In defense of Senator Trent Lott, free speech, and the Constitution of these United States

It’s hard to understand exactly what is happening to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. His detractors have spun such a web of suspicion and innuendoes regarding what he said at a birthday celebration for U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, that we could hardly even understand for certain, exactly what it is that he said. There has been little room given in all of the attacks and so-called analysis of the situation that allows for thinking. One gets the impression that his opponents and detractors do not want us to think. Unfortunately thought is almost impossible to escape in this instance. The accusations, suspicions and characterizations of what was said, the implications and potential impact, along with calls for not only Trent Lott’s resignation from his new position as Majority leader, but also from the Senate, should cause us to think, and to ask questions.

One of the first questions that one might ask is “Why” everyone jumped to the conclusion that Lott was praising segregation and bemoaning the fact that segregationists lost the political battle of the 60s to integrationists? The other question might be why that is such a sin, even though he denies that this was his feeling at all? One might also ask why African Americans became “Black” again so quickly for this particular debate, when just two weeks ago we were “African American”? Another question that might be raised is whether Lott and the governments of the South had fewer morals than the hypocrites and political charlatans in the North, whether Black or White? There is enough political hypocrisy, blame, racism, and chicanery to go around. If we are going to get Trent Lott for having been a segregationists, and racist, lets get some Black leaders, and their Zionist handlers for being integrationists and racists, since African Americans might have been bet! ter off if we had fought for separate but equal. Remember that debate? And we might have been better off had our movement remained a movement for post slavery reparations, and the eradication of racism, which would have been a foundation for national reconciliation.

Civil rights had little to do with being an African American in the United States in the 60s, which had its special and unique challenges that should have been distinguished and addressed. Instead our movement became a movement that led to such aberrations of justice that it could hardly be seen as a movement for “rights.’ One example of how weak the advances made as a result of the movement actually are, is the simple fact that the laws can be challenged, and put to subsequent tests and votes within the halls of Congress where African Americans are barely represented. This might mean that these gains were not intended to be permanent, and were not the result of our national leadership’s conscience. They were the result of political negotiations, alliances and ploys. The same types of ploys and alliances that now threaten Senator Lott, and suggests to us that we should punish him for his free speech because it was not politically correct, even though what he! said may have been politically true.

Senator Lott, no doubt, will not like being used this way. It’s doubtful that he wants to be the poster boy for freedom of political speech, if it’s unpopular speech and politically incorrect, since he is a politician, sworn to uphold the tradition and to be correct. Yet, the nation being under a sort of intellectual siege by those who are opposed to the first amendment, and who would punish and censure anyone who says something they don’t like, we need Trent Lott as a symbol. Is it a coincidence that Lott is being impugned at the same time that the U.S. Supreme Court is arguing whether or not burning the cross is constitutionally protected free speech? Might this effort to get us all steamed, be an attempt to cause us to rekindle disdain for the South, the Klu Klux Klan, and to transfer our anger with Trent Lott to these other issues? Maybe if we get angry enough, we might not only decide to punish Trent Lott, we might turn our backs while the court decides! to eliminate unpopular political speech and expressionéperiod. Muslims should be especially aware of such attempts to eliminate free speech. Someone has assumed that Americans hate cross burning so much that we might prohibit any form of unpopular or what is being called, “intimidating” free speech. Should the constitution be used to diagnose and treat neurosis? Intimidation is not a political condition that can be corrected by granting or denying constitutional rights. The constitution allows for free speech, and its intent seems clearly aimed at protecting political speech.

Ironically Trent Lott, in this instance, represents people like the average American, you and me, people who sometimes say what we feel, and it hurts someone’s feelings, or makes them angry, but is necessary. We must ask ourselves how high a price must we pay to speak freely against convention? Who will be the judge? It wont be fair to say that “Blacks” should judge Trent Lott alone, since we did not build this Spider’s house alone, and we are not a monolith. There are many of us who do not like that some of our leaders and spokespeople have adopted censure and condemnation of free speech simply because they dislike what is being said, or disagree. It seems especially wrong when minorities use public censure to chill free speech, even against their own people with whom they disagree. Examples, such as attempts to shut down even African American thought and critique of the Reverend Martin Luther King and his movement indicates that we might not hold the moral! high ground on issues related to racism and freedom any longer.

The truth about the African American movement of the 60s and 70s must be told at some point, and the Lott debacle might create such an opportunity. There were credible African American people during the civil rights movement who wanted, instead of integration, a commitment from our government to financially support separate but equal schools, hospitals etc. for African American people. This was conceived it seems as a sort of therapeutic approach to healing following slavery and Jim Crow. The argument at that time suggested that African Americans, coming from the experience of slavery, were in need of healing, psychological, spiritual, economic, educational, communal, etc. There were and still are African American people who believed that the best teachers, doctors and others to organize, and carryout these rituals and processes of healing would be those who had suffered similarly. These people believed that other African Americans that had achieved levels o! f education that qualified them to act within their own communities as leaders and healers had a natural incentive to plan and guide the African American community beyond economic and educational parity, to excellence. There were also African Americans during the 60s that wanted to be allocated a certain amount of land for African American settlements, and to receive their 40 acres and a mule. For these people the question was not should they be more like whites, if they hoped to succeed. These people wanted to know what they would be if they had no pressure to be like whites, and could simply be free to be “Black,” or African American, or whatever they decided that meant, and whatever it turned out to be, or what ever they wanted it to be. Not everyone believed that we only had value as peod no pressure to be like whites, and could simply be free to be “Black,” or African American, or whaever they decided that meant, and whatever it turned out to be, or what ever they wante! d it to be. Not everyone believed that we only had value as peod no pressure to be like whites, and could simply be free to be “Black,” or African American, or whaver they decided that meant, and whatever it turned out to be, or what ever they wanted it to be. Not everyone believed that we only had value as peod no pressure to be like whites, and could simply be free to be “Black,” or African American, or whaf racist thinking, and we moved politically, or rather were guided, to support legislation designed to make all things white, or at least to appear that way.

When you think about it, it might be hard to understand exactly how integrationists won out over segregationists, since they were not only Whites, or only in the South. There were many African Americans in the North who wanted segregation, and there were also many whites in the South who felt that Jim Crow was immoral, and who felt the country should atone for its years of slavery, and believed that the best method of atonement was to integrate. Trent Lott, if he waxed sentimental over the days of simplicity for his race, is perhaps not alone in his nostalgia for perhaps simpler times, and simple solutions to the very complex problems that faced our nation following reconstruction and later the civil rights movement. One theory suggests that integrationists won this debate because other minorities who had interests in the political outcome of the civil rights debates joined them, and formed alliances that simply overwhelmed what became for all intent and pur! pose, a white minority. This brilliant strategy worked simply because many African Americans were shut out of movement leadership and tagged extremists, militants etc., since they refused to tow the SCLC and NAACP integrationist line, and so where cast aside and stigmatized. Which is exactly what is presently happening in the Muslim community. Any Muslim who causes the ZOA to feel threatened politically, is a radical militant, a terrorist, or a political extremist, all others are “good” Muslims. We witnessed this again, in respect to African Americans recently in the mid-term elections where African American candidates that supported Palestine were defeated by Zionist money, while others were supported. The same happened back in the 60s in respect to the civil rights debates and movement.

The Zionist interest in civil rights is obvious. The injustices of the legislation are also obvious. White women, one of the most privileged groups in the nation became a minority and benefited from affirmative action, and minority business set asides as much or more so than any African American, male or female, as did Jewish people and some other whites. There are even certain district courts where a certain number of seats are reserved for Jewish appointees, which is substantiated by the civil rights laws and principals of integration. This is never mentioned in the argument against affirmative action, and this practice has yielded little benefit to the children of former slaves, upon whose suffering the movement was initiated, and upon whose suffering the laws have been sustained. The primary issues that set at the core of the civil rights argument still plague our nation. Among these is the lack of law enforcement that allowed our neighborhoods to become! drug infested. The type of law enforcement that incarcerated our young men in unbelievable numbers, sentenced them to disproportionately long sentences by comparison to other young men convicted of similar crimes, and subjected to execution or condemned them to death more often than any other race of people, are still issues. All of this, even though we now have a good number of other minorities, women and Jewish people, our former allies, on the benches and part of the criminal justice system in the United States.

There are those who believe that the liberal minority Democrat’s movement in this country, the one that co-opted and shaped the “civil rights” movement, demoralized our young people, condemned and maligned religion, and aggrandized immorality. They are blamed for creating cottage industries in our communities like welfare, drug trafficking, prostitution, and pornography. These industries had particular appeal to people who might feel that they are shut out of the mainstream intellectually and psychologically due to race, or other limitations imposed as a result of racism. Under the Clinton administration they created an enormous number of minimum wage jobs in the service industry, and expanded mass transportation so we could reach our jobs at McDonalds, and get back home. Unfortunately many of us sold our bodies, minds and souls to have things. Forget about rights. Rights have no real meaning in a materialist society, while freedom of speech, and thought are! the greatest threats to the perpetuation of such a system.

There have been many pundits and political analysts who suggest, and fear that should Senator Lott assume the leadership of the Senate he will dampen the President’s chances for re-election because his very presence will cause the President’s message to African Americans to go unheard. This is an insulting argument based upon the assumption that we are one issue voters, only interested in or able to understand issues as they relate to race, while the opposite is actually the truth. The fear that we are not sophisticated enough voters to identify our own interest, or understand issues related to school choice, tax relief, and other aspects of the Republican political agenda because Trent Lott is Senator Majority Leader is an insult.

Debates regarding the Lott statement, cross burning, free speech, and our nations constitution might be long overdue. African Americans might be ready for a refreshing discussion, not controlled by liberals and the African American political elite, where the truth can be re-instituted. One such truth is the fact that it was not Southern Republicans but Southern Democrats who sought to remove voting rights from African American voters in the South following reconstruction and who wanted racial, not communal segregation. We might also revisit the carpetbagger’s phenomenon and seek to ascertain exactly who these carpetbaggers were. Who was behind this movement that disenfranchised African Americans in the South, and challenged and destroyed a successful African American political movement? This movement, by the way, was helped along by legislation favoring African Americans and freed slaves written, argued and passed by Republicans, which is one of the primary ! reasons that most Irish immigrants remained Democrats in the mid 1800s when many other groups were adjusting their political alliances. It has been stated that the Irish feared African American competition for blue-collar jobs, so they stuck with the Democrats because the Democrats were for segregation, and the Republicans felt it was in the nation’s interest to promote racial equality. Another benefit that we might gain by refusing to sacrifice Trent Lott on the altar of political correctness, and in support of constitutional obliteration, is the attention it will draw to our own African American leadership. We might get to ask what happened to the money that was given to our leaders for Model City’s projects, where today there is poverty and blight? We might ask why there are two separate and unequal African American communities in this country? It was not the “white” establishment that distributed privileges and services, scholarships and cash that made it into northern u! rban ghettos, and somehow got out, without anyone knowing, or benefiting except a select few.

The Trent Lott saga may prove to be of real benefit to our nation, God Willing. Since even if Mr. Lott should be forced out of the Senate, or resign, it might not stall these inquiries and debates. The history of the civil rights movements, and the history of the South and the roles played by the two parties in shaping the destinies of African Americans, post slavery in this country, should be told. The stage has perhaps been set for the race dialogue that Clinton sought to initiate several years ago. Enough has happened in our country since that time to perhaps ready us for the conversation. Ironically, it may actually bring us together on the real issues that are driving this debate, and these issues are about justice, the authority and sincerity of our constitution, and the brotherhood that should have resulted from a successful, and morality centered civil rights movement. Following the debate, perhaps we will be prepared to extend to Senator Lott and others the forgiveness they have requested, and the apologies they are due. Perhaps as a result of this conversation, we will overcome the past, forgive, turn the page, and move on.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.