Monday, 6 January 2014

"The Greatest Stumbling Block Is The Moderate"

Martin Luther King wrote an open letter to his critics when he was locked up in Birmingham jail, Alabama, USA for pickets and demonstrations against racism and inequality. Here is a brief excerpt:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.

I was struck by the logic that MLK puts forth. I marvel that he manages to articulate in words what I grapple with in thoughts.

The problem with this world in general, and our country, in particular, is that we want to be "moderate" even at the expense of evil and injustice.

Like the slaves, we passively accept our unjust plight. We allow UMNO leaders to do as they may, spend our money at their will, and then make us pay for it.

As MLK says, law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice. When that crumbles, fellow Malaysians, the laws -- the Peaceful Assembly, the Internal Security Act, and the rest of them that only curb our freedom -- become useless and even dangerous.

This is when you and I need to become the law-makers. For even blogger and social activist Haris Ibrahim has a quote on his site that goes:

We are here, not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers
– Emmeline Pankhurst

There is equality in the United States today only because MLK and his fellow activists in the Civil Rights Movement had the gumption and perseverance to stand up for themselves and say, "Enough."

Related: LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL, April 16, 1963

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