A King for the oppressed—Not a King for the oppressors
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East and of the forthcoming book The Lost Spring in March 2014
As Americans and humanity celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of justice, equality and freedom, there are millions around the world who continue to suffer discrimination and oppression of the kind the African American pastor and leader struggled against until he paid the ultimate price for his engagement. MLK, Jr. led a tireless civil rights movement to end segregation and inequality—and to help his community and all citizens attain dignity under a one flag, one law for all. America has been identified for decades as the greatest liberal democracy in history and around the globe, in part, due to this man’s journey for public good. It has taken similar struggles by Americans from all races, ethnicities and religions—who from the founding fathers to modern times have made sacrifices in blood and treasure—to produce who we are as a nation, composed of both natives and émigrés.
But the destiny of the United States has also been to advocate for freedoms within all nations—from South America to the beaches of Normandy, from the dissident workers of Poland to the Kurds and Shia of Iraq. Wrong are those who deny this liberating role of our nation to tens of millions around the world. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s struggle for justice inside America can only strengthen America’s stand for freedom around the world. Dr. King contributed to American freedom so that the United States could better contribute to the liberty of others around the world. Hence, the natural course of history has led men and women around the world to expect the legacy of MLK, Jr. to be a legacy of hope for them. On the African continent, the perception of the African American civil rights leader is one of emancipation from oppression and liberation from terror and pain. In Sudan, African indigenous peoples in Darfur, in the Beja province, in Nubia and in the Nuba mountains see King as a model to follow as they seek to free themselves from the Jihadist segregationist regime in Khartoum. In southern Sudan, black resistance against northern fundamentalist supremacy has been in line with its American inspirer—for decades. In Nigeria, civilian victims of Boku Haram hope to have a Martin Luther King, Jr. of their own to lead the country away from terror. In North Africa, millions of Berbers often march in Kabylia and other Amazigh regions in attempts to claim their minority rights. In Egypt, Copts have been brutalized and have been assigned second class citizen status, the very injustice against which the Georgia pastor fought. The message of Dr. King is universal inasmuch as Ghandi’s was. The Kurds, the Christians in the Middle East, women in the Arab world and Iran, and millions of other suppressed humans around the globe can identify with the man who envisioned equality in the United States. These peoples seek that same dream for themselves.
Unfortunately, recent U.S foreign policy, particularly in the Greater Middle East, has not reflected Dr. King’s vision and aspirations. For more than five years, the ideals of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been absent in Washington’s attitudes, even when the current administration spoke about or acted within that vast region—a region immersed in injustice and inequality. In June 2009, MLK, Jr. would have stood with the millions marching for freedom in the streets of Iran. Contrary to the dream Americans claim to embrace, the U.S. government refused to encourage them and instead allowed the dictatorial rulers to crush them. In Lebanon, the United States sat idly by while witnessing the killing of leaders, journalists and human rights activists at the hands of Hezbollah. In Egypt and Tunisia, the United States partnered with the Muslim Brotherhood, not with the people. Similarly, in Libya, our government worked with the violent militias and not civil society forces. Beyond even the actions of our policymakers, there are American advocacy groups—who claim Dr. King’s legacy as their own—protecting the genocidal regime of Khartoum. Based upon the way he lived his life and the principles he espoused, it is easy to imagine that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be furious at those who claim his vision and legacy in their speeches but stand with oppressors around the world in their actions. He was a King for the peoples—not a King for the regimes, a liberator of the oppressed—not an enabler for terrorists.
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