(Finalcall.com) – It may be time for Americans to expand their definitions of the words “bravery,” “courage” and “valor.” For most of us, those noble terms refer to situations when human beings face imminent danger or opposition. Soldiers, law enforcement personnel and firefighters come quickly to mind.
But today, a new courage is called for in the face of a need to resist the bi-partisan consensus among the political leadership that authorized and continues to support the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, a country that posed no threat to the United States.
Ironically, those politicians who were quick to say, “Let’s go to war. I’ll hold your coat,” and the captains of industry and corporate power who back them, are the ones least likely to serve or have family members serving in harm’s way in the conflict. So it is left to the Black, Brown and poor White youth who bear the battle’s brunt today to find a new courage to say “no” to the Bush administration’s neo-conservative war strategy by absolutely refusing to take part in America’s wars.
“We believe that we who declare ourselves to be righteous Muslims, should not participate in wars which take the lives of humans,” the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote in “Message to the Blackman” in 1957. That principle was printed on the back page of Muhammad Speaks newspaper for 14 years. “We do not believe this nation should force us to take part in such wars, for we have nothing to gain from it unless America agrees to give us the necessary territory wherein we may have something to fight for.” For the last 25 years now, that same message has been printed on the inside back page of this newspaper.
Mr. Muhammad lived and suffered according to that principle.
In 1942, during World War II, and though he was past the age to be legally compelled into military service, the Leader, Teacher and Guide to the Lost and Found Black Nation in the Wilderness of North America was arrested and imprisoned–with dozens of his followers–for preaching that same inviolable principle.
Through the years, many of Mr. Muhammad’s followers–including his son Imam Warithudeen Mohammed in 1961–were also incarcerated based on their affirmation of that same belief. In those days–like today–when just being a Muslim was an invitation for calumny within the society at large, enormous courage was required, and is required, in order to hold on to the “rope of Allah” and to resist becoming part of the American “war machine.”
In 1967, Heavyweight Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali, a minister in the Nation of Islam, was convicted of draft evasion for refusing to be inducted into the Army. “I am a devout Muslim and follower of Islamic religious faith under the discipline of the prophet Elijah Muhammad,” Mr. Ali wrote to his draft board on Feb. 14, 1966. “To bear arms or kill is against my religion and I conscientiously object to any combat military service that involves the participation in any war in which the lives of human beings is taken. This has been my faith upward of five years.” said the letter.
“I am a member of the Muslims and we don’t go to no war unless they are declared by Allah Himself,” Mr. Ali said in a Chicago Daily News interview days later, after he was classified “1-A,” draft-eligible. “Those Viet Cong are not attacking me. Those Viet Cong never called me a n—-r,” was his most famous quote. It took courage to say those words in 1966.
At age 24, Mr. Ali was sentenced to five years imprisonment, barred from his profession in the ring during the prime of his career and stripped by an unjust administrative decision of the title he had won fair and square in the boxing ring. In 1971, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction, and the undisputed “People’s Champ,” re-entered the boxing arena. Three years later, he became only the second boxer to ever regain the heavyweight crown. Five years later, before he retired, he became the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times.
During that troubled Vietnam era, just 25 years after Mr. Muhammad’s own incarceration, when many young men fled to Canada to escape conscription, literally thousands more stood their ground like Muhammad Ali and faced prison rather than fight in America’s unjust wars which took the lives of human beings–in the Dominican Republic, in Vietnam and elsewhere.
A generous dose of that same spirit, bravery, courage and valor is needed again among young people facing today’s “economic draft.” Young people today, especially the poor, are called to volunteer because they want to attend college, but have no money; because they want better lives for themselves and their families; because they believe the hyped-up advertising that military service can help you “Be all that you can be.”
Today, America is a great nation that has gone far astray from the path of God. The country is degenerating into a moral abyss that is now depriving it of the blessings that Americans once prided themselves in having. The nations of the earth are turning against America, and inside the country there is division–bordering on the potential for open revolt–because the country is heading toward ruin under the leadership of President George W. Bush.
As the country’s military establishment finds itself on a slippery slope of deeper intervention in a war in Iraq, which even staunch war-hawks in Congress have declared to be “un-winnable,” Pentagon strategists are secretly preparing to reinstate a draft, while all the time they deny such plans.
But there is hope. There are voices of right-guidance among us.
The clarion among those voices is that of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, a continuation and a reminder of the un-erring giver of good news and warning–the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He gives good news to us, the descendants of slaves, and all who would travel with us, and he repeats the warning to the government of America.
“Next year, they’re going to impose the draft,” Minister Farrakhan said June 20 at Muhammad’s Mosque No. 11 in Boston following that city’s observance of Juneteenth. “You don’t have any future in that, brother–they don’t have a future,” the Muslim leader warned. “What are you going 9,000 miles away to fight for? Who are you fighting? What have those people done to you?”
The words of Muhammad Ali seem so very apropos once again: The Iraqis have never called us “n—-r.”
So now, once again, young people will have to decide: “Am I going to go because they called me or should I stand my ground?” said Min. Farrakhan. “Now, you may have never thought of standing your ground against the President of the United States and an invitation to join the military, but you might as well start entertaining that thought. What we want to do is give you some legs that allow you to stand and when the President writes in a draft letter, “Greetings to you. You can report to such and such place for induction,” you will say, ‘not me.’”
A couple of soldiers have recently made their stands against involvement in the unjust war in Iraq. One is a Nicaraguan-born veteran who served one term in Iraq, but refused to return for a second deployment, according to the International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) Coalition. Another soldier is an 18-year veteran who converted to Islam a decade ago after the first Gulf War.
In the case of 1st Sgt. Abdullah Webster, his exemplary service prior to his conversion to Islam was used to invalidate his claim of conscientious objector (CO) status. Just as in the case of Muhammad Ali 28 years ago, Sgt. Webster’s unit commander testified at his court martial that the soldier was not eligible to be classified as a CO, because he was not opposed to “all wars”, only to wars in Muslim nations.
Despite testimony from superiors and a Muslim chaplain that Sgt. Webster was a “sincere, devoted (and) devout Muslim,” who was “adhering to the advice of Muslim scholars” he consulted before filing his claim, that claim, like Mr. Ali’s claim, was denied.
In 1966, the Department of Justice and the FBI opposed Mr. Ali’s claim before his draft board, concluding that his objections to participation in war “insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam rest on grounds which are primarily political and racial. These constitute objections to only certain types of war in certain circumstances, rather than a general scruple against participation in war in any form,” according to excerpts from Mr. Ali’s case before the federal court of appeals.
When the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Mr. Ali’s eligibility to be classified a CO, the court, in fact, declared that every Black man and woman who follows the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is a conscientious objector. And while Sgt. Webster may not be a registered member of the Nation of Islam, and his conviction, jail sentence and bad conduct discharge may never be overturned by the courts, he has already been declared the winner, according to those who know him and his own declarations.
“He said he would rather spend seven years in jail than fight Muslims,” testified Lt. Col. Courtney Paul, commander of Sgt. Webster’s engineer battalion at the time he submitted his claim to be a CO.
His is an amazing story of bravery, courage and valor, and he stands as a role model for young people being asked to answer America’s unjust call to war today.
Young people in America: Will you answer that call?