“When a man is exercising extremism, a human being is exercising extremism in defence of liberty for human beings, it’s no vice. And when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings, I say he is a sinner”
There is a long tradition of empowered black Muslims who stood up and resisted oppression. Many faced the same dilemmas we face today, being accused of terrorism and extremism for standing up for their rights.
When Europeans in collusion with some Kings and leaders of Western Africa began to lynch and sell their adversaries into slavery in the Americas, many rose up to this oppression.
In acts which echo those who speak out against the lynching of innocent Muslims during the ‘War on Terror’ and leaving them to languish in the gallows of Guantanamo and other secret sites, a 17th century West African scholar, Nasir al-Din, resisted against the kings of his time because they sold their subjects to European slave traders under frivolous pretexts.
He said: “God does not allow kings to raid, kill, or enslave their people; He has them, on the contrary, to guard them from their enemies. The peoples are not made for the kings but the kings are made for the peoples”.
Centuries later, a confident black Muslim activist by the name of Malcolm X, who understood this legacy and the role his faith in driving him to seek justice, stood up and broke down why and how the label ‘extremist’ is only thrown about to silence those who demand their rights.
These are the 5 simple ways he dismantled the ‘extremist’ slur:
1- You are an “extremist” if you use a different yardstick to theirs.
When those in power become so self conceited as to believe in their own self righteousness, they see all opposition as “extreme”.
Elaborating on this, Malcolm X explained “extremism” in this way: “When you are in a position of power for a long time, you get used to using your yardstick and you take it for granted that, because you forced your yardstick upon others… People in the past that weren’t in a position to have a yardstick or use a yardstick of their own, are using their own yardstick now. ”
People who abide by different and more just ethics than their oppressive rulers are often deemed “extremist”.
2- The “extremist” label is only used to demonise those whom are believed to be inferior.
“Extremism” is never used to describe the thoughts or beliefs of those who are in power, regardless of the carnage they may have caused. It is the reserve of the downtrodden in society and a way to discredit their fair and just demands. Malcolm X Illustrated this point perfectly when he said:
“When a man whom they have been taught is below them, has the nerve or firmness to question some of their philosophies or conclusions, usually, they put that label [extremist] on him, a label that is only designed to project an image which the public will find distasteful”.
If you are standing up for justice in this way, being an “extremist” can be a badge of honour.
3- Calling those who resist “extremists” is done to make the oppressed seem like the aggressors.
In order to to colonise a people or justify oppression towards a community, you must first begin to make them appear as outcasts in need to be reformed. It’s “to create a humanitarian image for a devil or a devil image for a humanitarian” as Malcolm X put it.
“Whenever a country that is in power wants to step in unjustly and invade someone else’s property, they use the press to make it appear that the area they are about to invade is filled with savages, or filled with people who have gone berserk, or they are raping white women, molesting nuns. They use the same old dialectic year in and year out”.
In the same way, the broad use of the word “extremist” in Muslim communities is a way to justify measures designed to oppress them, like PREVENT. This should not discourage us.
4- “Extremist” labelling is done to tarnish the struggle of the oppressed.
Despite Malcolm X referring to his context at the peak of the civil rights struggle, his words still ring true today. Any attempt to resist is seen as indicative of inherent “extremism” which must be confronted. Here is Malcolm X’s summary of what a black person is expected to do if he is not to be deemed an “extremist”.
“As long as a white man does it, it’s alright, a black man is supposed to have no feeling. But when a black man strikes back, he’s an extremist, he’s supposed to sit passively and have no feelings, be non-violent and love his enemy no matter what kind of attack, verbal or otherwise, he’s supposed to take it”.
Pacification is the twin brother of oppression. The powerful oppress with labels in order to pacify us into silence. But we must continue to call out their ills and call for justice.
5- “Extremism” classifications are used to criminalise Islam, which advocates justice.
As Malcolm X so aptly put it when defending his beliefs:
“I am a Muslim. If there’s something wrong with that, then I stand condemned. My religion is Islam. I believe in Allah. I believe in Muhammad as the apostle of Allah. I believe in brotherhood of all men, but I don’t believe in brotherhood with anybody who is not ready to practice brotherhood with our people”.
When the end goal of so-called “extremist” organisations and individuals is the pursuit of justice and peace, then those who are labelling them in order to criminalise them are the ones who should be forced to defend their position, not the opposite. Despite the best efforts of the powerful few, this call for justice will always echo with the majority.
CC image courtesy of Wikimedia
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)