Malcolm X’s Oxford Speech And Its Resonance With The Palestinian Suffering – OpEd


In a compelling debate at the Oxford University Union in 1964, Malcolm X stated, “We are not human beings unless we band together and do whatever, however, whenever is necessary to see that our lives and property are protected, and I doubt that any person here would refuse to do the same thing were he in the same position.” By highlighting the slavery and suffering of African Americans in the United States during his time, Malcolm X spoke at the Oxford University Union with the motion, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” It is important to note that Malcolm X did not call for unjust violence or unjust form of extremism. He called for a proactive political movement that brought about the intended results to protect human liberty and freedom.

Further elaborating on his perspective, Malcolm X asserted, “I don’t believe in any form of unjustified extremism. But I believe that when a man is exercising extremism, a human being is exercising extremism, in defence of liberty for human beings, it’s no vice. And when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings, I say he’s a sinner.” Within the context of civil rights struggle, he argued that moderation failed to bring about meaningful change in the condition of African Americans at home and more assertive and immediate actions were necessary to address the deep-seated issues of racial injustices. Malcolm X utilized the Oxford University platform to advocate for a proactive approach in the fight for civil rights.

Malcolm X’s speech at the Oxford University Union also holds extreme significance for another reason. His discussion reaches beyond the United States and focuses on the struggles of oppressed people worldwide. He connected the African American struggle for civil rights with broader movements for decolonization and human rights across the globe, making it relevant to any socio-political movement worldwide where the oppressed are facing the horrors of occupation or the aftermath of past colonization. Palestine has been colonized, and Palestinians have been oppressed since 1948.

Palestinians have been facing the severest form of systematic racism, prejudice, and discrimination, brutal violence, imprisonment, and displacement. The civil rights of Palestinians have been completely neglected since 1948. Over the years, many reports have been published by many well-known organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations. Amnesty International published a comprehensive 280-page report, “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity” (dated February 1st, 2022). The report noted that the state of Israel has been actively engaged in the appropriation of Palestinian land and property on a large scale, unlawful killings, forced displacement, severe restrictions on movement, and the withholding of nationality and citizenship from Palestinians.

Furthermore, the report mentions that the state of Israel has collectively established a system that qualifies as apartheid according to international law. This structure is sustained through actions that Amnesty International has identified. It meets the criteria for apartheid and known as a crime against humanity under both the Rome Statute and the Apartheid Convention. Since 1948, the state of Israel has been working to ensure a predominantly Jewish population and exerting aggressive control over land and resources for the benefit of Jewish Israelis. This approach was expanded to the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967. All areas under Israeli control are managed to favor Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians. Palestinian refugees are still excluded from these considerations.

As Malcolm X loudly proclaimed in his debate when speaking of the United States, “And I live in a society whose social system is based upon the castration of the black man, whose political system is based upon castration of the black man, and whose economy is based upon the castration of the black man.” It is no different for Palestinians. The Palestinians have been forced to live under ongoing policies of the state of Israel that have been systematically stripping Palestinians of their basic rights. Palestinians are continually being deprived of their fundamental rights. The condition that Malcolm X explained for African Americans is precisely what Palestinians have been facing under the forced occupation of the Israeli government. Those policies have now further resulted in taking away food, water, electricity, and medical supplies that Palestinians need for basic survival.

Given all the human rights violations, the crime of apartheid, violations of the United Nations charters, and violence that amounts to war crimes, which the reports show, this all proves why Malcolm X’s Oxford University Union speech applies to understanding Palestinian plight and the moderation that the world expects of Palestinians can no longer be considered. The brutal subjugation of Palestinians has continued for many years, resulting in the genocide of Palestinians today. The viewpoint that Malcolm X fervently defended is a position that anyone who is oppressed and faces an unjust, vicious force that has just one mission, to ethnically cleanse and remove the Palestinians from their homeland, would take.

Today, the death toll of Palestinian civilians is just above 21,100 in Gaza with 55,200 injured. In three months, the state of Israel has cut off food, water, and electricity, destroyed medical hospitals, and barbarically killed innocent civilians. This number continues to increase as the Israeli military continues its genocidal mission at the command of Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet. Given the mass killing of Palestinians, nothing short of a genocide, Francesca Albanese, the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory reported as recently as December 29th, 2023, that “Now, it’s not new, because forced displacement is the main trait that characterizes Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. It has gone through 56 years, not to mention what has happened before.”

When one takes Malcolm X’s points he delivered at the Oxford University Union debate, one lands at three concrete facts: 1) what has been happening to Palestinians for the past 50+ years, no human being in a “free world” would ever wish to live a single day that Palestinians have lived and 2) the tactics used by Israel, the Western media, and the Western governments to dehumanize Palestinians today are warnings that Malcolm X gave back in 1964 in his debate, and 3) no one in the “free world” would sit and wait patiently as Palestinians have waited while they faced death and destruction, while their fate rested on the television screens of the United Nations as the agenda makers vetoed to silence and shut down the two-state solution. The two-state solution never became a reality also because the opposing party had an aggressor like Netanyahu who refused to accept the two-state resolution or respect any United Nations’ charters. What has been the result of all this mayhem?

Liam Stack, a contributor to the New York Times, reported in his article, “Gaza Deaths Surpass Any Arab Loss in Wars With Israel in Past 40 Years” that “The high death toll reflects how Israel has chosen to wage the war, using thousands of airstrikes, heavy bombs and artillery in a small territory densely packed with civilians who cannot escape.” Moreover, Stack reported, “The Gaza war was already thought to be the deadliest conflict for Palestinians in the 75 years since Israel was established. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimated 15,000 Palestinians were killed during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.”

Netanyahu accuses the Palestinians and Arabs of not welcoming the Jews, a narrative that he continues to push to the global audience while he practices the crime of apartheid himself. While highlighting the segregation of African Americans at home, the individual debating Malcolm X accused him of calling for an apartheid. To such an accusation, Malcolm X pinpointed the tactic that his debater used. Malcolm X first clarified his position, “And as far as this apartheid charge that he attributed to me is concerned, evidently, he has been misinformed. I don’t believe in any form of apartheid, I don’t believe in any form of segregation, I don’t believe in any form of racialism. But at the same time, I don’t endorse a person as being right just because his skin is white, and often times when you find people like this, I mean that type, when a man whom they have been taught is below them has the nerve or firmness to question some of their philosophy or some of their conclusions, usually, they put that label on us, a label that is only designed to project an image which the public will find distasteful.”

Considering the present conflict, the United States stands as an accomplice to the state of Israel’s genocidal mission by providing weapons and monetary aid to the state of Israel. Not only, monetary, and military aid is provided, but the media support has been also given to Netanyahu and his war cabinet to justify genocide as “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Malcolm X passionately defended his position that when a certain population faces injustices, oppression, and violence against their population for a long time, it is justified to defend oneself. Defending oneself to protect innocent lives might appear extreme to another side; however, such extremism, as Malcolm X stated, “intelligently directed extremism, extremism in defense of liberty, extremism in quest of justice” might be a necessity at times. Explaining his view and definition of extremism, Malcolm X expressed, “I just take time to make these few things clear because I find that one of the tricks of the west, and I imagine my good friend…or rather that type from the west…one of the tricks of the west is to use or create images, they create images of a person who doesn’t go along with their views and then they make certain that this image is distasteful, and then anything that that person has to say from thereon, from thereon in, is rejected.” 

What was done to Palestinians? Any move that Palestinians make for their freedom is instantly labeled “terrorism.” Presently, the whole Palestinian population is referred to as “Hamas,” which is a broad generalization and unjust categorization of innocent civilians. The state of Israel was free to call the Palestinians “animals.” President Joe Biden and much of the political establishment in the United States and the West, in general, accuse Hamas of bringing this upon the Palestinians but ignores the history of brutality and systematic oppression against the Palestinians since 1948. 

If the so-called, “the only democracy in the Middle East” was being democratic and acting with some kind of moral compass with a “moral army,” there would not be any need for Palestinians to live in what the world knows as an “open jail.” The truth is that the “only democracy” in the Middle East is an occupation force that is using violence against the Palestinians to function and seek political and social legitimacy while using the media in the West to create a terrible image of the Palestinians. This is a policy of the West and the state of Israel to ignore and oppress without any accountability or deterrence.  

As Malcolm X noted, “And this is a policy that has been practiced pretty well, pretty much by the West, it perhaps would have been practiced by others had they been in power, but during recent centuries the West has been in power and they have created the images, and they’ve used these images quite skillfully and quite successfully, that’s why today we need a little extremism to straighten a very nasty situation out, or very extremely nasty situation out.” If Israel and the West do not like Hamas and their ways, the Palestinians have been waiting for the two-state solution. It continues to be vetoed by the very powers who do not want a two-state solution. No NATO force is provided to Palestinians to maintain peace and protect the innocent civilians. What are Palestinians supposed to do?

Describing the conditions of African Americans at the hands of racialists in the United States, Malcolm X asserted, “We have been the victim of his brutality, we are the ones who face his dogs, who tear the flesh from our limbs, only because we want to enforce the Supreme Court decision. We are the ones who have our skulls crushed, not by the Ku Klux Klan, but by policeman, all because we want to enforce what they call the Supreme Court decision. We are the ones upon whom water hoses are turned on, practically so hard that it rips the clothes from our back, not men, but the clothes from the backs of women and children, you’ve seen it yourself. All because we want to enforce what they call the law. Well any time you live in a society supposedly and it doesn’t enforce it’s own laws, because the colour of a man’s skin happens to be wrong, then I say those people are justified to resort to any means necessary to bring about justice where the government can’t give them justice.” The “only democracy” in the Middle East practices similar form of brutality against the Palestinians; yet, the expectation of the West and the state of Israel is that Palestinians remain subjected to its policies for as long as possible.  

As reported by various news outlets, including Al Jazeera, the United States passed a $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel to continue wreaking havoc in Gaza, Palestine. This package includes $4 billion for Israel’s Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems, as well as military equipment transferred from US stocks. This $14.5 billion is in addition to the annual $3.8 billion in military assistance that Israel has been receiving since 2016. Additionally, it is well noted that the US government has spent $8 trillion during the recent 20-year war. The taxpayer money that should have been used at home to improve the lives of citizens — for education, infrastructure, public transportation, student debt relief, healthcare, and other initiatives — has also been flooded into Ukraine. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that “The Joe Biden administration and the U.S. Congress have directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.” Simply put, the interests of the United States are so deeply tied with the interests of Israel that US taxpayers’ money, needed at home for various improvements, is annually directed to the state of Israel and others.

Citizens in the West must ask government officials for accountability regarding taxpayers’ money sent to aid wars and solve problems in other parts of the world while facing increasing issues at home, such as homelessness, a struggling education sector, a suffering healthcare system, and neglected infrastructure. Malcolm X highlighted this kind of behavior in his speech as well.

He declared during his debate at Oxford University, “Now again, I think you must point out that one of those who are very much involved as accessories to the crime is the press. Not so much your press, but the American press, which has tricked your press into repeating what they have invented. But I was reading in one of the English papers this morning, I think it’s a paper called The Express, and it gave a very clear account of the type of criminal activity that has been carried on by the mercenaries that are being paid by United States tax dollars.” 

The global community needs to look at the plight of Palestinians and ask what each nation or group would do if they were facing a genocide, if they lived in the conditions as Palestinians have lived since 1948. Malcolm X was extremely precise in explaining how oppressive forces have achieved their motives and agenda. These are the exact tactics (using media to create false narratives and images of the ones who are oppressed while making the oppressor seem a victim) that are being used in undermining the struggle and suffering of the Palestinians. Malcolm X’s conclusive statement is a reminder for all as to why we must stand against violent and oppressive forces. Just as he explains the suffering of African Americans through his words, this is the exact situation and suffering of Palestinians. 

The global community must come together to heed the call of justice as Malcolm X concluded with his call, “And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change, people in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change. And a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone—don’t care what colour you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.” It is Palestinians who have the right to defend themselves because they are the victims of a genocide and systematic cruelty since 1948. The false narrative that the state of Israel pushes, accompanied by the support of the United States and the West in general, Malcolm X’s speech at the Oxford University Union is an excellent insight into dismantling the false perceptions and narratives.

Ahsan Qazi

Ahsan Qazi is the founder of One Voice-Pakistan and World Affairs in Sociological Perspective. He was born in Pakistan, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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