On Radio-Canada’s flagship French-language book program, Plus on est de fous, plus on lit! Donald Cuccioletta calls The Complete Muhammad Ali by Ishmael Reed an “excellent book” that must be read to understand the boxer and his times. If you understand French, you are invited to listen to this interview. It begins at the 17th minute.
Ishmael Reed’s The Complete Muhammad Ali continues to shake up all the received ideas about Muhammad Ali, the Nation of Islam, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, boxing as a whole, racism in boxing, and much much more.
Ishmael Reed, a guest at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C., was interviewed on the PBS Book View Now live stream by Rich Fahle and Kwame Alexander. Book View Now insisted on Twitter that “The Complete Muhammad Ali from @BarakaBooks is a must-read!”
Watch the interview on Youtube (September 5, 2015)
Ishmael Reed is one of the English language’s most important contemporary writers. His novels reveal a witticism and ironic sense found in very few other writers of the period. His essays and articles challenge commonly held dogmas in both mainstream thought and among those outside the popular mind. An intelligent reader of his works cannot help but be challenged by the points he raises, his use of the language, and the courage present. Liberals, socialists, right wingers and libertarians; men and women, LBG and T–everyone is open to Reed’s insightful and piercing pen as he points us all to an essential fact–our shared humanity and its manipulation by the powerful and their wannabes.
Reed’s mammoth biography of the Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali, will be published in July. Appropriately titled The Complete Muhammad Ali, this book is more than just a biography of the man the world calls Muhammad Ali. It is also a history of the sport and business of boxing, Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, the 1960s civil rights movement in the United States, and a myriad of other associated topics–even the history of the African continent. It also serves as a critique of sports in a capitalist system, the domination of the US sports media by white (often openly racist) men, and the Ali hagiography business. From the late jazz violinist Billy Bang to Hugh Masekela; from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Howard Cosell, this text is greater than the massive sum of its parts.
Simply put, it is a fascinating document. I say this as a fan of Ishmael Reeds writing and as a historian very interested in discovering and publicizing the histories we are not told. The book is comprised of Reed’s detailed and entertaining narrative intermingled with numerous interviews from people in numerous walks of life.
Reed challenges the commonly held idea that Ali was the first racially proud boxer since Jack Johnson. He does so by citing incidents of racism Joe Louis and other fighters before Ali experienced and their refusal to bend to them. He also argues, rightfully so, that the racism those men lived with was rawer and more violent than that which has existed since the civil rights movement began in the 1950s, at least as far as Black celebrities were concerned.
In writing this book, Ishmael Reed has created the most complete biography of one of history’s most famous personalities. In addition, he has provided the reader (and the world) with a revelatory look at the world Muhammad Ali resided in. It was a world of money, racial animosity, religion, and politics. It was (and is) a world peopled with luminaries and egotists, humble souls and family. It is a tale not only of a life that reacted to the times, but a detailed look at the influence Muhammad Ali and the others discussed in the book had on those times.
Like almost any human being, Muhammad Ali was a complex person. The fact that he spent so much time on the world stage led some to think his contradictions were weaknesses or signs of something less than genuine. Ishmael Reed has done a detailed and well-rounded presentation of the man and his complexities. It was and is a life representative of the times. This quote from Harry Belafonte makes the point quite well: “He was the poster boy for what the struggle was all about.”
Not everyone who appears in this biography agrees with Belafonte. Some do not even consider Ali the greatest boxer of all time, pointing instead to Sugar Ray Robinson and even Joe Louis. I am not enough of a boxing fan to have any opinion, but suffice it to say, these comments will certainly raise old arguments amongst those who are fans. The more important aspect of Reed’s interviews and often confrontational challenge to the legend of Ali is to his status as a civil rights champion on par with Martin Luther King, Jr. Reed is not alone in this perspective. Indeed, numerous interviewees agree with Reed, while allowing for the fact that Ali’s domination of the world stage—in part because of his status as a sport champion—lent the civil rights struggle an international cachet it was unlikely to attain without the commanding presence of Muhammad Ali. Furthermore, argue many of those who appear in The Complete Muhammad Ali, it was Ali’s stand against the US military draft that clinched his public status as someone who was more than a boxer, more than an athlete. Personally speaking, I concur completely with this latter sentiment. When Ali refused the military draft, it validated my growing opposition to the US war in Vietnam and called the entire US imperial operation into question among some of my older and more knowledgeable peers. This phenomenon repeated itself millions of times in cities, gyms and schoolyards around the United States and the world.
One question Reed asks every interviewee is why they think Muhammad Ali is so well liked now by the establishment. Every single response to this query, whether from a member of the Nation Of Islam, a media pundit or a black radical, is essentially the same. Ali is so well liked now, they say, because he is “safe.” His illness has rendered him often incapable of speech and he often seems to be weaker than his closest confidantes claim he actually is. Some of the answers also mention Ali’s age, pointing out that white America has always found old Black men “harmless.” Critic Jill Nelson goes the furthest, remarking that white America always found Ali to be safe as long as he was in the ring. It was when he acted publicly outside the realm of boxing that he scared and angered the white establishment. White America likes their Black men in cages, whether they are made of elastic ropes or steel bars.
The Complete Muhammad Ali is twelve solid rounds of writing. Throughout the text, Ishmael Reed jabs and juts, fades and dances. He even plays a little rope-a-dope. In the end, his biography of Muhammad Ali stands above its competition. It is not always pretty and parts of it leave the legend of Ali somewhat bloodied. In doing so, it rings closer to the truth than the sanitized tale today’s public has accepted as real. This text is an in depth and studied look at a man, a sport, a nation and a history. In his contemplation of all of these, Ishmael Reed paints a canvas that is simultaneously darkened with shadows and brightened with hope; defined by history that is certain to be riven with a fair amount of controversy. Muhammad Ali became and remains much bigger than the man who bears that name. Ishmael Reed’s biography of Ali is similar in its breadth and scope.
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
The Complete Muhammad Ali by Ishmael Reed will be available in July 2015. Here he talks about the book.
Ishmael Reed describes this book as “The Complete Muhammad Ali” because most of the hundred odd books about the Champion are “either too adoring or make excessively negative assertions.” One biography, for instance, blames Ali, along with Gerald Ford, for losing Vietnam, another calls him a “malicious buffoon,” while others—The Ali Scribes—make him into a Saint.
The Complete Muhammad Ali charts Ali’s evolution from Black Nationalism to a universalism, but gives due credit to the Nation of Islam’s and Black Nationalism’s important influence on Ali’s intellectual development. Instead of being dismissed as “Lunatics” and “thugs,” Black Nationalists and Nation of Islam members are given a chance to speak up. There is something to the remark made by Sam X, who introduced Ali to the Nation of Islam. He said that without Ali’s mentor Elijah Muhammad, nobody would ever have heard of Muhammad Ali.
Among the many voices omitted from other books, Filipino American writer Emil Guillermo, for instance, recounts how “The Thrilla’ in Manila” brought the Philippines into the twentieth century.
More than a biography, The Complete Muhammad Ali is a fascinating portrait of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.
The book includes more than 30 previously unpublished photos.
Ishmael Reed is a prize-winning essayist, novelist, poet and playwright. He taught at the University of California-Berkeley for thirty-five years, as well as at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. Author of more than twenty-five books, he is a member of Harvard’s Signet Society and Yale’s Calhoun Society. He lives in Oakland, California.
Other books by Ishmael Reed published by Baraka Books include Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media, The Return of the Nigger Breakers and Going Too Far, Essays on America’s Nervous Breakdown.
The International Criminal Court dropped charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on December 3, 2014. This is good news, even though the I(mperialiste) CC claims it was done because of Kenya’s refusal to cooperate. This case has been examined closely in Justice Belied recently published by Baraka Books. When President Kenyatta appeared before the ICC in The Hague in October 2014, Baraka Books ran the following excerpts from Chief Charles Taku’s article in Justice Belied, The Unbalanced Scales of International Criminal Justice. In light of this news, we are proud to repost them.
“Demeaning,” “condescending,” “neo-colonial posturing.” That is how Chief Charles Taku of Cameroun describes the actions of the of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and other international courts in Justice Belied: The Unbalanced Scales of International Criminal Justice, edited by Sébastien Chartrand and John Philpot.
Following are excerpts from two articles by Chief Charles Taku who makes the case that the actions of the ICC—and other international courts—are essentially “neo-colonial posturing.”
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Justice Belied.
“African Court and International Criminal Courts:
Discriminatory International Justice and the Quest for a New World Judicial Order”)
The ICC: The Price of Selective and Discriminatory Justice
The International Criminal Court has come under serious criticism by African states for its unjustified focus on Africa during its ten years of existence. This focus has been reasonably explained by the fact that some of the superpowers that have opposed the ICC and indeed refused to ratify the Rome Statute have deflated the attention of the court towards Africa.
The provision in the statute of the ICC that the UN Security Council may make referrals or deferrals before the court gives these world powers extraordinary powers to control the formulation, conduct, and execution of prosecutorial policy, in a manner that detracts attention from conflicts around the world that are sponsored by these powers either through proxies or as direct participants. To these superpowers and their proxies, the ICC has become a convenient conduit to effect regime change in errant regimes in Africa as well as to protect their strategic geopolitical interests.
The urgency with which the prosecutor of the ICC purported to have conducted investigations and filed indictments against Muammar Gaddafi and some of his close aides in Libya at the heart of the war, when NATO bombs were indiscriminately falling on Libya for eight months, surprised many in Africa. It was more amazing that when the ICC indictee Muammar Gaddafi was apprehended alive and murdered in cold blood, the media antics that characterised the tenure of Mr. Moreno Ocampo as the prosecutor of the ICC went dead. The next time we heard about him was when he was informing the world, invoking the principle of complementarity, that the judicial system of Libya was well-equipped to try Islam Gaddafi, the captured son of Muammar Gaddafi held by rebels over whom the central governing authority in Libya has no control.
Paradoxically, the same prosecutor explained his intervention in the Kenya post-election violence on the grounds that no mechanism existed within Kenya for a credible trial of the indicted to be conducted. This decision to intervene in Kenya was made barely two months after the commencement of the post-election violence in 2007. Within the same period, the same Western powers that supported the position of the prosecutor towards the situation in Kenya were appealing to Kenya to prosecute within its judicial system pirates and perpetrators of international crimes against foreign vessels in the Indian Ocean.
The obsession to “baby-sit” Africa reached humiliating proportions when Mr. Ocampo, whose mandate was to oversee the fight against impunity at the global level, publicly displayed his implication in the politics of Kenya by singling out Kenya alone as the focus of his farewell address. It is demeaning and condescending neo-colonial posturing like this that finally compelled the African Union to stand up for the sovereignty, dignity, and interest of the African Continent and all black people the world over who felt insulted by this policy of humiliating selective focus on Africa by the ICC and international criminal justice in general.
Excerpt from Chapter 7 of Justice Belied.
“The ICC and Kenya: Going Beyond the Rhetoric”)
- Chief Charles Taku
Stepping on Sensitive Political, Ethnic, and Cultural Nerves
The prosecutor, Moreno Ocampo, chose the public media as a platform to lay out his cases from the moment he made known his intention to intervene in the Situation in the Republic of Kenya. In so doing, he made the media a legitimate arena for the litigation of the cases. This venue of choice attracted a plethora of participants, some intended, others not. The media has since influenced public opinion on the cases in ways unimagined.
A significant media influence arose from the decision by the prosecutor to recruit some media practitioners as intermediaries in conducting investigations. The evidence collected through this process was presented before the Pre-Trial Chamber for confirmation of charges against the accused and in the unfolding trials. Mr. Barasa, a journalist practicing in the Rift Valley against whom the prosecutor has secured a warrant of arrest and transfer to the court for witness tampering, was recruited by the prosecutor to help in gathering evidence against accused in Case No. 1. It is unclear how this suspect tampered with witnesses whom he had a prosecutor’s mandate to recruit. It is hoped that the proceedings against him, when and if they occur, will open a window to the world about the manner and tactics the prosecutor used to collect the evidence she is relying on to pursue these prosecutions. It may reveal a consistent pattern of questionable prosecutorial tactics that a Trial Chamber of the ICC criticised and warned against in the Lubanga trial.
In his public media statements and in public court documents, the prosecutor laid out his case in political, cultural, and ethnic terms, which carried significant risks. An obvious risk was the possibility that alternative explanations might account for the existence of these factors during the election violence. The alternative explanations could undermine the prosecutor’s theories of the cases.
The prosecutor disregarded the political trends and shifting political alliances that are known influential factors in Kenyan politics. Like past elections, these factors were present during the election in which the alleged crimes occurred. The presence of these unpredictable political trends significantly undermined the theoretical relevance of assumed ethnic allegiance and cultural homogeneity that were claimed as facilitators of the alleged crimes. Contrary to this theory, the political forces that existed during the elections transcended alleged ethnic and cultural compartments in which the purported crimes were locked.
All ethnicities in Kenya were active in all the political parties, fielded candidates in the elections, and reacted differently to victory and defeat in their respective constituencies. The fact that some of the parties commanded a majority within distinct ethnic and cultural groups in locations where the crimes were alleged to have been committed did not undermine this reality. This significant factor was not seriously considered, and where considered was not given the attention it deserved.
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was confronted with a similar situation in the case of The Prosecutor v. Augustin Ndindiliyimana, Augustin Bizimungu, Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, and Innocent Sagahutu. In that case, the prosecutor struggled to explain every conceivable crime that occurred in Rwanda in 1994 in ethnic terms.
When the ICTR was established, UN investigative reports held the Rwandan Patriotic Front accountable for the crimes that led to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Hutu, in particular in areas that were entirely under the RPF occupation throughout the war.
Unlike the ICC prosecutor, the ICTR prosecutor acknowledged that serious crimes were perpetrated against the Hutu and promised to investigate. Recognising the occurrence and magnitude of these crimes and undertaking to investigate at first gave the investigations a presumption of legitimacy. Regrettably, the tyranny of victors’ justice left the ICTR prosecutor struggling to place the responsibility for the crimes that were perpetrated against Hutu victims (whom the prosecutor categorised as “moderates”) on other Hutu whom she claimed to identify and categorised as “extremists.”
At the trial, the prosecutor did not convincingly explain or establish the circumstantial categorisation of Hutu into “moderate” and “extremist.” The prosecutor failed to account adequately for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan citizens of Hutu and Twa ethnicity and to justify his inability to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of the crimes. Like the ICTR, the inability of the ICC prosecutor to conduct proper investigations into all the crimes alleged significantly undermined her claims of seeking justice for victims and her supposed record of fighting impunity.
It may reasonably be discerned from Mr. Ocampo’s numerous press statements that he intervened in the Kenya political arena when the perpetration of crimes was ongoing with a preconceived list of suspects and a case theory that perceived the crimes in ethnic terms. Once he sought and received permission of the Pre-Trial Chamber to open investigations, he found no need to conduct proper investigations to obtain credible evidence against all perpetrators of all crimes irrespective of ethnicity, or other discriminatory grounds. As a result, the cases he brought for trial lacked legitimacy in the eyes of a sizeable component of Kenyan citizens and victims. This may explain the lack of support the cases may be experiencing among the victims, witnesses, and the public at large. The alleged ethnic, cultural, and political foundations of the cases, both factual and theoretical, were therefore mired in serious controversy from inception. (…)
On or about September 10, 2013, the prosecutor (Fatou Bensouda) delivered her opening statement in Case No. 1. The statement was illustrated by, among other evidentiary material, videos of the Kalenjin elders in session performing traditional rites. The prosecutor, when laying out her case, failed to give serious consideration to the potential backlash that criminalising aspects of the Kalenjin and Kikuyu culture and traditions might cause. Alleging that Kalenjin initiation rites and protected cultural practices were used to perpetrate, or facilitate the perpetration of, crimes stated in the indictment was a serious misjudgment. The prosecutor came out, in the view of many Africans across the continent, as culturally insensitive. The misjudgment in this regard could potentially persuade some victims, witnesses, and their families to decide against participating in the trial process.
Evidence concerning sensitive aspects of the culture and traditions of victims, witnesses, and the public at large was treated with caution at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the ICTR. Exposing to the world evidence on the initiation rites of a people and other aspects of their culture considered sacred is seen in most of Africa to be a serious affront to the cultural identity of the people. Alexander Zahar and Goran Sluiter offered the following unpleasant opinion on a finding in the introductory section of the Akayesu judgment at the ICTR:
In the introductory section of the Akayesu judgment, which offers a potted history of Rwanda, we are told that in the early twentieth century the distinction between Hutu and Tutsi was based on lineage rather than ethnicity. We are told not consistently that the demarcation line was blurred (one could move from one status to another).
In footnote 11, the authors described this finding as “simplistic, tendacious, at times incoherent and full of inaccuracies.”
The safeguarding and protection of African cultures and traditions have been at the centre of African consciousness. Frantz Fanon decried the fact that “the indigenous population of Africa is discerned by the west as an indistinct mass.” Senghor wrote that the role of the intellectual has at least two responsibilities in his society: “First, to perceive what is good for his country, while holding intact the traditions of the past. The intellectual is one who must, in order to have a true national consciousness, be aware of his tradition and the sources of his past, a past which is still relevant even as he creates in reaction to it.”
Writing about advocates of African heritage, Wilfred Cartey and Marin Kilson stated:
[T]o validate one’s heritage, to explore one’s culture, to examine thoroughly those institutions which have persisted through centuries is perhaps the first step in a people’s search for independence, in their quest for freedom from foreign domination. Such a validation, such an exploration and examination is resolutely undertaken at the turn of the nineteenth and beginning of twentieth century by four Africans, Casely Hayford, Jomo Kenyatta, James Africanus B. Horton, and Edward Blyden.
This spirit was and is alive in Kenya and most of Africa. It is the driving force of African renaissance and the ongoing struggle for freedom from the pervasive influences of neo-colonialism in the continent. The cultural sensitivities transgressed in these cases in laying out the prosecutor’s case cannot therefore be minimised or wished away.
Chief Charles Taku was lead counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda from October 1999 to February 2014, the Special Court for Sierra Leone from July 2005 to May 2013 and the International Criminal Court (continuing investigation in the Situation in the Republic of Kenya) from March 2012 to October 2013. Chief Taku and Co-counsel Beth Lyons won an acquittal in the Military II case on appeal at the ICTR. He is the author of “Contextual Foundations of International Criminal Jurisprudence, Authorhouse, 2012.
 See Articles 13(b) and 16 of the ICC Statute.
 See Article 17 of the ICC statute.
 Judgment of Trial Chamber 1 in Prosecutor v. Thamas Lubanga Dyilo, dated March 14, 2012, Decision on Intermediaries, May 13, 2010.
 The Prosecutor, Mr. Ocampo, was also rebuked by the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Situation in Libya due to prejudicial press statements made by him, which infringed on the suspects’ rights to fair trial.
 ICTR-00-56-T, The Prosecutor v. Augustin Ndindiliyimana, Augustin Bizimungu, Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, and Innocent Sagahutu. The Trial Chamber entered a conviction and sentenced the accused to various terms of imprisonment. On appeal, co-counsel Beth Lyons and I obtained a reversal of the conviction of Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and an acquittal entered in his favour, more than twelve years after he was arrested in France and transferred to the jurisdiction of the ICTR.
 Zahar, Alexander and Sluiter, Goran, “Genocide Law: An Education in Sentimentalism: The Problem with the Group”, in International Criminal Law: A Critical Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 158.
 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, New York, 1966, The Intellectual Elite in Revolutionary Culture, p. 126.
 Wilfred Cartey and Martin Kilson, The Africa Reader: Independent Africa, “The role of the intellectual in independent Africa,” Random House, New York, 1970, p. 124.
 Ibid., p 3.
By Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt *
(This review appeared in Counterpunch on January 9, 2014)
Challenging the Mississippi Firebombers, Memories of Mississippi 1964-65. Jim Dann. Montréal: Baraka Books, 2013. Pp. 235, preface and afterword by John Harris, introduction, appendix, a short note on sources, acknowledgments, publisher’s note.
In his memoir, Challenging the Mississippi Firebombers, Memories of Mississippi 1964-65, Jim Dann put to paper the stories from his time in Mississippi 50 years ago, working as a young college student for fifteen months in Sunflower County to establish Freedom Schools and to help register African-Americans to vote. Folklorists will recognize in this account what Frank deCaro refers to as “our life memory . . . informed by and greatly influenced by the oral stories that we tell . . . about our lives” and “the social importance” and “considerable power” of life memory and oral stories (2013:ix).
Jim Dann did not initially think of these narratives as worthy of the printed page singulair allergy. Simply accounts of his own life, he recalls that his children were “his first audience”: “. . . they listened to these stories in the car and on vacations. I was just trying to keep them from being bored till we got to our destination, but they genuinely looked forward to the next ‘chapter’ and years later asked me to write them down” (233). Dann did not live to see the book published, though just before his death he saw the page proofs (Publisher’s Note).
Memory, Webster’s Dictionary reminds us, “applies both to the power of remembering and to what is remembered.” There is, indeed, power in this book – power and struggle and heroism. There is the day-to-day heroism of the African-American residents of Ruleville, Drew and Indianola, of the pastors of the Black churches and the teachers in the segregated schools. Woven into these stories is the heart and soul of community struggle for respect and human rights, a struggle that depended on the common folk standing up for their rights in the face of the entrenched and vicious white power structure. We know some of these stories, e.g., the brutal murders of the young Civil Rights works, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in Meridian, Mississippi (45-46); the impassioned testimony of Fannie Lou Hamer before the Democratic Party Credential’s Committee; and the attempt for recognition at the 1964 Democratic Convention of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (114-19). However, with more intimate detail, Jim Dann – to be nicknamed, “Jim Dandy,” by the young people with whom he worked in Mississippi – takes us into his dorm room at the training center in Oxford, Ohio, when James Foreman as an organizer with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) asked if he would go to Meridian. “I said I would be happy to but I had already promised that I would go to Ruleville” (45). Foreman turned to Dunn’s roommate, Andrew Goodman, and asked him to go. Goodman readily agreed. “We liked each other, and I was a bit disappointed and a bit envious when he told me before the end of the training that he had to leave early with [James] Chaney. There was some kind of emergency and the CORE leader at Meridian, Michael Schwerner, decided that the three of them should skip the final days of training and return to Meridian” (45). By the end of the training session, when the young freedom workers were boarding the bus for Mississippi, rumors were circulating that three volunteers were missing; their bodies would be found over a month later, cast into a muddy dam near the site of the murder (109). The grim reality of the triumvirate – torture, lynching and the hateful grip of the Ku Klux Klan – awaited these young people at the end of the journey for their volunteer work in Mississippi. Dann recalls,
“Everyone’s fear and nervousness evaporated under the warm and sunny greeting we received from Fannie Lou Hamer. We had stopped in front of her house, and she came bounding out . . . shouting her greetings before we could collect our luggage from the bus driver, who was as eager to leave as Hamer was to have us here. “(49-50)
As William A. Wilson notes in “Personal Narratives,” stories are crafted “from carefully selected details from the worlds of their authors” (Wilson 2006:268). Wilson quotes Neil Postman, who writes in the Atlantic Monthly, that stories give meaning to our existence, “‘Without air, our cells die. Without a story our selves die’” (Postman in Wilson 2006:68). The cautionary stories recounted in Challenging the Mississippi Firebombers did indeed contain wisdom for staying alive. Behind each axiom for security was a story,
- Never tell anyone where we are going or where we had been . . . .
- Don’t even tell people when we leave. Disconnect the interior dome lights so we can’t be seen when entering and exiting a car. (That was how Medgar Evers had been killed.)
- Never let a car pass you on the highway no matter how fast you have to drive. (. . . Jimmy Travis had been shot in that fashion). (64, parenthetical comments in original)
Dann recollected, “I sometimes had to drive one hundred miles per hour to avoid being passed, but nobody ever passed our car when I was driving. . . . One time, however, I lost control and ended in a ditch, but I managed to drive out without a car passing us” (64). In a harrowing account, Dann tells of driving out to “the tiny hamlet of Tippo,” on a single-lane dirt road, bordered on both sides by cotton fields (149).
“There was not another vehicle on that road. In about five miles we passed a road grader off the dirt road parked in the field with a white driver who watched us. Something about that did not seem right to us so John [Harris] started fiddling with our two-way radio in the SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] car, just randomly moving the tuner dial, while I drove. After a minute or two of just static we heard the following conversation: ‘Where are they?’ ‘About ten miles from Tippo. There’s a nigger and a nigger-lover.’ ‘What’s the car look like?’ ‘It is a white Plymouth.’ ‘Well, by the time it gets to Tippo it will be red with their blood.’ I looked at John and he looked at me and without missing a second I wheeled the car around and at top speed raced back down the dirt road. “(150)
Jim Dann’s account takes the reader through the momentous enactment of the Voter’s Rights Act and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty with the initiation of the Head Start Program. He reflects, “No doubt voter registration, desegregation and Freedom Schools had a long-range revolutionary aspect, but of all the things I was involved with, Head Start provided the most immediately palpable results in bettering the condition of the people then and there” (188).
Dann left Mississippi to return to UCLA for the fall semester in 1965 (200). He would go back to Mississippi in June 2000 for a reunion of those who had worked together in 1964-65, and who had embraced the SNCC anthem adapted from a song popular in 1964, “Keep on Pushing,” and changed by Fannie Lou Hammer to “Keep on keeping on” (157). Jim Dann, John Harris and Karen Koonan drove together from the Memphis airport, passed Winona, Mississippi, where Fannie Lou Hamer “had been savagely beaten thirty-years earlier” (204), and arrived at the Holiday Inn in Indianola.
“Black hotel clerks kindly greeted us in a place they never would have been allowed inside in 1965. We got directions to the B. B. King concert that was to be in a park near Main Street, not far from the Indianola jail. . . . The crowd was totally integrated and white sat next to black, both cheering King and his music. I would encounter many other changes in the weekend, but this integrated crowd, who loved B. B. King so much, was the biggest surprise of the reunion. My mind went back to his concerts at the all-black Club Ebony where he bought us chicken dinners.” (205)
The next day they visited the jail in Drew, where Dann and others had been repeatedly incarcerated for civil disobedience and simply as the result of police harassment. In 2000, it was “dilapidated and overgrown with weeds.” In Ruleville, “the new black mayor” greeted them, and they visited the memorial gravesite of Fannie Lou Hamer (205).
Jim Dann does not present himself as a hero, or even as having been courageous. Rather he portrays himself as a young person who was committed to working with others, some of those who were whites and blacks from other parts of the United States, who would spend some months in Mississippi trying to bring about change; and others who were African-Americans living a life steeped in the oppression of the segregated South. It is indeed in the lived lives of the ordinary people, recounted in this memoir, who lived out the lyrics of “Keep on Keeping on,” who were heroes of monumental everyday courage. Jim Dann has enriched us all by chronicling his memories in Challenging the Mississippi Firebombers: Memoirs of Mississippi 1964-65.
De Caro, Frank. 2013. Stories of Our Lives, Memory, History, Narrative. Logan: Utah State University Press.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionnary. 1963. Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers.
Wilson, William A. 2006. “Personal Narratives,” in The Marrow of Human Experience, Essays on Folklore, ed. Jill Terry Rudy, 261-81. Logan: Utah State University Press.
* Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt is Dean of the College Emerita and Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, USA. Her most recent publication is Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois at Atlanta University, 1906 (2008) for which she received the John Frederick Lewis Award from the American Philosophical Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Herman on Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: “an eye-opener and essential reading…” (Z Magazine)
Review by Edward S. Herman
(first published in Z Magazine )
Robin Philpot’s important new book Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa is an eye-opener and essential reading for anybody who wants to understand the recent history of Rwanda, ongoing U.S. and Western policy in Africa, and how efficiently the Western propaganda system works.
As in the case of the wars dismantling Yugoslavia, there is a “standard model” of what happened in Rwanda both in 1994 and in the preceding and later years, a model that puts the victorious Tutsi expatriate and Ugandan official Paul Kagame, his Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), and his Western supporters in a favorable light and the government of Rwanda, led by the Hutu Juvenal Habyarimana, in a negative light. Philpot challenges this model in all of its aspects and shows convincingly that, in a virtual miracle of systematic distortion, this version of history stands the truth on its head.
One important feature of the standard model is its portrayal of the West as a regrettably late intervener in the Rwanda struggle, with oft-cited ex-post apologies from Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright during their visits to Rwanda in 1997 and 1998 for U.S. and allied failure to intervene to prevent the massive killings in 1994.
Demolishing this distortion of history, Philpot shows that U.S. and Western intervention in Rwanda was crucial both in preparing the ground for the 1994 bloodbath and in the failure to stop it after it was well underway. The United States and Britain saw to it that UN peacekeeping forces were smaller in 1994 than had been agreed to in the 1993 Arusha Peace Accords and that they were cut sharply in February and then in April 1994 when killings were raging. The Rwanda government called repeatedly for a ceasefire, but the United States was supporting Kagame’s and the RPF’s conquest of Rwanda and, with a Kagame victory in sight, the U.S. intervention at that point was to protect the RPF killing machine from any outside interference. Philpot quotes former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros- Ghali’s repeated assertion that, “The genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans.”
Philpot traces U.S. support of Kagame and the RPF back to the October 1990 invasion of Rwanda from Uganda and even earlier. Kagame had trained at Ft. Leavenworth and the United States and its allies were already supplying Uganda with arms, training, and diplomatic support in 1990. The invasion and occupation of Northern Rwanda by this foreign-based force, which started on October 1, 1990, resulted in the forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutu farmers. Although this was a violation of the UN Charter, as well as a major human rights disaster, it led to no condemnation or action by the UN or “international community.” In fact, in succeeding years the United States and its allies supported the penetration of the RPF into the political and military structures of Rwanda, essentially pushing a major subversive force into the institutions of a victim of aggression. The Rwanda government was also forced by the IMF and World Bank, along with the United States and its allies, to abandon its social democratic policies, disabling it as a force helping ordinary citizens, including both the many refugees dislodged by the RPF and the large numbers streaming into Rwanda from Burundi where a Tutsi-military coup d’etat and murder of its Hutu president in October 1993 had led to a flight similar to that produced by Kagame and the RPF within Rwanda itself.
Philpot cites evidence that as early as 1990 the RPF organized covert cells throughout the country, surely deisgned for future action in a plan to seize control of the state.
Tutsis comprised at most 15 percent of the populationand, given their historic role as a ruling superior class—defeated in a 1959 social revolution with many fleeing to Uganda—and their role via the RPF in ethnic cleansing and refugee creation from 1990 onward, there was no chance that they could take power in a free election. Philpot makes a compelling case that they knew this quite well and were planning a violent takeover, which did in fact occur.
Philpot stresses that from October 1, 1990 onward and through the mass killings years of 1994-1995, Rwanda suffered a de facto war, carried out by the RPF, with Ugandan help, and, more crucially, with the assistance of the United States and its close allies. This also meant the automatic help of the subservient UN. In the standard model there was no war—the 1990 invasion and its consequences are kept out of sight and so is the steady infiltration and major-war preparations of the RPF up to the onset of a full-scale war and mass killings in April 1994 and onward.
The large-scale slaughter in Rwanda began immediately after the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwanda President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamina at the Kigali airport on April 6, 1994. This was widely recognized as the “triggering event” in the mass killings and “genocide.” In the standard model, the deaths of Habyarimana and Ntaryamina were either organized by Hutu government officials or were inexplicable. However, there is overwhelming evidence that these deaths were organized by Paul Kagame and the RPF, very possibly with the help of their Western supporters. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) looked into this issue in 1996 and 1997, with their principal investigator Michael Hourigan eventually charging the crime to Kagame and the RPF. French and Spanish investigators came up with the same result. But when Hourigan presented his report to ICTR prosecutor Louise Arbour, after consulting with U.S. officials Arbour closed down the investigation and it has not been taken up since by the ICTR or any other international organization despite the importance of this event to the terrible and much publicized devastation that ensued.
This episode of suppression and refusal to investigate is telling at several levels. For one thing, it shows the dominance of the United States in ICTR decision-making and Arbour was in fact vetted by Madeleine Albright before her appointment as prosecutor (also for the ICTY). It also displays Louise Arbour’s subservience to the global monarch and non-judicial behavior, for which she was further rewarded with a high Canadian judicial appointment, then as Kofi Annan’s choice as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and then in 2009 a presidency of the supposedly non-partisan NGO the International Crisis Group.
Most important, this suppression episode points to Kagame and the RPF as the driving force in the mass killings that immediately followed the April 6 assassinations. There was excellent coordination here, with the RPF in action simultaneously with the shootdown and even in advance of it, indicating that the assassination was known to RPF cadres and was part of a larger ongoing plan. Philpot emphasizes that Kagame could never have taken power by a free election, so that violence was absolutely necessary. The truth of the responsibility for these assassinations does not fit into the standard model, hence its treatment by the ICTR and Western propagandists—silence or claims of Hutu responsibility or passing references to a “plane crash.”
Philpot calls the RPF’s military triumph a coup d’etat, and the case he makes for this is convincing. The coup d’etat was the final result of a war—first an open war begun October 1, 1990, then with a three-year mainly low level war of RPF subversion and buildup of military cadres, partly hidden, with cells of subversive agents awaiting the coup moment, then the assassinations and conquest. The war was greatly facilitated by Western insistence that the Rwanda government make a place in the army and Administration for RPF representatives—done in the Arusha Peace Accords of 1993—and to force that government to carry out “reforms” and “austerity” policies that weakened its hold on its own population base.
In the buildup toward the final conquest and takeover, the low-level RPF war was also greatly helped by the West’s putting the Rwanda government under siege for its alleged human rights violations. The government did arrest some 8,000 individuals suspected of being RPF agents or active supporters in October 1990, all of them released within six months. This caused a frenzy in the Western political establishment, media and among human rights groups. Although the RPF (and Uganda) had invaded Rwanda, produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, and posed an enormous security threat to Rwanda, this was all overlooked by Western propagandists. Their sole focus was on the Rwanda government’s alleged excesses. Philpot notes that the many thousands of Japanese imprisoned by the United States and Canada during World War II involved a trivial security threat in comparison with that posed by the RPF against Rwanda. But the United States and its close allies supported the RPF, hence the huge bias throughout the West.
Philpot emphasizes the important role played by human rights NGOs in demonizing the Rwanda government and advancing the RPF’s war program. None existed in Rwanda before 1990, but they multiplied thereafter, almost all favoring the RPF. Most notable was the International Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in Rwanda, which issued a report in 1993 that harshly condemned the Rwanda government and said virtually nothing about RPF abuses. The Commission had spent two weeks in Rwanda, including only two hours in RPF-controlled territory where nobody was interviewed except in the presence of RPF personnel. The Commission’s financing and personnel assured its RPF supportive conclusions, and the RPF openly waited for the report before launching fresh military attacks that resulted in thousands of civilian casualties.
The Commission ignored the crime of aggression, focusing only on alleged war crimes in the ongoing low-level war. Its policy stance here, like that of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in the Iraq invasion/occupation, was that condemnations of acts of aggression are outside of its sphere of interest—it focuses only on any ensuing war crimes committed by the aggressor or his victim. This flies in the face of the UN Charter, but is wonderfully convenient to the United States as the world’s towering leader in the field of aggression, and fitted nicely the needs of Kagame and the RPF in their aggression against, and conquest, of Rwanda.
The Commission’s report was cited widely as authoritative and its extremely biased authors—several of whom became officials in the post-conquest RPF government of Rwanda—became favored experts in the media and served as prosecution witnesses in cases brought against the Hutu losers (and only Kagame-RPF approved losers have been tried by the ICTR). Philpot has detailed the crushing accounts of the ignorance and conflicts of interest of Commission members and other Western publicists and propagandists for the RPF cause, most notably Alison Des Forges (a consultant to the U.S. State Department and Pentagon); Philip Gourevitch (at that time brother-in-law of Jamie Rubin, Madeleine Albright’s PR person, with full and uncontested access to the liberal New Yorker); Canadian analyst Carol Off (whose heroine was Louise Arbour), Gil Courtemanche (a Canadian novelist); and Belgian journalist Colette Braeckman (author of a classic RPF apologia in 1994; the authority in the Belgian Le Soir and the French “left” Le Monde Diplomatique). With their help and a heavy flow of government disinformation, the standard model was institutionalized.
The UN also played its usual supportive role in recognizing who the United States and its allies were backing and lending a dirty hand. There was the ICTR, with its service as an instrument of RCF vengeance and helping it institutionalize the view that Hutus were the killers and “genocidaires.” In a notable instance, when investigator Robert Gersony produced a report in 1994 describing the mass killing of Hutus by the RPF, the UN suppressed it and forced Gersony to keep silent on its contents. The UN Aid Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) was headed by the Canadian Romeo Dallaire, a virtual servant of U.S. policy, thus supportive of the RPF, hostile to the French (he turned down their offer to look closely at the responsibility for the shootdown on April 6, although they were on the scene and several French citizens were killed in the crash), and hostile to adding more UN forces. Philpot notes that, “The first important action of the UN military mission, which included more than four hundred Belgian troops, was to escort a battalion of six hundred armed RPF soldiers from Rwandan Patriotic Front headquarters in Mulindi to Kigali.”
In the standard model, the Hutus were the villains who tried to exterminate the Tutsis and carried out a “genocide.” But it is certain that many more Hutus than Tutsis were killed; the RPF was a well-organized army, supplied and protected by the United States and its close allies, and ready for action on April 6, 1994, whereas the government’s leadership was taken by surprise, disorganized, short on arms, and defeated within 100 days. (For a discussion of the numbers, Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, 56-61.) But with unconstrained support of the U.S., UK, Belgium and Canada, a miracle of propaganda was achieved in making the aggressor and coup regime and its killing machine into a savior of the Tutsis from the Hutu victim population. The propaganda system has done this job so well that Kagame can make any opposition into supporters of “genocide.” The ICTR helps by steadily pursuing alleged genocidaires (and specific Kagame targets) and Kagame can win elections with 90 plus percent of the vote, without his ceasing to be a Western hero (an African “Abe Lincoln” in the view of Gourevitch). No more misleading and erroneous use of the word genocide can be found anywhere.
Most important, pursuing those genocidaires into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been Kagame’s excuse for invasions and mass murder there since 1996. He and Museveni have killed several million Hutu refugees and locals in the Eastern DRC, in a killing continuity with that in Rwanda. Although the numbers killed in the DRC far exceed the deaths in Rwanda, this is not described as a “genocide,” no Tribunals are established here, and no ICC indictments deal with these big-time criminals (Kagame and Museveni).
Philpot makes clear that this results from the fact that the United States actively supports these killers. As the United States and other Western powers have steadily increased their interest in Africa, their greater intervention follows, and Kagame and Museveni have been supported as local agents. Philpot quotes from a November 1996 interview by French journalist Jean Daniel with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, John C. Kornblum: “France? We want to get along with France. Chirac? A man of good will. We like him. But: (1) no question of keeping Boutros-Ghali; (2) no question of keeping Mobutu in power… Let’s get together again in six months time. We’ll see if I am mistaken. Watch out for Africa: France has it all wrong. The strong man is in Uganda, not in Kinshasa.”
The imperialist perspective is blatant, and in fact both Boutros-Ghali and Mobutu were removed in short order and Museveni (along with Kagame) has prospered and for many years could occupy the DRC and kill with impunity The interview with Kornblum took place just as Kagame was bombing the refugee camps and beginning his murderous march, fronted by Laurent-Desire Kabila, to overthrow Mobutu and take Kinshasa and the entire DRC. And as in Rwanda itself, with the aid of people like Romeo Dallaire, French initiatives for refugee succor in the DRC were squelched (and we are talking about a million-plus refugee population in distress). Philpot has a telling story of how the United States, here again with Canadian help, aided Kagame in clearing out Hutu refugee camps in the DRC by violence, all of these allies helping push the refugees toward Rwanda or into the DRC forests, bombing and shelling the camps, and killing vast numbers. With the aid of its Canadian puppet, the United States succeeded in fending off a threat that the UN would increase its protective forces in the refugee camps, closely analogous to the successful U.S, effort to reduce UNAMIR forces in Rwanda as the RPF slaughters there escalated.
Philpot’s book tells a grim story of geopolitical interests of the United States and its close allies, causing them to intervene heavily in Rwanda and the DRC, supporting killer regimes that overthrew a relatively responsive and representative government in Rwanda with a ruthless minority regime and dictatorship, but responsive to U.S.-UK interests (Kagame was the only African leader to welcome the U.S. invasion of Iraq). The Rwanda and Uganda regimes were adjuncts smoothing the road for Western penetration of the DRC. The “collateral damage” of literally millions of African deaths was completely acceptable to U.S.-UK leaders. But the propaganda/disinformation flood was so great that perhaps they believed the standard model that they were bringing civilization and Western values to the benighted. In reality, as Philpot describes so well, they were bringing hunger, death, dictatorship, and chaos to African peoples.
Edward S. Herman is an American economist and media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues as well the media. He is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the Wharton School. He is perhaps best known for developing the propaganda model of media criticism with Noam Chomsky.
Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction
by Robin Philpot
282 pages | Trade paper $24.95 | ISBN 978-1-926824-94-9 | all book formats
At a time when everybody was saying that books were dead, that nobody would want to buy hardbooks anymore because of the net, ebooks, blogs, and all the rest, some people disagreed. Baraka Books was founded on March 23, 2009. Denis Vaugeois had the idea, but the idea’s time had come. With an inspiring
mission statement that you can read to the right of this page, Robin Philpot launched the publishing house, confident that books have a future, even, or perhaps especially, print books.
Over these five years we have published books dealing with variety of subjects and in various genres. Translations are an important part of our production and will continue to be so. To help readers navigate through our website and identify the books that might interest them, the titles published since 2009 are presented below in five general categories. This has all been accomplished in less than five years defying all and sundry naysayers.
Quebec History and Politics
A People’s History of Quebec by Jacques Lacoursière & Robin Philpot
Trudeau’s Darkest Hour, War Measures in Time of Peace, October 1970 Eds eds. Guy Bouthillier & Édouard Cloutier
An Independent Quebec, The past, the Present and the Future by Jacques Parizeau
The Journals of Pierre-Louis de Lorimier by Linda Nash Clark (with Fernand Grenier)
Storming the Oldboys Citadel, Pioneer Women Architects of Nineteenth Century North America by Carla Blank & Tania Martin (forthcoming – 2014)
Montreal, Urban studies, Urban living
The History of Montréal, The Story of A Great North American City, by Paul-André Linteau
Saint-Laurent, Montréal’s Main, by Pierre Anctil
21 Days in October, a novel by Magali Favre
Parkour and the Art du déplacement, Strength, Dignity, Community, by Vincent Thibault
You could lose en eye, My first 80 years in North America, by David Reich
The Orphanage, An Autobiography, by Richard Bergeron
Africa, African Diaspora, and International Politics
Dying to Live, A Rwandan Family’s Five-Year Flight Across the Congo, by Pierre-Claver Ndacyaisenga
Going Too Far, Essays About America’s Nervous Breakdown, by Ishmael Reed
Indigenous and Arctic Reading
America’s Gift, What the World Owes to the Americas and their First Inhabitants, by Käthe Roth & Denis Vaugeois
Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, Champion of Canadian Arctic Sovereignty, by Marjolaine Saint-Pierre
Inuit and Whalers on Baffin Island through German Eyes, Wilhelm Weike’s Arctic Journal and Letters (1883-84), by Ludger Müller-Wille & Bernd Gieseking
Break Away 1, Jessie on My Mind, Young adult novel by Sylvain Hotte
Break Away 2, Power Forward, Young adult novel by Sylvain Hotte
Hell Never Burns, The Adventures of Radisson, Young adult novel by Martin Fournier
The Franz Boas Enigma, Inuit Arctic, and Sciences by Ludger Müller-Wille (forthcoming – March 2014)
Fiction and Creative Nonfiction
On the Crow and Other Stories by Robert A. Poirier
Washika, A Novel by Robert A. Poirier
Principals and Other Schoolyard Bullies Short Stories by Nick Fonda
I Hate Hockey, A Novel by François Barcelo
The Raids, Volume I of the Nickel Range Trilogy by Mick Lowe (forthcoming – 2014)
Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed and Quincy Troupe participated in a fascinating and heated discussion at the Harlem Arts Salon in New York on Sunday, Feb. 24. Baraka Books publisher Robin Philpot and partner were among the 80-plus guests who packed into Margaret and Quincy Troupe’s home in Harlem.
Ishmael Reed has published his two latest nonfiction books with Baraka Books, Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media, The Return of the Nigger Breakers (2010) and Going Too Far, Essays about America’s Nervous Breakdown (2012). In getting his work published here in Quebec, Ishmael Reed likens himself to the fugitive slaves who came up here via the underground railroad. His reason for turning to Baraka Books: his agent said that no US publisher would touch his book Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media.
Read more about the Harlem Arts Salon.
Toni Morrison told people how, as a child, she learned the power of writing. She was about four years old. With her sister, she was writing with chalk on the sidewalk. They decided to write a word written big on a nearby wall: “F U …” Her mother saw the word and went berserk. They had to get the mop and water and clean the sidewalk before they went home to punishment. “That’s when I learned about the power of writing,” laughed Toni Morrison.
Meet Ishmael Reed at the book launch.
To those who say ISHMAEL REED is “Going Too Far,” he replies, “They don’t know how far I’ve gone — all the way to Quebec,” to publish another book of essays after Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media, The Return of the Nigger Breakers, also published by Baraka Books in 2010.
GOING TOO FAR, ESSAYS ABOUT AMERICA’S NERVOUS BREAKDOWN will be launched on Friday, October 12 starting at 6 p.m.
CÉDA, Petite Bourgogne/St-Henri
2515, rue Delisle
Montréal (Métro Lionel-Groulx)
Ishmael Reed likens his coming to Canada to the fugitive slaves who, from Canada, were able to challenge the prevailing view that slaves were well off under their masters. Ishmael Reed challenges the widespread opinion that racism is no longer a factor in American life.
In some ways, says Reed, the United States very much resembles the country of the 1850s. The representations of blacks in popular culture are throwbacks to the days of minstrelsy. Politicians are raising stereotypes about blacks reminiscent of those that the fugitive slaves found it necessary to combat: that they are lazy and dependent and need people to manage them.
Ishmael Reed establishes his diagnosis of a nervous breakdown in three parts. Part I on a black president of the United States is entitled “Chief Executive and Chief Exorcist, Too?” Part II on culture and representations of African Americans in our supposed post-race era, “Coonery and Buffoonery.” In Part III, “As Relayed by Themselves,” cultural figures have a chance to tell the story in their own words.
RSVP. email@example.com or 514-808-8504.
JAZZ too: The launch is being held in Little Burgundy, where jazz in Montreal was born. To welcome the man about whom The New York Times wrote, “Among American writers, Ishmael Reed is probably the one whose sensibility is closest to jazz,” there will be a short jazz performance by budding jazz musicians.