted by figures who owned and even abused slaves themselves. Therefore, to emphatically assert that there is no “denying that Prophet Muhammad had slaves” amounts to suggesting the existence of a fact beyond any reasonable doubt. There is doubt beyond reasonable levels about events that took place more than 1400 years ago, especially when all the textual evidence is derived from only one school of thought: Salafism.  Indeed, leaders and wealthy individuals gave Prophet Muhammad slaves as “gifts” but he emancipated them: the women became his wives and the men became his mawāli (i.e. mu`taq [freed], as was the case with Zaid (given to him by the wealthy Khadijah, who married him later). However, many of the aristocracy of Arabia, who were absorbed into the newly established Islamic state, continued to own slaves. Considering that it was this aristocracy that monopolized most leadership positions after the death of Prophet Muhammad, it is easy to figure out why the institution was kept alive and by whom.

Second, while the Quran did not explicitly abolish slavery as a matter of law, the text and tone of the Quran left no doubt that enslaving human beings was morally wrong and that emancipating slaves was morally right. Moreover, the Quranic text consistently avoided the use of the word “slaves” [`abīd]. It referred to persons already in servitude as “what your right hands previously possessed” [mā malakat aymānukum] instead. Importantly, this wording, with the verb “possess” or “own” conjugated in the past tense, indicate that such a state of being lacks permanence. In other words, those who were enslaved before the start of Islam will continue to be so, but no new ownership of slaves shall be initiated moving forward. With that being the case, whether Prophet Muhammad had slaves or whether he was “more morally mature” becomes immaterial. The text of the Quran explicitly determined that slavery is immoral and it established a path (atonement and substitute for religious obligations with valid reason) to making it illegal. In fact, most proscribed acts were first judged morally contemptuous before they were explicitly prohibited in the Quran. The gradual prohibition of wine [khamr] is a good illustrative case in point.

Third, perhaps members of Brown’s audience were not “more morally mature than the Prophet of God.” However, inspired by the Quranic teachings, the same Prophet of God whom he is using to justify slavery made it abundantly clear that,

a. All human beings are equal in dignity,
b. Freeing slaves is moral,
c. Enslaving humans is immoral,
d. True belief in God is possible only when a person is free,
e.  The natural state of being for humans is to be free, and
e. Freeing slaves allowed a person to atone for unintentional homicide, breaking the oath, breaking the fast during Ramadan, and other “sins” and criminal offenses.

To override these established norms that became part and parcel of the Quranic and jurisprudential norms in favor of an analogy based on the chance that Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves is absurd. Because even if we were to assume that Prophet Muhammad had slaves, Prophet Muhammad had also determined that slavery is abhorrent. It follows, then, that it is immoral independent of him having had slaves or not. 

Fourth, the Quranic discourse is known for its graduate proscription of entrenched practices and social behavior not through abrupt prohibition. Subsequently, even if Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves in the early days of his life and the life of his disciples, it is likely that that practice would have been proscribed with time given the repugnancy of the institution and dehumanizing implications.

Fifth, considering the entirety of Quranic sanctions, it is certain that the dignity and sanctity of human beings cannot be overruled by the mere practice or temperament of the Prophet. After all, the Quran is dotted with passages admonishing Prophet Muhammad for some of his practices. In a plethora of passages in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was reproached for his poor judgement concerning his actions relevant to certain war booty [fay’], forms of taxes, treatment of persons with disability, and other matters. Most Sunni Muslim scholars hold that Muhammad, like all other Prophets, is fallible in matters not related to purely religious matters. Therefore, he might have erred in economic, military, social, and administrative matters—including owning slaves if it were to be proven that he did own salves after being characterized in the Quran as immoral.

Sixth, most Sunni Muslim scholars believe in the principle of abrogation, which essentially contextualizes legal edicts and justifies temporary or permanent revocation of social and legal practices. Per Sunni exegeses, passages of the Quran were abrogated by later passages of the Quran and so were units of Hadith. Subsequently, the existence of a passage in the Quran or a tradition from the Sunna does not necessarily mean that laws that might be derived from it are still in effect.

Seventh, like many other Traditionist Muslims, Brown privileges reports found in Sunni collections of Hadith and Tafsīr. He ignores, or is unaware of the rich body of religious, legal, and political texts produced and preserved by Ibadi and Shia Muslims, which provided fuller narratives and contexts especially regarding the most divisive and controversial events and ideas. The logic Brown employs is common among many Traditionist Muslims (ahl al-ḥadīth), too. For them, it would suffice to point to an event or an act purported to be from the formative period of Islam where lived the Predecessors (salaf) for such an act to be applicable to all human beings and in all times. Their reasoning is simple: If something was practiced or said by the Prophet, his Disciples [ṣaḥāba), or the Predecessors in general, then it is binding—part of the canon. Traditionism, the method of deriving ethical and legal judgments, was foreign to Muslim scholars of the first three centuries of Islam, who were primarily Reasonists (ahl al-ra’y].

The methodological and logical flaws in Brown’s reasoning are further weakened by historical and substantive facts. With the rise of Islam and before the death of Prophet Muhammad, and because of the restrictions and measures that encouraged the emancipation of slaves, a person can end up in servitude only through two paths:
1. During war: members of the defeated armies who were not part of a prisoners’ exchange deal or whose ransom is not paid will be “owned” by the victorious army as spoils of war. Since there were no facilities at that time to house them, captives were distributed among fighters who took part in the campaign.

2. By birth: children of two slave parents continued to be considered slaves and remained under the ownership and responsibility of the person who had owned their parents until they are freed or sold. Once a slave is freed, even in jest, they are permanently freed and the pronouncement of their freedom cannot be withdrawn or revoked.

The legal rule that prohibits re-enslaving persons who were freed, the religious edict commanding believers to free slaves to atone for a variety of sins and offenses, the restrictions of entry paths into slavery, and the ruling that determined emancipation of slaves being praiseworthy, with time, all such factors would have necessarily led to slave-free Islamic societies. That point was in fact anticipated in Islamic law, when an alternative (feeding the poor) to emancipating slaves for atonement or substitute for obligations purposes was made available. Indeed, Islamic regimes that continued to rely on slaves for their economic prosperity resorted to raiding distant communities and kidnapping peoples who would be forced into servitude, as did a number of rulers from the Umayyad,  Abbasid and Ottoman dynasties.

Brown spent most of the ninety-minute-long talk highlighting the cruelty associated with the treatment of slaves in other civilizations. However, given the cruelty practiced by ISIS in the name of Islam and the abuses unleashed by the Saudi ruling family, also in the name of Islam, and given that he holds academic chair established by members of the Saudi ruling family, most of the time should have been spent speaking against the atrocities committed by some Muslims against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Brown glossed over the practices committed by many Muslim rulers throughout Islamic history, giving credence to the racist narrative championed supremacists (non-Muslims and Muslims), like Turkey’s Erdogan, who refused to take responsibility for Ottoman crimes by arguing that “Muslims do not commit crimes of genocide.” The same argument was made by an Australian legislator when his country debated the ratification of the convention proscribing the crime of genocide: “It [genocide convention] deals with a crime of which no Anglo-Saxon nation could be guilty… None of the crimes that are enumerated in it could ever be committed by the Anglo-Saxon race.” Indeed, as is the case with any dominating empire, Muslims who headed some of these powerful governments have committed crimes and many Muslims remained silent, when heads of governments, in their name and on their behalf, committed genocides, crimes against humanity, and failed to abolish slavery. Enslaving human beings was wrong then despite its rootedness in society and it is abhorrent now that there is no socioeconomic argument to justify it. There should be no equivocation, no qualification of who treated slaves better, and no hesitation in characterizing it as a crime against humanity. 

The crucial step for achieving Islamic societies free of slavery is for the holders of chairs of Islamic studies to speak forcefully about the nature of the struggles that defined Islam as a social movement before it was hijacked by theologians who were interested in sanctifying institutions, concepts, and persons while abusing the dignity of human beings. To that end, Muslim scholars must emphasize the place of critical and truth-centered interpretation of key events in Islamic societies during the formative period. Many of Islam’s ethical and legal norms were authored or transmitted by the generation of leaders who came after Prophet Muhammad. But that generation is also responsible for much bloodshed and abuses. The Umayyad rulers, who the Saudi rulers emulate today and from whom they draw legitimacy, carried out some of the most genocidal wars against Muslims who opposed their rule and challenged their practices. The Ottoman Sultans, too, committed genocides and oppressed indigenous communities. That, and many other important facts, ought to be revisited so that a credible leadership can stop the bloodshed, end the carnage, and break the cycle of abuse in modern Islamic societies.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Mother to Trump: My daughter’s death will not be used to further this insane persecution of innocent people

Mother to Trump: My daughter’s death will not be used to further this insane persecution of innocent people

The mother of a slain British backpacker wrote a scathing letter to Trump after her daughter’s killing in Australia appeared on the White House’s list of 78 underreported terror attacks.

“My daughter’s death will not be used to further this insane persecution of innocent people,”  Rosie Ayliffe said.

This White House does not have a problem with terrorism if the perpetrators are not “radical Islamic extremists” Just as the administration was implementing its Muslim Ban, a mosque in Canada was attacked, killing seven people. The administration did not even comment on it, let alone condemn it.
The attack was ignored by the White House although the Canadian government classified it as an act of terror.

Why the Muslim Ban cannot be justified by national security concerns?

Why the Muslim Ban cannot be justified by national security concerns?

The White House justified its ban on Muslims coming from seven countries by citing potential threat of terrorism and national security. The facts do not support that argument. 

First, it is a fact that none of the terrorists who actually carried out attacks in the United States since 2001 has had any connections to countries listed by the White House.  

White House officials could argue that the wars in Iraq and Syria  attracted and trained new terrorists and therefore the list reflects that new development. That logic, too, can be refuted by facts and figures. The majority of the fighters who joined al-Qaeda and its derivatives in Syria and Iraq came from countries other than the ones sanctioned by this White House.  

By cross-referencing the two sets of data, it becomes clear that more terrorists had come from Saudi Arabia than from any other country. Yet, Saudi Arabia is not mentioned by the White House on its list of countries with potential threat of terrorism. Moreover, and considering the passage of legislation by Congress (JASTA), which candidate Trump supported, allowing families of 9/11 victims to seek justice from Saudi Arabian citizens and officials for any possible complicity in terrorist attacks on Americans, the exclusion of Saudi Arabia is odd. Clearly, there is some bizarre logic at play in determining which country to target by this Muslim ban that splits families, endangers lives already at risk, and violate terms of treaties and conventions ratified by the United States.

The Ban on Muslims is motivated by prejudice, politics, and xenophobia, not by legitimate security concerns. Muslims from rich nations, such as Saudi Arabia, were excluded from the ban while Muslims from poor countries like Yemen are banned. This practice is consistent with this White House’s position that equates being “rich” to being “smart,” and developing oppressive policies guided by this new form of racism, where being wealthy is equated to being innately virtuous. The ban targets the most vulnerable and if it is allowed to stand, more dis-empowered social groups, at home and abroad, will be victims of discriminatory executive orders and arbitrary measures from an administration that, based on its actions thus far,  has little concern for due process, the rule of law, constitutional limits, and human rights.


Links to statements made by leaders of major US universities in response to the January 28, 2017 Executive order barring Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entry to the United States:

Boston University 
Brandeis University
Brown University
California Institute of Technology
Carnegie Mellon University
Case Western Reserve University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Duke University
Emory University
Harvard University
Indiana University
Iowa State University
The Johns Hopkins University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Michigan State University
New York University
Northwestern University
The Ohio State University
The Pennsylvania State University
Princeton University
Purdue University
Rice University
Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Stanford University
Stony Brook University – The State University of New York
Texas A&M University
Tulane University
The University of Arizona
University at Buffalo – The State University of New York
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego
University of California President and Chancellors 
The University of Chicago
University of Colorado, Boulder
The University of Florida
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Kansas
University of Michigan
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
University of Missouri
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Oregon
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of Southern California
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Virginia
University of Washington
The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Vanderbilt University
Washington University in St. Louis
Yale University

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