‘No people will accept oppression forever’

Certainly anti-racisms protests are driven by “sense of quest for truth”, justice campaigner says of Ayatollah Khamenei’s 2015 letter

June 23, 2020 - 22:10

TEHRAN – Phil Wilayto, editor of The Virginia Defender, tells the Tehran Times that as Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said more than five years ago the anti-racism and anti-justice protests gripping the U.S. are driven by a “sense of quest for truth” by the youth.

Protests in the U.S. have continued for weeks after the killing on May 25 of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Video showed the policeman kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes while he is pinned to the floor.

Wilayto, who is a founding member of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, says the United States is a “country that proclaims high ideals while being rooted in the worst injustices.”
 
The text of the interview with Phil Wilayto is as follows:
 
Question: In his letter to the youth in Europe and North America on January 21, 2015, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said “I find that the sense of quest for truth is more vigorous and attentive in your hearts”. What was or is the importance of the letter? 
 

Answer: History teaches us that social progress does not always advance in an even, straight line. Sometimes it moves forward, sometimes it moves backwards, and then there are times when it leaps forward with lightning speed. What is happening today in the West, especially in the United States, is an example of such a leap.

“The U.S. is a very divided society.” Protests in the U.S. against police murders of African-American people have now taken place in some 2,000 U.S. cities and towns, as well as in at least 60 other countries. While the protests have involved people of every race, gender and age, they have largely been led by youth, especially youth from the Black community. Certainly they are driven by a “sense of quest for truth” - and the question, “How much longer must we live with the knee of racist oppression on our necks?”
 
Q: The Leader had said he was writing to the youth because politicians and statesmen in the West “have consciously separated the route of politics from the path of righteousness and truth”. How do you analyze this statement?
 
A: Our country has a history of imposing a social order that is legal, but at the same time morally wrong. Slavery existed here for 246 years. It was a hideous, inhumane, profit-driven system that was perfectly legal. After the Civil War, there was a brief, 11-year period of social progress called Reconstruction, which was then followed by 90 years of “Jim Crow” racial apartheid, all perfectly legal and all enforced by official and unofficial violence. And since the social upheavals of the 1960s, we have seen progress, then setbacks, then more progress, and then more setbacks.

“Today we have a president (Trump) who hardly qualifies for the title ‘human being,’ let alone the leader of a country.
Today we have a president who hardly qualifies for the title “human being,” let alone the leader of a country. He is a man who cares only for himself, utterly devoid of any moral sense or even simple human compassion. There is no connection between the laws he pursues and any “path of righteousness and truth.”
 
Q: In his letter at the time, Leader had said the histories of the U.S. and Europe “are ashamed of slavery…. and chagrined at the oppression of ‘people of color’.”  This approach that people of color are treated badly is demonstrated in the behavior of some supremacists. What do you think the West or the youth in general should do to end such discriminations?
 
A: The ruling class here in America is teaching us what is needed. For decades, politicians of both major political parties have ignored the demands for justice - justice in the areas of the police, in access to decent jobs, quality education, health care, housing and more. The protests - rebellions, really, because that is what they are - over the past three weeks have been the most widespread and sustained since the rebellions that took place in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Now the ruling class, in the form of local, state and national governments, is paying attention. They are making concessions. They are desperate to declare their support for “peaceful, legitimate” protests, while attempting to demonize the youth who are risking their lives in the streets. Now is the time to sustain and expand the protests, press for more fundamental change, and especially to defend all protesters by demanding amnesty for anyone who has been arrested for standing up for Justice for the oppressed.
 
Q: Don’t you think that the Leader had predicted such rifts and racism would open wounds in the Western societies in the years to come?
 
A: I love my country and the ideals of Freedom, Justice and Equality that it claims to stand for. But I also understand that America was founded by European conquerors who stole the land from the indigenous people and then made it profitable by subjugating and cruelly exploiting African labor. The U.S. comedian George Carlin once wryly observed that, “This country was founded by a bunch of slave owners who wanted to be free.” This has been the fundamental contradiction of the United States: A country that proclaims high ideals while being rooted in the worst injustices.

Phil Wilayto says “powerful but numerically few wealthy people need an ‘outside’ threat to divert people’s attention away from themselves” and now Islam is a “convenient enemy” for them.
 And yet, we have been taught to believe in these ideals, and when we begin to see that the country is so far from practicing them, many people are moved to fight to make these ideals a reality. This has also been the history of America: The struggle for the Good in the middle of the Bad. So along with slavery, there was the struggle against slavery, by enslaved people and by their supporters. There was Jim Crow apartheid, but also the great Civil Rights Movement. There have been many imperialist wars, but also an antiwar movement. There have been unrelenting murders of Black and other people of color, but there has also been the Black Lives Matter movement and the present rebellions. No people will accept oppression forever, and the current protests are the latest manifestation of that.
 
Q: And how the West, especially the youth should heal the wounds of division and racism in their societies?
 
A: Laws against racist practices are good and necessary. Conversations and dialogue between people of different races and religions is important. But I believe that the most effective way to end racism and racial divisions is for people of different races to join together in actual struggles against racism, as well as their shared economic oppression, which is what is happening today on the streets of America.
 
Last night (Sunday night) I was with about 150 young people of all races who were being threatened by armed police officers. Blacks and whites stood together in solidarity in a common defense. I don’t know how the protests here are being seen around the world, but they are very multi-racial. The leadership is often mostly Black, but the young whites are also willing to stand up to the police. Of course, problems come up and have to be dealt with, but that is how we learn. My own experiences in labor and community struggles have taught me that this kind of common struggle is what helps white people recognize their prejudices and learn to overcome them. They really can’t do that in isolation from people of color. I don’t mean that it’s the responsibility of Black people to teach white people about racism, but rather that whites cannot recognize and overcome their racism on their own.
 
Q: Discrimination or hatred toward non-Christians is ripe among certain groups of society and politicians in the West. This feeling of hatred, as mentioned in the Leader’s letter, is mostly directed against Islam.  Why certain groups or politicians try to demonize Islam and present a distorted image of Islam?
 
A: Western societies have their own contradictions in terms of people from different classes and races. The poor, who are often people of color, are exploited by the wealthy, who are usually white. If the poor and working people of different races and religions were to recognize that they all have the same common enemy, they might unite and fundamentally change society. So the powerful but numerically few wealthy people need an “outside” threat to divert people’s attention away from themselves.

The campaigner for Freedom, justice and equality says even “if Islam didn’t exist, Western leaders would have come up with another outside threat.”For generations, the outside threat was presented as “the Communists,” who were responsible for all evil in the world. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a vacuum, and so there was a need to find a new outside threat. Then came the attacks of 9/11, and the new enemy became “the Terrorists.”
 
But there aren’t enough terrorists to frighten everyone, so it was necessary to find a broader threat. Muslims, who make up one quarter of the world’s population, became the new enemy. It doesn’t matter that Islam is a religion of peace. Most Muslims are not white, do not speak English and so, to many Americans, are “different.” And it helps that many of the countries that have the most valuable commodity in the world - oil - are Muslim. What a convenient enemy! But if Islam didn’t exist, Western leaders would have come up with another outside threat. The point is that they need something to unite their societies, in fear and hatred, in order to keep their own oppressed from rebelling against their oppression.
 
Q: What is your suggestion about the Leader’s advice that the youth in the West should fight disinformation campaigns by certain media outlets against Islam?
 
A: The attacks of 9/11 did make many people in America afraid of Muslims, and the very vicious attacks by President Trump have built on this fear. But it’s also true many other people here have fought back against that anti-Islam campaign. When Trump ordered a ban on Muslims entering the United States, people from many different backgrounds and religions spontaneously went to their local airports to defend Muslims. It was a very impressive display of solidarity. Whenever Muslims are threatened now, it is very common to see churches and synagogues invite Muslims for solidarity meetings. The point here is that the U.S. is a very divided society, which means that the attacks on Islam are increasing, but so is the defense of Muslims. And that defense is often coming from the youth.

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