One Political Team


April 08, 2024 at 10:57 am

One Political Team

Last week, I received a call from one of the leaders in the African American Muslim Community, Salima Suswell. She is the founder of both Evolve Solutions and the Black Muslim Leadership Council. I have been in touch with Salima over the years, both seeking advice and assistance for various projects and hopefully offering the same. The call was brief. She asked if I thought she should attend a policy meeting at the White House with the President and some of his advisors. Without hesitation I responded, “Yes.” Taking that advice and that of others she consulted and trusting in Allah that some good might come out of the meeting, she attended. Anticipating something of a backlash for her attendance, I volunteered to write a supportive statement. This is that statement. Although it is written specifically for Salima, it might have relevance for others in similar situations.

Such a meeting would be an opportunity to directly share with government officials the outrage existing in the Muslim community over the hypocritical complicity of the administration in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Along with the other attendees, Salima expressed a demand for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and an end to the inhumane blockade of food and aid which is systematically killing those Gazans who have survived the sadistic violence being visited upon them by the IDF. She also advocated for several issues specifically germane to African Americans, both Muslims and members of the wider community. Unfortunately, her attendance has been met, from some quarters, with an extremely negative reaction. That reaction, while understandable owing to the intense and volatile climate the ongoing genocide in Gaza has created in the American Muslim community, ultimately, is unfair and unwise.

It is unfair because there was nothing Salima said or did at the meeting that would amount to throwing the brutalized masses of Gaza “under the bus.” Had she only advocated for issues of import to the African American Muslim community and said nothing about Gaza, I could understand the angry reaction. She did not do that. Had she agreed to attend an Iftar, which would have amounted to a cold slap in the face to the people of Gaza, most of whom have nothing wherewith to break what is becoming a permanent fast, I would likely join those expressing their opposition and condemnation. That also did not happen. That being the case, our love and respect for each other as Muslim brothers and sisters, and the guidelines for properly offering counsel should prevail. That does not mean that there are no disagreements between us. That would be unrealistic and ultimately counterproductive. It does mean that we should be judicious and charitable in criticisms around issues where there is legitimate room for disagreement.

At this point, no reasonable person would disagree that a savage crime is being committed against the people of Gaza. Those crimes, in the view of virtually every expert in both human rights and international law, amount to or approach genocide. That being the case, as American Muslims our messaging and strategy should be one when it comes to what is happening in Gaza. Namely, the genocide and war crimes being perpetrated by the State of Israel against the civilian population of Gaza must immediately cease, along with the enabling role being played by the United States. Furthermore, a viable Palestinian state must be established, consistent with relevant United Nations resolutions, and reparations must be paid by all parties responsible for the destruction of Gaza. I think no Muslim disagrees on these points.

There is, however, disagreement as to whether members of our community should meet with representatives of the Biden Administration while it is complicit in effecting the above-mentioned crimes. Some, like Salima and the other members of her delegation, Dearborn, Michigan mayor, Abdullah Hammoud, and others choose to meet with administration officials. I understand why. Others, like Dr. Thaer Ahmad, chose to walk out of the meeting Salima attended, thereby making a strong political statement. I can understand that position. Yet others choose not to meet with administration officials. I can also understand why they take that stance. Meeting with members of the administration or boycotting such meetings is an issue amenable to differences of opinion. What would be unconscionable would be to meet and not advocate for the victims of a genocide which the administration is complicit in committing. In this case, that did not happen.

Wisdom dictates that we have a “division of labor” in our advocacy for Palestine. Everyone cannot be a grassroots activist. Activists are needed at various levels of engagement. Scholars and researchers are also needed. Their role dictates a level of engagement that differs from that of grassroots activists. Some members of our community must be prepared to engage in systemic politics, as both lobbyists and elected or appointed officials. This can be a thankless job. It is, however, one that needs to be done. Those involved at this level need a special type of training to possess the depth of faith, commitment, and knowledge needed to successfully negotiate a realm defined by compromise, while doggedly holding on to uncompromisable core principles. Others will contribute as financiers. Yet others will be forced to juggle their commitment to the cause of other oppressed people, with their Islamic duty to assist their brothers and sisters residing in the lands surrounding the “Furthest Mosque.” We must understand that despite the various roles and levels of intensity in terms of our involvement in the struggle for a free Palestine, we are all on the same team.

It is unwise to engage in bombastic, public criticisms of African American Muslims who have publicly expressed solidarity with the people of Palestine, while simultaneously working to advance the cause of a people still wrestling in many areas with the vestiges of slavery and an ensuing system of racial oppression. It is unwise because depending on the nature and intensity of the criticism, it could contribute to the alienation of a population that constitutes a natural ally of the Palestinian people. The enemies of Palestine have worked assiduously to keep the issue out of the consciousness of African Americans. Some of those reading this are old enough to remember “Nightline” host, Ted Koeppel, asking Nelson Mandela to renounce his support for Palestine liberation. After refusing to do so because of the support the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) afforded to the African National Congress (ANC) during the anti-Apartheid struggle, Mandela pointedly said to Koeppel, “Ted, there are forty million African Americans who all love me. You wouldn’t want me to make Palestine an issue for them, would you?” Koeppel never brought the subject up again, for those advising him knew well the implications of Mandela advocating for African American/Palestinian solidarity on national television.

African American Muslims are at the forefront of making Palestine an issue for our families, friends, associates, and communities. Sister Salima is no exception. That advocacy might not always be as fervent as it is in the case for those whose primary political focus might be Palestine, but it is there, and it is real. Black Orientalism, which is a concerted effort to drive a wedge between Black and Arab communities is also real, and its advocates are doing everything in their power to ensure that the full potential of Black/Arab solidarity is unrealized. Some of those who are quick to attack Sister Salima, unjustifiably, in my view, fail to realize the size and influence of the network she has helped to build among African American Muslims. Alienating that network could result in pushing it away from building bridges of solidarity between it and our Arab brothers and sisters. That would be a huge loss to the advancement of the Palestinian cause here in the United States.

In conclusion, we are all human and therefore bound to make mistakes. Salima is no exception, however, as members of the same team, the ways we provide advice and counsel, coupled with the way we negotiate our differences will go a long way in determining our team’s success. If we are to be a winning team, we need to follow a winning formula. That would include love, respect, sincere counsel, and an inclusive, well delineated, mutually beneficial strategy. If we can do that we will become a formidable force in American politics. Surely, Allah knows best.

© 2024 New Islamic Directions ™

(L Photo) Black Wall Street Greenville District 1921

(R Photo) Gaza 2024