Malcolm X Celebrated at Concordia

Speakers Discuss Legacy of Malcolm X and Role of Media

Dr. Randy Short addressing the crowed at Sunday night’s discussion. Photo Brandon Johnston

Students and members of Montreal’s Muslim community gathered Sunday evening to commemorate the life and work of black rights activist Malcolm X.

Organized by the Thaqalayn Muslim Association and Journalism for Human Rights, the discussion revolved around the role media plays in shaping narratives surrounding religion and racial identity, a subject Malcolm X wrote about and discussed passionately.

Extending for nearly three hours, the event began with a taste of spoken word poetry by Jamaal Rogers, who criticized Canada’s paradoxical role as both a proclaimer of human rights and a nation with an oppressive colonial past.

“The fallacy that this nation is a testament to human dignity and democracy is now bubbling to the surface like 60 thousand litres of crude oil spilled in Alberta,” Rogers recited from his poem.

He was followed by Nasim Asgari, a young Muslim poet from Montreal. Her work addressed the discrimination she says she feels as a Muslim woman living in Canada. She performed a poem written after being confronted in a store by a man who insulted her, saying to her “welcome to the first world, the animals are out again.”

The poem touched on the importance of acceptance, beginning with the lines “If hatred knocks at your door, greet it with a smile, but tell it, it has come too late for love is already having tea inside.” She claims that the basis for the poem was inspired by the lessons of Malcolm X.

Following the two poets, Ricochet Media co-founder Ethan Cox took to the podium to discuss his perspectives on responsible journalism.

“Journalism is funny, because it has so often been a tool of oppression, been a tool of enslavement, but at the same time it has within it the tantalizing possibility to be the exact opposite of that,” Cox said.

“It has within it the ability to be the most significant means of empowering, enlightening and strengthening our shared humanity,” he continued.

Cox went on to discuss the perils of modern media being owned by large conglomerates and corporations. According to Cox, this harms the ability of journalists to report objectively on stories that may harm the interests of those who own the media.

He talked about how hard it has become to find work as a journalist – a job field that is continually shrinking and laying off employees. He cited the gradual staff reductions at the Montreal Gazette as an example of this. As result, journalists are being forced to write for free.

“This leads to a whole other set of problems related to privilege,” Cox said. “If writing is something that is done without remuneration, the only voices we are going to hear are the voices of the privileged, the voices of the people whose financial situations are secure […] that means that we’re not going to hear the voices of those who are most marginalized, those voices we are in most need of hearing.”

Cox was followed by Dr. Randy Short, a minister and social activist from Washington, DC. Short discussed the legacy of Malcolm X and the importance of standing up and fighting against injustices, as Malcolm X did.

“Malcolm X was an enlightened martyr, formed by centuries of oppression, religious hypocrisy, segregation, sexism and rape,” Short said.

“You need to decide now, what you’re going to do to participate in the struggle against militarism, racism, Islamophobia and predatory capitalism.

[You must] recognize your moral obligation to stand for truth and justice for everyone,” he concluded.

The night’s last speaker was Hajj Hassanain Rajabali, a Muslim American lecturer who focused on the importance of racial tolerance within Islamic culture. He cited a story from the Qur’an about a conversation between Shaytan (Arabic for devil) and God. In the story, Shaytan refuses to bow to the humans God has created who were made from clay, with clay coloured skin. Rajabali referenced this story to express the importance of tolerance within Islamic culture—an aspect of Islam he believes many have forgotten.

He went on to discuss humanity’s role in respecting each other and fighting against racial and religious discrimination.

“What good is life, if we can’t stand up for justice and dignity?” Rajabali said, holding back tears.