An Arab proverb says: “You eat alone, you die alone.” It applies just now in America with a slight change: You march alone, you die alone.
The political activism of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated 50 years ago next week, evolved from provincialism to internationalism during his career — from fighting for civil rights in America to fighting for human rights around the world. From opposing racism and violence in this country to opposing racism and violence everywhere.
King was more readily contained and tolerated when he kept himself inside the civil rights church than when he broke free of those chains and moved out to decry violence committed against people of color not just in America, but in Vietnam and around the world.
“I am convinced,” he said of the Vietnam War, in one of the most powerful quotes of his political struggle that you won’t hear on MLK Day, “that it is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement in the war in Vietnam has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military-industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the Vietnamese people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor.”
Every year on King’s holiday, we obscure his far-reaching political vision, which transcended our borders and connected our local politics to the outside world. We can only hear about his personal dream, that “… my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But King realized that to change America inside, he couldn’t march alone; he had to march with all oppressed people around the world.
Today we see our political movements in America marching alone, from Black Lives Matter, to #MeToo and the women’s movement, to students’ campaign to end gun violence, to efforts to combat Islamophobia. Activists in all these movements and others don’t seem to realize that their struggle is all the same struggle, the oppressor is the same, here and abroad.
It is not just American women who are sexually abused; the #MeToo movement must not be only about celebrities and rich white women. Women around the world are abused, either by our government or by oppressive regimes that are supported or tolerated by our government, in Israel, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, to name a few.
Our students are not the only ones who are victims of gun violence; students around the world fall victim to gun violence, often American gun violence, in Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. When the Arab Spring broke out seven years ago, it captured the imagination of the world for its broader human rights demands for dignity and justice. However, American-supplied guns stopped mostly peaceful movements in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
The 11-year-old African-American marcher who captured our imaginations and headlines last weekend, Naomi Wadler, declared in Washington that “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.” I wish she had included women of color around the world.
Russia, directly and through its client state, has been bombing, sometimes using chemical weapons, to kill hundreds of thousands of Syrians while the West has looked the other way. But when Russia was recently accused of using a nerve agent in an attempt to kill a former Russian agent and his daughter in the United Kingdom, suddenly Western allies, along with the U.S., have been up in arms, expelling diplomats and imposing harsh sanctions.
President Donald Trump may have had sex with a porn star, Stormy Daniels; he may have paid her hush money; Stormy may have spanked Trump a few times with a magazine and gotten the narcisstic maniac to stop tweeting about himself for a few days. But the 24/7 media coverage of the sex scandal ignores the fact that Trump is also an admirer of political porn stars like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who is committing war crimes in Yemen, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who headed the forced virginity test division during the Egyptian revolution, who has raped his country and forced millions of Egyptians to perform an oral act of support during a fake presidential election, an election that is like a rapist forcing his victims to marry him.
For all peace lovers, and to stop all gun violence, please “#MarchforOurLives, too.”
Ahmed Tharwat is the producer and host of the Arab-American TV show “BelAhdan.” His articles are published in national and international publications. On Twitter @ahmediatv. He blogs at Notes from America at www.ahmediatv.com.