I first met Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey after he delivered the plenary speech about Dr. Martin Luther King and the linkage between Dr. King's movement and the present work for nuclear abolition at Riverside Church in April. Ibrahim reminded us that Dr. King had focused on the three evils of racism, economic injustice, and war. I was raised by a mother who was devoted to King's message. One month later I caught up with Ibrahim in the lobby of the Millennium Hotel, across from the United Nations, where we had a chance to chat. I discovered he, like my father, Ibrahim went to prep school in New England. Like my step-mother, he became deeply involved with Africa. For him, development work in Tanzania. Like me, he has been in Japan frequently.
A native of Norfolk, Ibrahim now lives in Washington and works as director of the Civil and Human Rights Division of the Muslim American Society Freedom (MAS Freedom), the human rights and social advocacy component of the Muslim American Society (MAS). This is America's largest grassroots Muslim organization, with chapters in some 50 cities across the U.S. Prior to joining MAS Freedom in 2006, Ibrahim coordinated national disarmament work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack, New York.
His role in America is to encourage Muslim groups to understand the need to abolish the weaponry of mass destruction. There are between 7 and 9 million Muslims in the U.S. Two-fifths are Afro-American and three-fifths are foreign-born. The membership of the Nation of Islam is tiny, he told me. His dream is to create a center for Muslims to unite in the vision of challenging violence. He mentioned that violence can also take the form of denial, adding, "To pretend the killing of six million human beings did not happen is abhorrent."
We discussed Barack Obama's speech in Cairo, and how it ushered in a new era of detente between the U.S. and Muslims here and around the world. He told me he had been very excited by the tone of the President's comments, so radically different from the previous administration. He believes the speech created a space for the realization that Muslims have been in America for hundreds of years, and that the Islamic world can accept the United States.
Ibrahim feels strongly that, in broad generalities, Muslims are not the perpetrators of violence as much as the victims of violence. He hopes that there can be a nuclear-free zone created in the Mid-East for the protection of all people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. He believes firmly in co-existence and the need for a mutual recognition of human rights.
He wrote me after we first met, "In the sharing of our respective narratives, we experience the blessing of true connection with others, their work and vision!" I was horrified last weekend to witness over the Internet Israel's actions in international waters. Writing in his blog, "A Sad and Tragic Memorial Day," Ibrahim was equally distraught:
I had planned, sometime last week, to write an essay for a different kind of Memorial Day: a day that would commemorate not just American soldiers who have died in combat, but the countless civilian victims of American militarism as well.
It would have been a tribute to the unnamed Filipino, Vietnamese, Central American, Iraqi, Afghan, Somali, and other people who have died because American weapons, American proxy governments, American-equipped mercenaries, and American economic interests were responsible for killing them. It would have been, in my own voice, a witness against war itself, and a tribute to the lives of non-combatants who now constitute the great majority of victims of armed conflicts around the globe.
It would have been a call for a different kind of tribute-a tribute to those killed in war, regardless of nationality or faith, or cause. But the tragedy of the horrendous Israeli attack this morning on the civilians in the Free Gaza flotilla compels me to say more: that killing is not only a by-product of the U.S. war system, but a result of the spread of that system throughout the world.
Even though American fingers were not on the triggers of the Israeli weapons that killed the Free Gaza activists, the military power and political cover provided to Israel by the United States is material factor in what Israel does in Gaza, and in all of Palestine.
Ibrahim Ramey addresses National Press Club on Muslim civil and human rights issues, 2009.
The billions of dollars in military assistance that American has committed to back Israel was, without a doubt, an integral part of this assault - just as U.S. incendiary munitions and helicopter guns were strategically used by Israel to kill Palestinian civilians in the 2008-2009 war in Gaza.
Indeed, the government and military of Israel can continue their policies of economic warfare, occupation, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian areas because they have the backing of the world's greatest-and only-military superpower. We should all know this, and realize the complicity of the American people in maintaining a system that results in the killing of these-ans so many other-innocent people. There is nothing honorable about imperialism or colonial conquest.
The argument could be made that others in the world commit acts of brutality and murder against the innocent. That is indeed true. But that is no excuse for what is done by America, directly or through proxies, in the name of "democracy," or "freedom," or even the security of what is called our "national interests." The only "national interest" worth defending is universal peace and justice. What happened on the high seas to the activists aboard those ships was a crime.
So this is yet another Memorial Day. But rather than waive the colors of a flag that facilitates and orchestrates the killing of non-combatants-as all armies kill non-combatants-I will choose to remember and honor the unnamed millions of human beings who have died in wars that they took no part in starting, or prosecuting.
The most recent of these victims are the peaceful activists killed by Israeli forces, in international waters, aboard ships filled with cargo to help make the lives of the people of Gaza a little brighter.
In addition to his dedication to the Muslim American Society, Ibrahim serves as a board member of the Muslim Women's Institute, the Temple of Understanding (an interfaith organization promoting dialogue and cooperation among diverse religious traditions), and the Climate Crisis Coalition. He also serves as a Vice President of the Steering Committees of the Religious NGO Community at the United Nations.
For his dedication to peace and moderation, I believe Ibrahim is a true Thought Leader and Global Citizen.