…An odd controversy briefly dominated the sports pages in March 1996. A player in the National Basketball Association, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, refused to follow the league’s rule requiring that players stand in a “dignified posture” during the national anthem. Instead, since the beginning of the 1995-96 season, Abdul-Rauf had remained seated during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
A black, 27-year-old former Baptist from Mississippi who had converted to Islam in 1991, he declared that as a Muslim, he could not pay homage to the American flag – which he called a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny.” He argued further that the flag directly contradicted his Islamic faith: “This country has a long history of [oppression]. I don’t think you can argue the facts. You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Koran. Islam is the only way.”
The NBA responded firmly, suspending Abdul-Rauf until he agreed to obey league rules. He missed one game, then capitulated. Two factors probably weighed most heavily on him: losing a cool $31,707 for each game missed, and facing wide opposition to his decision from other Muslims.
Though soon forgotten, this act of defiance raised important questions. When a successful young man earning almost $3 million a year and enjoying wide adulation talks publicly of hating his own country, something is afoot. What that might be is hinted at by a similar case a whole generation earlier, that of the boxer Muhammad Ali. After his conversion in 1960 to a form of Islam (Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam), the former Cassius Clay adopted a set of intensely anti-American attitudes. Most famously, he refused to be drafted by the U.S. military, which led to the forfeit of his heavyweight title. As Muhammad Ali later put it, he stood against “the entire power structure” in the United States, one dominated by Zionists who “are really against the Islam religion.”
But there are often less happy results when a convert adopts two specific types of Islam: the Nation of Islam (the black-nationalist sect that originated in Detroit in 1930) or the fundamentalist variety (now usually known as Islamism) imported from the Middle East and South Asia. Converts to these forms of Islam are much more likely to turn anti-American.
From its inception, the Nation of Islam has promoted a black-nationalist outlook hostile to mainstream American culture and politics. “You are not American citizens,” Elijah Muhammad, its longtime leader, told his followers. He went to jail for draft evasion instead of enlisting to fight in World War II, and even forbade Nation of Islam members to accept Social Security numbers. Malcolm X, his most famous disciple, contrasted the pure evil of America with the pure good of Islam, saying that an American passport “signifies the exact opposite of what Islam stands for.” Continuing in this spirit, the group’s current leader, Louis Farrakhan, threatened some years ago to “lead an army of black men and women to Washington, D.C., and we will sit down with the president, whoever he may be, and will negotiate for a separate state or territory of our own.” On a 1996 visit to the virulently anti-American regime in Teheran, Farrakhan declared that “God will destroy America at the hands of Muslims.”
Many converts eventually leave the Nation of Islam and join mainstream Islam; those of them who become Islamists are especially likely to continue to disassociate themselves from the surrounding culture in a radical way. Even after his break with the Nation of Islam, for example, Malcolm X announced, “I’m not an American.” Similarly, the one-time radical H. Rap Brown, now known as Jamil Al-Amin, declares, “When we begin to look critically at the Constitution of the United States… we see that in its main essence it is diametrically opposed to what Allah has commanded.”…
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