Aug 04 2016

Muhammad Ali Fought Against State and Religious Violence

Muhammad Ali against violenceBy Ramy Osman
August 2016


You don’t have to quote the Non-Aggression Principle to know that violence and aggression are wrong. It’s something that we’re taught from an early age – which is: be kind and considerate to others, and don’t be aggressive or violent. It’s called good manners, it’s called morality. 

Even though Muhammad Ali was a professional fighter, he still knew that violence and aggression (outside of the ring) were wrong. It sounds contradictory, but as a fighter he still had a moral compass that guided him to that conclusion. But why are others unable to make that same moral conclusion? How do people promote violence while side-stepping the moral challenge of justifying violence? The answer I think has to do with leaders loosely using labels such as “criminal”, “enemy”, “terrorist”, “evil”, etc.; which are labels that exist in the context of government or religion. And then people blindly follow these leaders, and end up out-sourcing their sense of morality. If you dehumanize others with labels, then that allows you to advocate, vote for and even participate in wars, shock-and-awe campaigns, drone strikes, torture, suicide bombings, etc   

Muhammad Ali (may God have mercy on him) is an example of someone who was able to stand against war in word and action. What was amazing, was that he did it not only when America was at war in Vietnam and was actively drafting it’s citizens to fight in the war; but he did it during the height of his boxing career and popularity. He could have simply went along with the war-hype, which might have increased his popularity and even made him an “American war hero”. But something gave him the ability to give it all up, and to resist the state at a time when it was forcing its citizens to serve as its official dispensers-of-violence. In Ali’s own words, it was his religion Islam which gave him the moral fortitude needed to confront the collective mindset of violence. It was his belief that “Islam teaches peace”, which gave him the ability to make one of the greatest stands in modern history against the American military-industrial complex, and to take it all the way to the supreme court.

Ali’s moral (and might I even say libertarian) stance, made many people hate him at the time. But no one hates him now. And he left a legacy and a practical example of how to be anti-war especially when it matters most to be anti-war (i.e. during a war). It’s unfortunate that despite how many people praised and eulogized Ali after he died, many of them don’t follow Ali’s example of being anti-war. And hardly any of them are willing to condemn the endless “war on terror” and to publicly and vocally condemn Americas constant foreign interventions.

The recent episode at the 2016 DNC is further proof of this and further proof that the Democrats are as much of a war party as the Republicans are. Mr Khizr Khan, a Muslim American, gave a speech memorializing his son and other soldiers who died “defending United States of America”. But the fact is that these soldiers were not “defending our freedoms”. Rather, many would argue that these soldiers died defending big business and the American war industry. America has a long and vile history of violence (I’m not excusing other countries – including Muslim countries). But do we really have to vote for continuing the violence? Do we have to settle for a “lesser evil” which always means war and more war? And why support a woman who has a track record of war-mongering and commanding violence

To me, Mr Khan’s son is not a war hero. His son died a tragic death as a tool of the “empire”. If Mr. Khan really wants to “honor the sacrifice” of his son, then he should advocate for the end of America’s wars, and he should not call a warmonger like Hillary Clinton, a “healer”. As a Muslim American, I’m saddened to see that Mr Khan was given a national stage to glorify war. I only wish that he had taken a lesson from the life of a real Muslim-American hero, Muhammad Ali. I wish he had condemned war instead of excuse it.

Muhammad Ali didn’t stop with the Vietnam war when it came to condemning war and violence. Even in the midst of one of Ali’s greatest fights in his life (against Parkinson’s disease), he condemned violence that was done in the name of his religion, Islam. Ali condemned the 9-11 attacks, and continued to condemn violence until the end of his life. My hope is that Muslim Americans take a real lesson from Muhammad Ali’s life: If you’re ever put in a position to take a stance on war, then use that opportunity to be anti-war. 


Here is Muhammad Ali in his own words:

 Against the Vietnam war draft:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. …

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.


Against those who carried out the  9-11 attacks:

Islam does not promote terrorism or the killing of people.

I cannot sit by and let the world think that Islam is a killing religion. It hurts me to see what radical people are doing in the name of Islam. These radicals are doing things that God is against.  Muslims do not believe in violence.

If the culprits are Muslim, they have twisted the teachings of Islam. Whoever performed, or is behind, the terrorist attacks in the United States of America does not represent Islam.  God is not behind assassins…

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