After watching Omar Suleiman’s speech at the Dallas police memorial, I came to the conclusion that such contributions for the sake of “community cohesion” only legitimises subservience to institutional oppression, writes Najm Al-Din.
Much praise has been heaped on Shaykh Omar Suleiman for his benediction at the Dallas memorial but I’m not the only cynic who viewed the service as a politically correct farce that sought to whitewash institutionalised racism in the American criminal justice system, despite Barack Obama’s obligatory platitudes highlighting the disproportionate targeting of young black males by law enforcement officials and grassroots demands for federal accountability.
With such a chequered history forming the backdrop to the recent explosion of social tensions in America, it is impossible to divorce the speeches of Omar Suleiman and Dallas police Chief David Brown from the troubling context of US race relations.
Black Lives Matter
Any comparison between the struggles confronting black Americans during the civil rights era with the current socio-economic deprivation plaguing black communities cannot help but arrive at a contentious conclusion. That being said, we are currently witnessing a new Jim Crow, where the forces perpetuating the race divide decades ago have reared their ugly heads again.
The failure of the US Department of Justice to indict those complicit in the recent spate of race-based executions will entrench this view, and cast doubt on the efficacy of non-violent opposition to authority, by raising the uncomfortable question: Have the ideals of passive resistance and civil disobedience run its course?
With contemporary US race relations standing at a crossroads, the outpouring of sympathy for black Americans drew my attention to Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech.
The intransigence of white segregationists and the willingness of the Black Lives Matter activists to challenge racial apartheid was history repeating itself.
Regrettably, Omar Suleiman and David Brown were reminders of history’s shameful acts of betrayal, for refusing to condemn the systemic racial prejudice which those blinded by white privilege nonchalantly dismiss as an aberration. Far from offering a tribute to fallen officers, they were simply peddling the officially accepted version of events, which portrayed the government and police officers as courageously upholding the constitution and guaranteeing justice.
Omar Suleiman immediately took to social media to justify his participation at the event under the pretext of social cohesion and propagating Islam to the mainstream. But having taught American race relations for the past few years, it would be criminal for me to ignore the increasing regularity by which the criminal and judicial systems act in tandem to prosecute and convict those of colour and even more disingenuous to justify Omar Suleiman’s inclusion at the service as something serving the mutual public interest, especially in light of the structural inequalities marring the US penal system, its criminal negligence towards Afro-Americans and indifference to the plight of minorities.
If anything confirmed my suspicions of his subservience to authority, it was the decision to embrace the same platforms as George Bush and Obama. Unlike Omar, Malcolm X would have spurned an invitation from Mayor Mike Rawling’s office and had he endured the ignominy of learning through an event program that other guest speakers happened to be the very agents of his people’s oppression, you can bet your bottom dollar they would have been on the receiving end of his righteous indignation.
No amount of window-dressing can justify shaking hands with tyrants and industrial scale murderers who sanctioned the rendition, assassination and collateral murder of millions of Muslims.
If we’re invoking “husn al-dhan” in his defence before holding him to account and without feeling the slightest revulsion towards Omar Suleiman’s “well-intentioned” cordiality with oppressors, then we truly have been played like a fiddle.
Uncle Tom and the “House Muslim” mindset
The insidious tactics of the “Uncle Tom” was so deftly captured in Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grass Roots” speech and by resurrecting the same historical archives, American Muslims will be better placed to critique a parallel situation unfolding between themselves and the establishment.
Historically, African Americans fell victim to nefarious con games played by politicians, judging by the hostile reaction to the 1960s freedom rides by local authorities and the police department’s defiance of Supreme Court rulings, which outlawed segregation in the 1950s, all of which dealt repeated setbacks to the civil rights movements.
For black Americans, subjugation started with slavery, reinvented itself through the Jim Crow Laws, invigorated by Reagan’s carefully contrived Drug wars in the 1980s until its current manifestation through police brutality.
A similar cycle of oppression stares American Muslims in the eye, owing to arbitrary arrests, blanket surveillance and increasing stigmatisation through racial profiling, but also compounded through illegal wars abroad, covert drone assassinations, and clandestine death squads complicit in extra-judicial killings and cover-ups.
It is this historic and current insight through which characterisations of Omar Suleiman and David Brown as “House Negroes” and “House Muslims” begin to emerge, for their sanitising of the endemic brutality and system of racial control perpetuated by white liberals, who masquerade unchallenged as advocates of peace and racial equality.
In many ways, Malcolm X’s engagement with disenfranchised black Americans resonates with current Muslim identity politics in the US and beyond. The quicker we realise that placing confidence in the government to protect Muslim interests is a futile exercise, the more guilt-free and liberated our consciences become.
Of course, in Omar Suleiman’s eyes, I represent the “overzealous youth” he presciently cautioned against in a recent Facebook status. If that makes him feel more secure from the sound and fury surrounding his ill-advised decision, so be it. But the choice whether to preserve the existing structure of race-based policies or opt for a completely different approach in the black and Muslim communities respectively, is one which needs urgent addressing.
If history is any indication, the government will have vetted keynote Muslim speakers, neatly slotted on a federal database, who will be rushed to public podiums when trouble starts to brew and the Master calls for calm.
I can’t help but feel Omar Suleiman and his ilk are being used like pawns on a chessboard, conveniently deployed and co-opted by the powers that be to leverage a political agenda which seeks to normalise Muslim subservience in oppressive establishment politics.