Back in the 1960s when Muhammad Ali converted to Islam, America hardly knew how to handle the religious convictions of a boxing hero gone faithful. Here was a famous pugilist choosing a religion that was not in line with America’s generally Christian leanings. And how could a fighter not want to fight for his country?
Then Ali (ne: Cassius Clay) did the unthinkable. He asked for conscientious objector status during the war in Vietnam. The United States initially indicted Ali on grounds that his beliefs were racially and politically motivated, not religious. Ultimately the case was overturned and Ali was granted freedom and the right to pursue his profession. Which ironically, was boxing.
Such is the complexity of liberal values, which do not always fall into black and white categories. But the lesson America has long neglected to recognize from Ali’s case is his defense of the Nation of Islam as a religion of peace. Ali stood as a religious Progressive, alone in many respects, trying to defend his right to religious freedom. He was willing to fight, of course. But not to kill.
Of course Ali earned little sympathy from the political right at the time. He was called a traitor against his country. Racial implications were rife as well, with a threatening undertone that implied that this black man should get back in line and do what his country (ne: master) wanted him to do.
Ali was perhaps lucky not to be assassinated for expressing his political views. Other liberal and Progressive leaders of that era did not survive their public challenges to the status quo. John F. Kennedy was assassinated, as was his brother Robert. Hatred of the two men by operatives in the CIA, the mob and political conservatives was well-known. Some even speculate the Lyndon Baines Johnson was politically jealous of the two men and conspired to have JFK assassinated. Recently released information from the Kennedy family intimates their own concerns about that potential.
It wasn’t long after the Kennedy assassinations that Martin Luther King, Jr. was also shot dead. The 1960s were a great period of social revolution but a deadly, punitive time to be a Progressive leader. Reasoned voices were silenced. The nation’s direction and policies were waylaid.
That is not to say that liberals were stopped from helping minorities work toward civil rights. Liberals and Progressives fought on, hewing closely to the liberal foundations of the very Constitution upon which America was founded. That’s right, the Constitution is a liberal document in that it progressively outlines the equal rights of all its citizens regardless of race, gender or even sexual orientation.
But that liberal foundation has required considerable effort to defend and protect. The fight has been compounded by an aggressive attempt by religious conservatives to essentially undermine the liberal values that guarantee freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion. Conservatives have attempted massive revisionism by claiming that America’s founders were Christians, and that Christian “values” drive the republic.
Certainly there are reflections of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America’s commitment to equality. But Christianity as a conservative religious movement has a long tradition of ignoring its equally liberal foundations. Jesus Christ was anything but a conservative. He fought the conservatives of his day in the form of Pharisees and other religious leaders determined to wield power through faith, and to manipulate others through economic and social pressures. Those conservatives in power at the time were the very forces that turned Jesus over to Roman authorities to have him crucified. So the battle between conservatives eager for power and control with the liberal agenda is a long and ancient conflict. It continues to this day.
It was not about the “jews” murdering Jesus. It was about conservatives without conscience, to quote one John Dean, who wrote a book of the same title. That book ought to be required reading for every American citizen. It documents the power-mongering conservative movement that threatens to engulf and swallow the personal and individual rights of every person in America. All for the profit of the very few.
Conservatives have worked hard the past thirty years to blur the lines between corporate and individual rights. Indeed, the Citizens United case was specifically driven to the Supreme Court to allow more corporate money into the political process. During the 2012 presidential election, candidate Mitt Romney blurted the conservative political belief that, “Corporations are people…”
But he’s wrong. And he’ll always be wrong about that. That very statement brings to mind the cogent statement of one John Lennon, former Beatle and outspoken critic of insane conservative political and religious motives. Lennon said: “Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”
And what was the result for John Lennon in this world? An insane man shot him in the head on the streets of New York City.
Which brings to mind another insane statement relative to weapons like the one used to shoot John Lennon. Gun advocates love to say that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” And so goes the insanity, and guns of military grade continue to proliferate in America, where children are shot to death in elementary schools, and gunman invade college campuses or stand up in movie theaters and open fire.
The rational, sane thing to do would be to pay attention to the real first phrase of the Second Amendment, which says “A well-regulated militia… being necessary for the security of a free state….”
And yes, the Second Amendment goes on to say that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. So protect that right, but also protect against guns getting into the hands of insane people. Set up standards that are hard to achieve because that is what is meant by the phrase “a well-regulated militia.” Because that is what is required for the security of a free state.
It works both ways you see. We need to question why people feel they need military grade weapons to walk safely on the streets. The police in communities across the nation are now militarizing their force in order to protect against the ramping up of military grade weapons owned by private citizens! That’s because we don’t have a well-regulated militia.
Liberals and Progressives have suffered far more losses and more political heroes to gun violence than conservatives. We need to ask 1) why that is and 2) how would conservative react if it had been their heroes shot down in cold blood?
We could take the example of James Brady, the White House Press Secretary who was shot while defending Ronald Reagan. Brady served a notably conservative President, yet when faced with the debilitating consequences of his compromised condition due to gun violence, Brady became one of the leading gun control advocates of his time.
But the apparently violent motives underlying conservatism is not limited to just guns, shooting and wars. There is a violent strain that runs through so much of the rhetoric of conservatism. Another liberal victim of gun violence was Gabrielle Giffords. Time Magazine carried this observation about her shooting. “Last March, at the height of the health care reform battle, Giffords’ office was vandalized. She mentioned in an MSNBC interview that a Sarah Palin graphic had depicted her district in the crosshair of a gun sight. “They’ve got to realize there are consequences to that,” she said. “The rhetoric is incredibly heated.” The corner next to her office had also become, she said, a popular spot for Tea Party protests.”
So who really has the right to be pissed in America? Is it the conservatives and Tea Party that so aggressively state their convictions and are pissed about taxes, social welfare and progressive reforms on equal rights?
Or is it the Progressives whose heroes have been randomly, pointedly and successively shot down in cold blood for standing up for the equal rights guaranteed all citizens by the United States Constitution?
There is so much opportunity for progress in America, but only if people can peacefully come to terms with the real and true history of the United States. That is, our liberal heritage is at continual risk from a violent, intolerant, often racist sector whose worldview claims to be on the right side of politics and religion, but whose words and actions stand in direct conflict with those who believe in equal rights on the political front and equal souls on the religious front.