A Personal Reflection This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2015 and I should be talking about his vision.

But instead I am thinking more about Malcolm X.

Both men were powerful civil rights leaders. But each espoused a different approach; whereas MLK believed in diplomacy, Malcolm X stood for directness.

(Including his open belief that Jews control the economy and are exploitive of African-Americans, for which he was called anti-Semitic, a charge he denied.)

From The Autobiography of Malcolm X:
  • "A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything."
  • "I have been always a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds it."
Malcolm X was a Muslim and it is his pure sensibility I think we need today to confront the global war against radical Islamic terrorism.
  • He promoted tolerance as a general principle: "I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation - EVERY form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color."
  • But he would not be tolerant of people who disrespected him: "I believe in the brotherhood of man, all men, but I don't believe in brotherhood with anybody who doesn't want brotherhood with me. I believe in treating people right, but I'm not going to waste my time trying to treat somebody right who doesn't know how to return the treatment." — Speech, Dec. 12 1964, New York City.
  • Finally, he refused to apologize for advocating self-defense: "There is nothing in our book, the Koran, that teaches us to suffer peacefully. Our religion teaches us to be intelligent. Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That's a good religion." — "Message to the Grass Roots," speech, Nov. 1963, Detroit (published in Malcolm X Speaks, ch. 1, 1965).
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uniquely understood that all people were the same under the skin, and so he approached racial problems from the lens of finding that common point.

Malcolm X believed we would find peace and harmony only by confronting the truth. And if the truth hurt people's feelings, well then that was just inevitable.

And if Malcolm X were still alive, he would tell the President loud and clear: Radical Islamic terrorists bear no resemblance to Islam.

Today I watched American Sniper in the theater, and the audience was at first completely silent as the credits closed, then spontaneously broke out into applause before leaving. 

The film is about American hero Chris Kyle and his resolve to fight against terrorists overseas, and to take care of his fellow veterans after coming home. 

Underneath the surface the message is that we aren't doing enough to get the job done and we aren't supporting our active-duty military or our veterans nearly the way we should be. 

Sadly, many complain about the moral dilemmas associated with war - they resist the military necessity to defend our nation - even as they take advantage of the freedom others earn on their behalf.

American Sniper is a blockbuster hit, it's earned $119 million since its short release so far, and if you watch the movie you will find out why: It defines what it means to be a patriot.

Today we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s commitment to realizing the dream of civil rights no matter how endless the march.

But we should also be honoring the prophetic vision of the man who was similarly assassinated as he was speaking for his people.

"If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary," said Malcolm X.

No matter how badly you want peace, it is simply not possible to achieve it with people who seek to kill you.


All opinions my own. Photo from the Korean War via Wikimedia. The title of this post has been updated.