Back in November, I attended Georgia State University’s launch event for their After Malcolm Digital Archive project. The initiative is set to explore the lives and contributions of African American Muslims. The project is still in its beginnings but I encourage you to check out the publications and videos they’ve made available on the site. The keynote speaker for the event was Sohail Daulatzai, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies and the Program of African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. Daulatzai’s address was general and generic in nature. He spoke to the role of prominent African American Muslims and the Nation of Islam, particularly Malcolm X, in shaping Islam in America and his push towards the recognition of international human rights.
While I didn’t find his talk particularly intriguing, a friend of mine purchased his book and I gave it a read. Though I wouldn’t say it particularly highlighted new information, its creative structure–featuring points of literature, hip-hop and its infusion of political characters including but not limited to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali–made it an interesting read.
Black Star Crescent Moon “explores the profound circulation of ideas that emerged between Black radical thought and the Muslim Third World in the post-World War II period.” Daulatzai frames this transference as “the Muslim international.” He claims “the Muslim international” as a space for “shared histories among Black Muslims, Black radicals, and the politics of anticolonialism in the Muslim Third World.” Daulatzai maps these histories through attention to the resistance movements of dien bien phu (Vietnam), the role of Algiers and Iraq in the iconic works, The Battle of Algiers and The Spook Who Sat by The Door. He then transitions to the hypernationalism of the Civil Rights movement and hip-hop’s role in drawing forth consciousness and radicalism. And concludes with a chapter on global incarceration, Islam, and the Black radical imagination.
At the heart of the text, Daulatzai is making an argument for the Muslim International as an alternative space in which to challenge the power and reach of the modern nation-state. By positing the Muslim International as a place of primary and collective identity, Daulatzi seeks to recall us to an international solidarity movement that transcended national boundaries–an anticolonial movement that was subverted through “communist” Cold War rhetoric and merged into an American policy framework via the Civil Rights Movement.
While it would surely be dismissive to undermine the Civil Rights Movement in its entirety as a domesticated ploy, it is important to examine the drawbacks of a rights movement that was and is (strategically?) nationally bounded. Of course, the same can be said for an international resistance movement that fails to take into account the power or the lack thereof of one’s nationality. The identity politics discussed throughout Black Star Crescent Moon are, naturally, as complicated as they will always be. How do we negotiate being Muslim American, when as Daulatzai puts it…
For to be “Muslim-American” is to embrace an identity and a politics that is nationally bounded and that seeks acceptance and inclusion instead of addressing the very forces that excluded Muslims in the first place and that led to racial profiling, deportations, surveillance, and war: namely, white supremacy, militarism, and capitalism.
While I do not agree with all of his assumptions and conclusions, I do think that consistently pushing these questions to the forefront is critical to the process of self-determination for Muslims in America. Where do our rights and responsibilities lie? How do we manage and prioritize our multiple identities? And, in turn, what does that mean for the communities we create?