On February 21, 2017, President Trump visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture to honor Black History Month. In his statements after his tour, he pledged to unite the severely divided United States, stating:
Today and every day of my presidency I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African Americans and for every American. [This is] a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry and hatred and intolerance. We’re going to bring this country together. We have a divided country that’s been divided for many, many years, but we’re going to bring it together.
On the same day, in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei commemorated the Black History Month as well. He began his address at the Sixth International Conference on Palestinian Intifada in the memory of Malcolm X, “the leader of the Black Muslims in America” by saying a silent prayer and reciting Qur’anic verses:
So be not weary, nor fall into despair for you shall have the upper hand if you are believers. . . . Be not weary crying for peace, while you have the upper hand and Allah is with you and never will He put you in loss for your deeds [Quran 3: 139; 47: 35].
Meanwhile, Khamenei’s official Website published a short biography of Malcolm X as described and analyzed by Khamenei:
Malcolm X was a black activist who was born in 1925 in the state of Omaha, America. He was the seventh child. His father was a priest and was among people who was a civil rights activist for blacks.
Malcolm was four years old when he witnessed that members of a white supremacist organization had set their house on fire, and his family was displaced. Malcolm X, the leader of black activists in America, spent his childhood in poverty and as an orphan. He hoped to earn education from an American institution, and pursue his favorite occupation—to become an attorney.
Malcolm X, left school and decided to unrestraint himself. He freed himself from any restrictions and experienced a period of promiscuity in American society. He gradually became acquainted with African-American Muslims. [He met] members of “Nation of Islam,” whose leader was Elijah Muhammad. They taught Islam. Unity, brotherhood, and equality are three integral principles of Muslim faith, and racial discrimination was not included in that definition.
Initially, Malcolm was influenced by Elijah Muhammad’s philosophy—the leader of the Nation of Islam—and entered into activism in opposition to the white society. But after his hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and understanding the true religion of Islam, he believed in absolute equality of all human beings. He sought to awaken the dormant ethnic pride of blacks in America through his civic and social activities.
Malcolm did not believe in the notion of struggle without violence. He believed that if the government was unable or unwilling to provide justice and security for blacks, then they had to defend themselves through violent acts. Malcolm X’s father was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
After returning from hajj, Malcolm X, chose the title “Hajj Malik Shabazz” for himself. He returned to America with a purified spirit, and sought to establish an organization through which he would call Muslims in the world and other races to express empathy and fight against oppression. Malcolm was on his way home when they set his house on fire. Since he survived this incident, a week later, at the age of 39, they ended his extraordinary life by firing several bullets at him during a lecture at the Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. Malcolm X closed his eyes to this world without seeing the eyes of his twin girls opening to this world. But they and many generations after them, have come to continue the unfinished work of Hajj Malik Shabazz.
Implications for the United States
The state of Palestine and the forgotten Palestinian cause is at the heart of Khamenei’s narrations of Malcom X’s life. By reflecting on the life of a black Muslim man, who in Khamenei’s eyes, was martyred for his struggle against oppression, the Iranian Leader places emphasis on the notion of jihad (external struggle). His interpretations of Malcolm’s political life—that is the use of violence to defend one’s interests—is in line with his ideology about the Palestinian cause. One can conclude that through this statement Khamenei is sending a message to his internal and external audience: Should those in power refuse to provide justice and security for Palestinians, then people have the obligation to defend themselves through the use of force. The question is: Is Khamenei sending a direct message to Hamas and Hizbollah in the wake of Trump-Netanyahu meeting?
Furthermore, in his continuous struggle against U.S. infiltration into the Iranian culture and society, Khamenei uses opportunities like this to unveil the ongoing presence of discrimination and divisiveness in America. This has been an effective tool used by Khamenei throughout his Leadership to curtail any American threat of cultural infiltration. As long as Iranians—especially the young people—believe that America is a country filled with hatred and intolerance, Khamenei has won the war over the hearts and minds of the Iranian youth. Through Malcolm, he reminds his audience that one can not only find unity, brotherhood, and equality in Islam, but also eliminate his or her bigotry, hatred, and intolerance—qualities he perceives to be absent in the American society—as stated by the “Leader of the Free World.”