Thursday, February 21, 2008

Malcolm X Tribute: Battle For Reparations Continues With Review of World Conference Against Racism

Battle for reparations

Review of World Conference Against Racism

Published Feb 21, 2008 8:01 PM

“Any time you find the government involved in a conspiracy to violate the citizenship or the civil rights of a people, then you are wasting your time going to that government expecting redress. Instead, you have to take that government to the World Court (United Nations) and accuse it of genocide and all of the other crimes that it is guilty of today.

“So those of us whose political, and economic and social philosophy is Black Nationalism have become involved in the civil rights struggle. We have injected ourselves into the civil rights struggle, and we intend to expand it from the level of civil rights to the level of human rights. As long as you’re fighting on the level of civil rights, you’re under Uncle Sam’s jurisdiction. You’re going to his court expecting him to correct the problem. He created the problem. He’s the criminal. You don’t take your case to the criminal; you take your criminal to court.”
Malcolm X

Attention All African People!!! The U.N. has agreed to hold a review of the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism held in South Africa. On April 21st, a Preparatory Committee meeting for this review will be held. You need to be there.

To understand why this Durban review is important to all Black people and our struggle for reparations, some background is necessary.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 2001, in Durban, South Africa, African people achieved an historic victory.

The United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) adopted a Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) recognizing that the “Trans-Atlantic slavery and slave trade was a crime against humanity.”

The first international acknowledgment of an historical truth was the result of a nearly decade-long battle waged by the December 12th Movement International Secretariat and a few other NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to maintain racism as a human rights issue within the U.N.

Following the release of Nelson Mandela from 26 years of prison in apartheid South Africa, the Western countries, fearing that the spotlight would be turned on their own racist foundations and practices, fought to have racism eliminated as an item from the agenda of the Commission on Human Rights.

Since 1989, the December 12th Movement, an organization which arose from the grassroots Black community’s struggle to defend our human rights, had been carrying out Malcolm’s mandate to bring our situation to the international community by regular participation at the U.N. human rights bodies in Geneva, Switzerland, and New York City. In 1993, at the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria, we called for the U.N. to convene a World Conference Against Racism. But it was not until December 1997 that the U.N. General Assembly agreed to do so in 2001.

After the General Assembly approved the conference, D12 outlined what we saw as three key issues to its success: 1) a declaration that the trans-Atlantic slave trade, slavery and colonialism were crimes against humanity; 2) acknowledgment of the economic basis of racism; 3) reparations for the victims. Over the next four years D12 successfully helped organize NGOs of African people from around the Diaspora who planned to participate in the WCAR to put these issues at the top of their list of demands.

At the same time, understanding that it was the member countries of the U.N. who would actually pass a Declaration and Program of Action, we lobbied the U.N. Regional Groupings, particularly the African Group of countries, to support these demands. The African Group’s statement, the Dakar Declaration, addressed all the issues. From the beginning, the Western European and Other (WEO) Group of countries, which includes the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, recognized the threat these issues posed to the maintenance of white supremacy and their dominant role in the world.

WEO launched a campaign of manipulation, bureaucracy, threats and economic intimidation to force the rest of the world to back off these issues. D12, along with the National Black United Front (NBUF), organized a 400-member delegation, “The Durban 400,” to attend the WCAR. Our focus was not on the NGO Forum, which was running parallel to the WCAR, but on the conference of states.

The Durban 400 lobbied relentlessly, making it clear to every country there the importance of the three issues. African Diaspora NGOs from around the world pushed their countries as well. This grassroots organizing effort helped counter the Western onslaught on the developing countries which represent the majority of the world. The U.S. delegation, seeing that their campaign to derail African people’s demands had failed, walked out of the WCAR.

U.N. World Conference Declarations and Action Programs are decided by consensus, not majority vote. So while the developed world didn’t back down on every issue, the final DDPA was a compromise document. The crimes against humanity, excepting colonialism, were recognized. The language speaks to reparations without clearly calling it that. And it alludes to the economic base of racism.

So Durban represented an important victory for African people. However the momentum from that victory was derailed just two days later by the attacks of 9/11. The WEO Group grabbed the “terrorism” concerns arising out of 9/11 as an opportunity to put WCAR, the DDPA and its implications on hold and out of the world’s consciousness.

The Durban Review is our chance to make the demands of African people primary once again. The December 12th Movement and its companion NGO, the International Association Against Torture, just returned from attending a meeting in Geneva of the Working Group on People of African Descent (WGPAD).

The WGPAD was established by the DDPA and is the only U.N. body exclusively concerned with people of African descent. At the meeting, there were only three NGOs present from the entire Americas. We successfully lobbied to have the WGPAD recommend that reparations be an agenda item for the Durban Review.

Predictably this was the only WGPAD recommendation which came under attack from the WEO, who were represented by Germany and Belgium. They said its inclusion would threaten the whole review and might force them to pull out. The African Group made it clear that they had learned from their Durban error and insisted that it be in. The WGPAD included it.

The first substantive international Preparatory Meeting for the Durban Review Conference will be held in Geneva from April 21 to May 2. We must be there in force to lobby for and protect our interests. Malcolm is watching.

Roger Wareham is a New York attorney who helped to introduce a class action lawsuit demanding reparations on behalf of African Americans in 2002.
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Biography of Malcolm X

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louis Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family's eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey.

Earl's civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm's fourth birthday. Regardless of the Little's efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929 their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground, and two years later Earl's mutilated body was found lying across the town's trolley tracks.

Police ruled both accidents, but the Little's were certain that members of the Black Legion were responsible. Louise had an emotional breakdown several years after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution. Her children were split up amongst various foster homes and orphanages.

Malcolm was a smart, focused student and graduated from junior high at the top of his class. However, when a favorite teacher told Malcolm his dream of becoming a lawyer was "no realistic goal for a nigger," Malcolm lost interest in school. He dropped out, spent some time in Boston, Massachusetts working various odd jobs, and then traveled to Harlem, New York where he committed petty crimes. By 1942 Malcolm was coordinating various narcotic, prostitution and gambling rings.

Eventually Malcolm and his buddy, Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis, moved back to Boston, where they were arrested and convicted on burglary charges in 1946. Malcolm placated himself by using the seven-year prison sentence to further his education. It was during this period of self-enlightenment that Malcolm's brother Reginald visited and discussed his recent conversion to the Muslim religious organization the Nation of Islam.

Intrigued, Malcolm studied the teachings of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success. Among other goals, the Nation of Islam fought for a state of their own, separate from one inhabited by white people.

By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname "X." He considered "Little" a slave name and chose the "X" to signify his lost tribal name.

Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York.

Malcolm utilized newspaper columns, radio and television to communicate the Nation of Islam's message across the United States. His charisma, drive and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the Nation of Islam from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.

The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace in 1959, The Hate That Hate Produced, that explored fundamentals of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm's emergence as one of its most important leaders. After the special, Malcolm was faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame had eclipsed that of his mentor Elijah Muhammad.

Racial tensions ran increasingly high during the early 1960s. In addition to the media, Malcolm's vivid personality had captured the government's attention. As membership in the Nation of Islam continued to grow, FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agents infiltrated the organization (one even acted at Malcolm's bodyguard) and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps and cameras surveillance equipment to monitor the group's activities.

Malcolm's faith was dealt a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963. He learned that Elijah Muhammad was secretly having relations with as many as six women in the Nation of Islam, some of which had resulted in children. Since his conversion Malcolm had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad, including remaining celibate until his marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958. Malcolm refused Muhammad's request to keep the matter quiet. He was deeply hurt by the deception of Muhammad, whom he had considered a prophet, and felt guilty about the masses he had lead into what he now felt was a fraudulent organization.

When Malcolm received criticism after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for saying, "[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon," Muhammad "silenced" him for 90 days. Malcolm suspected he was silenced for another reason. In March 1964 he terminated his relationship with the Nation of Islam and founded the Muslim Mosque, Inc.

That same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The trip proved life altering, as Malcolm met "blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers." He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration. This time, instead of just preaching to African-Americans, he had a message for all races.

Relations between Malcolm and the Nation of Islam had become volatile after he renounced Elijah Muhammad. Informants working in the Nation of Islam warned that Malcolm had been marked for assassination (one man had even been ordered to help plant a bomb in his car). After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965 the home where Malcolm, Betty and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed (the family escaped physical injury).

At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage and shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm's funeral in Harlem at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ on February 27, 1965. After the ceremony, friends took the shovels from the gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves. Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.

Malcolm's assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966. The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam.

The legacy of Malcolm X has moved through generations as the subject of numerous documentaries, books and movies. A tremendous resurgence of interest occurred in 1992 when director Spike Lee released the acclaimed Malcolm X movie. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design.

Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

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