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Malcolm X, Nation of Islam, Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War, Black Power, Black Atlantic (global Black self-awareness), Bob Dylan (a celebrity being political advocate like Ali, Bertrand Russell (embracing Ali for being against Vietnam War), Communism, and of course, boxing, the book touches on all these subjects coherently. Now I know little about many subjects, which is provoking me to read a lot about the era. And in the center of all of these subjects is none but The Greatest: Mohammad Ali! This book, is about the journey of Mohammad Ali discovering and defining himself. It’s about a man who played a crucial role both nationally and internationally in the 60s.Ali has a very rich character, so its no wonder that each one of us conceptualize him differently. Growing up, I would hear a lot about this proud Muhammad Ali Clay (as we call him in Arabic), a black Muslim who didnt fear to stand up against those suppressing racist. Even local article writers mention him very often, at least it was the case back in the 90s (I wasnt around in the 80s so I wouldnt know). Now we have another black muslim figure to talk about, Obama lol.After winning the championship, Ali announced that the rumors were true, he did convert to Islam and that he was affiliated with Nation of Islam (Malcom-X and all) and that he rejected Civil Rights Movement: I cant be when I see all the colored people fighting for forced integration get blown up. They get hit by stones and chewed by dogs and they blow up a Negro church and dont find the killers... Im the heavyweight champion, but right now there are some neighborhoods I cant move into. I know how to dodge boobytraps and dogs. I dodge them by staying in my own neighborhood. Im no trouble-maker.. Im a good boy. I never have done anything wrong. I have never been to jail. I have never been in court. I dont join any integration marches... A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and hell never crow. I have seen the light and Im crowing. Americans, both black and white, were shocked and had confused reaction and felt betrayed that they championed him yet he stabbed them in the back! Yet, a conservative columnist said that Ali is simply free to do what he wanted, its a free country.Boxing is shockingly a very complex sport. Most of the action happens behind the curtains. Being a man-on-man match, its easy to fix and control. And during Boxing’s 200 years of history, it was heavily controlled by aristocrats.And such, these behind-the-curtains people, they wanted to make black boxing role models whom they controlled. By the very fact of becoming a high-profile (and well-rewarded) symbolic representative’ of an oppressed and excluded group, an individual is likely to share less and less in common with that group. And, in further irony, the more black sports stars remind people of the oppressive realities of black life, the less they are accepted as role models for it. Its as if they just dont want to hear about it, they want to believe it didnt exist, they wanted to create these role models to prove themselves, and they then together with these role models bury their heads in the sand. Now thats some deep-shit guilty psyche.The first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, was very controversial and ended up being exiled. No black fighter was given a shot at the heavyweight title for twenty-two years after Johnson lost it... When Joe Louis emerged in the early thirties, his handlers were determined to learn from Johnsons bitter experience. Louis was given lessons in table manners and elocution; he was told to go for a knockout rather than risk the whims of racist judges; he was told never to smile when he beats a white man and, above all, never to be caught alone with a white woman.-----The ritual and regimen of the Nation [of Islam] appealed to Clay for some of the reasons he loved the discipline of training and the gym. Both demanded care and respect for the body and rewarded deferred gratification. More importantly, both offered a whole way of life, a shelter from the world outside and a means of prospering within it. Like many contemporary religious movements, the Nation of Islam was in part a protest against secular modernity. It offered personal purity, hierarchical family values and race consciousness as a means of negotiating the rapids of social flux. Formally, it pitted the individual against the temptations of the modern world, while informally allowing him to come to an accommodation with it, even to exploit and master it.Clay speaking at Liston before their awaited fight: “I make you great. The fans love you because Im the villain.After announcing he was part of Nation of Islam, Cassius Clay became Cassius X Clay. Then at the same time the Nation abandoned Malcolm X (and a reward was put in his head) he became Mohammad Ali. The awarding of an original name was a rare honor in the Nation of Islam, one not bestowed even on Malcolm X.The relationship between Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X is really complex. It started as the behind-the-curtains Mentor (Muhammad) and the charismatic-speaker Hero (Malcolm). But Malcolm was wild and (politically) ambitious, he didnt want to be just a blind pupil, add to that the rise of Clay and winning over Liston, Muhammad shifted, off he goes (Malcolm) and the Mentor found a new hero, Clay, who was actually in a good relationship with Malcolm. Then Malcolm moved on, and for the first time he publicly attacked officials of the Nation of Islam, while asking civil rights leaders to forgive the many bad things hed said about them. Then Clay broke with Malcolm forever. Note that Muhammad didnt want to relate Clay with the Nation before the fight, fearing that if he lost then it will damage Nations image, all while Malcolm was a very big support for Clay in the fight (even praying together just before the fight), and as soon as he wins, Muhammad jumped on the wagon. It seems that Clay disconnected himself from Malcolm (to Ali’s regret later) because he didnt want to be involved with politics. Thats some really deep shit.-----It is too often forgotten that the American sixties were merely a single facet of a global phenomenon. Ali was one of those who acted as a transmitter between struggles in America and struggles outside. Through his media appearances in every corner of the planet, Ali played a major role in stimulating the worldwide circulation of ideas and images that lies at the heart of the sixties. He became part of the overlapping global conversations and movements, linking sports fans, the Black Atlantic, the Third World and the international opposition to Americas war in VietnamAre African Americans, Africans or Americans? To me, it seems that African Americans were subconsciously convinced (along with whites) that Africans were uncivilized, as if being of black race made you inferior. Africans were represented as uncivilized in Hollywood for many decades. The same goes with Middle East, where colonization convinced people that Middle East is an exotic and oriental place, which in turn alienated people from their heritage (at least this what I understood from Edward Said). Black Power and pride beautifully fought that back, and Ali pride of being ever so beautiful! Oh and the timeless longing for home (no matter how badly home treated you): when asked by the British press whether he had any plans to escape the draft by going into exile, Ali answered with mournful clarity, regardless of the right or wrong back there, that is where I was born. That is where Im going to returnIn his rejection to go to Vietnam War: I aint got no quarrel with them Vietcong It sounds so modest, yet it struck people as terrifyingly outlandish. It could be the plaint of any ordinary soldier-citizen. Just how is it that the ostensible enemies of the nation-state to which one is assigned becomes ones personal enemies? This is a magical process which national establishment have managed with great care and ingenuity since the dawn of the modern era. The counter-process through which Ali broke free of its mystic grip, and defined his own loyalties, is ab exemplary voyage of the sixties.The I who had no quarrel with the Vietcong was, first, the highly personal I of a young man wondering why he was supposed to kill or be killed by people he didnt know. It was also the I of a boxer who wanted to be left alone to be a boxer, a man who had made great efforts to free himself of the burden of representation, a man who only wanted to be an I. But because of his conversation to the Nation of Islam, and his travels to Africa, this I assumed other, collective attributes; black, Muslim, African. Ultimately, it became the I of all those who felt they had no quarrel with the Vietcong, and all those who felt they did have a quarrel with America. Ironically, Alis reclamation of his selfhood had given his I new representative burdens.Then Ali, in the same time he was pushed to be drafted in the war, and meeting with MLK, finally spoke out: in your struggle for freedom, justice and equality, I am with you. The author says it was extraordinary statement from the man who had told the world he didnt want to carry a sign... Both Alis turn to the Nation and his support for the integration struggle in Louisville had their roots in his personal identification with a larger constituency. It was his abiding sense of responsibility to that constituency that compelled him to re-define again and again the parameters of that role model, to reconstruct who and what he represented, independently of the powers that be, even as he exploited their media in order to do it. Elijah Muhammad didnt like Alis political activities, he renounced his honorary name and called him “Cassius Clay . When Elijah died, his son took over and refined Nation of Islam, he dropped the “white is evil” and made the Nation more consistent with mainstream Sunni view of Islam (there are two mainstreams, Sunni and Shia). I was welcomed by many followers of the Nation, among them is Ali. Some disagreed and made another Nation that is consistent with Elijah’s teachings. Malcolm X (dead by now) would’ve welcomed the son’s refining, he discovered that mainstream Islam, and more importantly the Quran, had a “all men are equal” message, when he visited Mecca for pilgrimage. Ali then in 2005 embraced Sufism, which is a very spiritual Islamic view.There are some who have discovered belatedly with shock that Ali was an imperfect hero. Perfect heroes, however, are not only implausible but also useless. They can only be admired, not imitated. Alis flawed humanity reminds us that role models are always incomplete and contradictory.
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