How to Win Change

By Thomas Saffold, Michigan Islamic Academy

Mr. Saffold is an outside writer not known personally to TMO; his opinions are his own, and may not reflect those of TMO or staff or management. 

Events in Arab Africa have suddenly made our lessons about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Michigan Islamic Academy very relevant.

As readers will remember, the REAL vision, philosophy, and dream of Dr. King were examined two weeks ago at MIA.  Students saw that Dr. King called for a real struggle against the forces and institutions of militarism, materialism, and racism, oppression, poverty, and injustice, with common people as soldiers using direct action as the means, and achieving the common good as the goal.

That was Dr. King’s vision of democracy—ordinary people organizing to acquire power through direct action to force fundamental social change for the common good.

We now see the common people of Egypt and other parts of North Africa peaceably opposing their autocratic governments with street demonstrations, a classic direct action.  This was a crucial element of Dr. King’s vision.  In lectures given months before he was assassinated, Dr. King called for democratic organizing to become nationwide in order to redress injustices within the United States.  He planned, for example, to train 3000 poor Americans (supported by tens of thousands more) in non-violent direct action and deploy a delegation to each office of every Congressman to demand fundamental power shifts and behalf of the poor, and to “sit-in” at those offices until Congress met their demands.

After achieving nationwide victories for justice like that, Dr. King wrote, “It is clear to me that the next stage of the movement [would be] to become international.”  Why?  “We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.”

That certainly sums up what happened to Egypt under American influence over it and the region:  the Egyptian people are mostly poor and are oppressed by a rich elite beholden to the West.

King said, that because so many of the problems of nations like Egypt “have roots in the United States of America, we [ordinary Americans] need to form a solid, united movement [with ordinary people of those nations]…so that pressure can be brought to bear on the capital and government power structures…from both sides of the problem at once” to bring an end to oppression and poverty.

The US Declaration of Independence proclaims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

This seems to be happening before our eyes in the streets of Egypt. Lovers of real democracy—“people power”—make dua for them that they may, inshAllah, succeed.

My concern is that anti-democratic forces will undermine and co-opt, marginalize and out-maneuver the “January 25 Movement” and turn Egypt over to a new group of thugs and toadies.

The United States certainly has thwarted democracies. 

Dr. King taught and showed that social change was possible.  In two generations, the US has gone from lynchings and segregation to an end to “Jim Crow laws” and the election of a black president. 

Dr. King did not do this on his own.  Even the tens of thousands of ordinary people joining him did not bring that success.

The success of the Civil Rights Movement required that the masses of people accept training, discipline, careful planning, and a philosophy rooted in the will of Allah (SWT). 

This enabled them to stand up to their government’s police, guns, police dogs, water cannons, tanks, and jails.

The same kind of discipline, planning, and philosophy is needed by the crowds in Egypt, and I hope these will emerge.

Mass action without discipline and planning is little more than a directionless mob and is easily routed and manipulated.

My other concern is that the American ummah seize this time in history to unite, organize, develop direct action campaigns, and become politically powerful. 

I believe that Allah (SWT) brought us Muslims to … wage peace against the forces and institutions of militarism, materialism, and racism in this country, and coordinate with our brothers and sisters all over the world to free it of tyranny, poverty, and new-colonialism.

Dr. King warned:

“But we do not have much time.  The revolutionary spirit is already world-wide.  If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin no to work, urgently, with all the peoples, to shape a new world.”


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