By Sukant Chandan, Coordinator at the Malcolm X Movement
“Belfast and Derry hold some of the most politicized anti-imperialist and socialist working class communities in the entire ‘West.’”We arrived into Ireland on Friday 13th March as the latest political crisis was gripping this small section of the island of Ireland. Left-wing Irish Republican party Sinn Fein had blocked an austerity budget leading to the freezing of the budget for Northern Ireland. Directly related to this was a public workers one day strike the day our Malcolm X Movement delegation arrived at Belfast International airport, so we had to catch a taxi to West Belfast where we are staying with a local grassroots Irish republican socialist activist and friend. Sitting in the front of the taxi and chatting with the driver, I went through the usual careful and subtle probing as to where he stood in the British colonial-induced division in the six counties. Was he an Irish nationalist (who happen to be overwhelmingly Catholics) who united with the “third world” anti-imperialists, including the ANC, and supported the total end to British rule and the reunification of their country, colonized and partitioned by British colonialism? Or was he a Unionist (who happen to be overwhelmingly Protestants) who were historically planted into Ireland as colonial settlers and who more recently allied to Apartheid South Africa and are still largely allied to racist right-wing forces and the white settler state of Israel and want the six counties to remain eternally a part of the United Kingdom?
As we passed the beautiful hills of Cavehill and Black Mountain that immediately surround Belfast city we discussed the budget crisis at which point the taxi driver mentioned something along the lines of “those who have always held power here do not like to see that changing,” which clearly indicated to me that he was probably an Irish nationalist. It turned out he was and I felt more comfortable and we got into a big conversation whereby I mostly asked questions and he, like it seems so many people who lived through the “Troubles,” were more than happy to impart their usually insightful and sophisticated analysis informed by their experiencing of the horrors of the conflict there.
Towards the end of the conversation we discussed British covert operations in their dirty war in Ireland, with “the Brits” supporting the pro-Unionists “Loyalist” death squads, through what is infamously known as collusion, reminding me of the same covert operations and collusion with neo-colonial death squads in the Muslims world. Our journey came to an end, we bid farewell and he wished us a good stay in West Belfast.
“The murals reflected the Irish republicans’ affinity and solidarity with the people of Palestine and South Africa against white supremacy rule, but featured mostly their own revolutionary martyrs.”It felt great to return to West Belfast, my second time there, and my fifth time in Ireland since 1999, every one of those visits I come to partake in political and cultural work with the Irish revolutionaries who are in Sinn Fein and independent Irish republican socialists and anti-imperialists. Belfast and Derry hold some of the most politicized anti-imperialist and socialist working class communities in the entire “West,” and as such is a primary example and inspiration of how a brutally colonized people (indeed the first colonized nation of English colonialism 800 years ago) can resist, organize and steadily build their politics in an inter-generational time frame.
We arrived to deliver the first of seven events in the First Annual Malcolm X Film Festival, taking place at the well-known cultural centre, Culturlann on the historic Falls Road in West Belfast. However, we had the full afternoon before the event day to have a walk around Falls Road and see the many revolutionary murals painted on gable ends of terraced homes and the famous rows of murals showing brightly and colorfully the recent and ancient history of the struggle of Irish freedom from colonial rule.
While West Belfast remains palpably politicized, one can still feel the Troubles rescinding into the background in the community with a new generation of young people and teenagers who were borne after the start of the peace process formally initiated by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998/1999. While social justice is a long way off there has been some increase of private investment. A shiny leisure center and a massive new shopping tower above the Milltown Cemetery where many of the martyrs for Irish freedom are buried.
We saw Palestinian revolutionary icon, leading PLO and PFLP member Leila Khaled, featured on a few murals. Khaled herself would be addressing the Malcolm X Film Festival the following day. The murals reflected the Irish republicans’ affinity and solidarity with the people of Palestine and South Africa against white supremacy rule, but featured mostly their own revolutionary martyrs, people like James Connolly and IRA prisoner of war and elected MP Bobby Sands whose mural has pride of place on the Falls.
While walking around the Falls our Irish host would greet and have a wee chat with people of the community who were all politically active in some way or another – either working with local youth, or whatever anti-imperialist and socialist activities they were committed to. This is a community that is pulsating with political discussion and activity, hardly spending any time on social media, but actually being socially embedded in real life and struggles with their community. We sat down for a snack and a tea with three young community activists and anti-imperialist socialists, two of them coming from solid revolutionary families with family members having served back in the conflict in the revolutionary national liberation armed movement of the Irish Republican Army, said by some to be unofficial armed wing of Sinn Fein.
“Bernadette MacAliskey was the first of two Irish speakers at the event to ‘translate’ Malcolm X for the Irish audience.”Along with the great “craic,” hospitality and political discussions, the quick wit and charisma and intense discussions that seems to be nearly universal characteristics of the people, there were also instances of the trauma of living through a brutal war. Any working class community has its fair share of trauma, but add into the mix lots of shooting, massacres, torture and imprisonment, and it all adds up to a terrible mix that no humans should have to live through.
The Malcolm X Film Festival saw over 50 local activists attend the event the following day, which my revolutionary Basque Country comrade told me was a decent turn out in West Belfast considering the time and what was concurrently taking place. The event opened up with the first film montage of Malcolm X speaking on Civil Rights and Black Power in his last final years of speeches and interviews. There would be no one more fitting to speak on this panel than Bernadette MacAliskey, who became the most inspiring and audacious revolutionary at a very young age against the British Army’s occupation of the working class district of the Bogside in Derry. She took to the peoples barricades, helped to mobilize the youth and community against the British military police and army, got elected on a national liberation and socialist platform to parliament and remains to this day the youngest woman ever to have been elected. She was a leader of the Irish civil rights movement inspired by the Black civil rights movement in the USA and the undivided Indian peoples non-violent national liberation struggle. As with those historic examples, the oppressed Irish people’s struggle for non-violent change was met with brutality and massacres by the colonialists. The notorious Bloody Sunday Massacre was conducted in 1972 by the British state, killing 14 protestors and leadig to a further radicalization of the movement.
Later in the evening, I was told by an Irish comrade that the event would have seen young activists hear for the first time people with English accents talking about anti-imperialism, socialism and the liberation of Ireland. It was the first time that they would hear someone non-white speaking about these things. And it was the first time they heard Malcolm X’s own words speaking about “rejecting the white man,” developing independence Black liberation organizations, rejecting the dehumanization from the white man, being inspired by the ‘darker nations’ of Africa and Asia uniting against European colonialism etc. Therefore Bernadette MacAliskey was the first of two Irish speakers at the event to ‘translate’ Malcolm X for the Irish audience. She recounted her experiences of going to the USA in the late 1960s and 1970s when she was a highly sort after speaker, invited by white feminists and relatively well-off Irish Americans who lived in houses that to MacAliskey “appeared like plush hotels” with “two toilets and three bathrooms” compared to the poor working class areas of Derry from where she came from, in which the struggle for better housing for Catholics and Irish nationalists was one of the primary issues in the civil rights struggle against the Irish apartheid system. She explained that the feminists in the USA had house servants who were Black or Brown, but she would find more common ground with those Black and Brown women than the white feminists and middle class Irish Americans. She said that she felt at home associating with the Black Panthers and the radical Puerto Rican anti-imperialist socialist group the Young Lords. Famously, MacAliskey was handed the keys to New York City that she instead gave to the Black Panthers. MacAliskey explained that she thought that one of the big problems of the Irish is that they think they are white and have white minds.
Following MacAliskey was Dr. Moussa Ibrahim, the last media spokesperson for the Libyan Socialist Jamahirya government before NATO and its proxies destroyed it in 2011. Dr Ibrahim is still wanted by NATO who have put him on the red list on Interpol; he is still underground and a leading figure in the anti-NATO Libyan resistance. Dr Ibrahim eloquently explained that Malcolm X is a central figure for inspiration for the Libyan resistance. He continued to explain that part of the reason why Libya was destroyed was that like Malcolm X and Kwame Nkrumah and other African revolutionaries, Muammar Gaddafi was pioneering the capacity building of the African continent, and the African Union strategically aimed towards assisting in the liberation of Black people across the world. But the two things, Dr Ibrahim explained, that motivated NATO to destroy Libya was Gaddafi’s proposal for a gold-based African Dinar that would have ended the Dollar and Euro domination of Africa, and also the Global South military alliance that was being developed with Bolivia and Venezuela, a South Atlantic Treaty Organization to counter NATO. Dr. Ibrahim hoped that the Libyan and Irish people can reconnect to the unity that they previously developed, and many Irish activists attending were keen to nurture that unity once more. Dr Ibrahim also conveyed that Libya should be one of the most important Black Liberation struggles to give solidarity to on the planet as the general anti-NATO resistance in Libya is also united together with darker skinned or Black Libyans who have been systematically persecuted in acts of genocide by NATO’s proxies in Libya.
“Dr. Ibrahim hoped that the Libyan and Irish people can reconnect to the unity that they previously developed.”The second Irish speaker who translated Malcolm X for the Irish audience was former IRA prisoner of war and Sinn Fein member from Derry, Gerry MacLochlainn. MacLochlainn recounted how the Irish democrats of the 18th and 19th centuries mobilized to ensure that the Belfast port was not used in the genocidal industry of European slavery against African peoples. The most powerful thing MacLochlainn said and on which he finished was that the Irish people have to thank the British in a kind of way, thank them for ensuring that Ireland did not become a European colonizing power and instead because of the British colonial oppression of Ireland pushed the Irish into the camp of the global anti-imperialist movement against racism and colonialism.
I had to nearly pinch myself as I wondered if Ireland had ever seen such a discussion of white supremacy, colonialism and imperialism, resistance, liberation and Malcolm X with such an array of revolutionary speakers. Leila Khaled spoke about the importance of Malcolm X’s message of dignity and liberation of oppressed peoples, and emphasized that the death squads such as “Isis” are working for, and creations of, imperialism and Zionism to destroy the countries and communities in the region. Leila Khaled stressed that it was of primary urgent necessity that people must unite against these neo-colonial death squads. Leila Khaled and the whole room laughed when for the third time she could not understand the English of our Irish comrades and I had to “translate” the questions for her. I later commented and joked with Irish comrades that MacAliskey and MacLochlainn politically translated Malcolm X for the attendees, and I translated the contributions so Leila Khaled could understand. I suppose all of us who are resistant victims of colonialism have to make efforts to listen, learn and understand the differences in our accents and languages to better unite for our common liberation.
We completed our event and visit with discussions about how the Malcolm X Movement and the Irish activists and struggles will work closer together and build for the Second Annual Malcolm X Film Festival in 2016 which will be dedicated to, and working alongside, the Black Panthers to commemorate the 50th anniversary since the founding of another primary radical anti-imperialist and socialist movement from within the West. As the airplane pulled away from the land of Ireland and drifted back to the heart of colonialism and whiteness in London, the Malcolm X Movement delegation left Ireland satisfied that we had fulfilled part of our revolutionary duty to unite Malcolm X with the Irish in a common cause of anti-colonial liberation. There remains much uniting to be done.
Sukant Chandan is Coordinator at the Malcolm X Movement in the UK. She can be contacted at sukant.chandan(at)gmail.com.