Rebuttal of Waleed Aly’s preposterous article about Muhammad Ali

What follows is a split rebuttal of Waleed Aly’s piece in The Age recently.
Title: Don’t turn Muhammad Ali into a sanitised caricature
But the link spells his name incorrectly, because neither The Age, nor Waleed Aly really care about Muhammad Ali, they just want to fill in the gaps for readership and at any time they can, paint the non-white hero as a something never able to be ‘sanitised’.


My answers in bold:

‘If no other life was quite like Muhammad Ali’s, then no other death can be quite like it either.

Here is perhaps the most dramatic U-turn in modern human history: a man so thoroughly despised, now in his aftermath so universally adored. This is more than remarkable: it’s confusing, even amnesic.’

>>Perhaps for someone like you who only knows about his life, his history, his biography as a series of google searches, late night catch ups to turn in a report to the boss who’s demanding a sanitised version of a Muslim and pens an opinion the paper wants to stand behind. Make no mistake, by sanitised, I refer to you as being as white washed as they come, selectively amnesic to your very origins and the root of who you are.

‘Perhaps the most instructive moment was when Donald Trump tweeted his love: “A truly great champion and a wonderful guy.”

Sure, they were once friends, but as a thousand people tweeted in response, Ali is one of those Muslims Trump would apparently prefer wasn’t in the country.’

>>Ironic you’d call out a racist bigot for his unpalatable comment, when you have met him spade for spade with an empty fodder piece of nothing, which takes no stand, no position, makes no point other than to point to the ignorance you harbour about the man you’re trying to pull apart, for consumption by a populace, like you largely ignorant of who he is and what he stood for.

‘All this raises the question: what, precisely, is being adored here? As we’re flooded with the images of his unique boxing prowess, and the grainy footage of his lyrical, poetic trash talk, it seems obvious. No doubt, Ali was fantastically charming, irresistibly magnetic, prodigiously and peerlessly talented. But he was also frequently radical in a way so many of those now celebrating him would detest.’

>>Typical wound and heal fashion of the ‘I’m not racist but’ kind of thinking. If you don’t know what is being adored, stand down and stop pretending like you know, just because you’re offered the space to express your opinion. Your use of words to conjure imagery of being bombarded by an abstract of who he is may find it’s way easily into the masses who know nothing of him, but for those of us who Ali isn’t a love affair of recent memes, of recent social media bombardment, we read straight through your wax lyrical and attempts to undermine his supremacy (no, not your type).
Radical you say, of course using it with the ‘veneer’ (one of your favourite words yeah?) and undertone that being radical involves a delinquency to societal norms. Text book definitions for you only, of course, only the way a lawyer knows how. So what is it, he is radical and you detest him, or he is radical and you don’t detest him and others might? Or he not radical and you detest him or not radical and you don’t detest him either? None of it is clear as you just put it out there, in typical political fashion, the art of saying much without saying anything at all.

‘Perhaps I can put it like this: how can Ali be so unreservedly loved when we couldn’t even cope with someone as comparatively mild as Adam Goodes?’

>> For a lawyer, this is a really daft comparison, extremely context lacking, and scraping the barrel to try and undermine a near fifty year legacy and compare it with the legacy of a recently retired man, in a different era, different context and different country. Ali has done what he has done for more years you have been alive Aly, and for you to compare a similarly great man in his own right to him and then question what people can and can’t love, is arrogant and supremacist to say the least. Perhaps a falling right into the social constructs of power you so conveniently avoid to talk about, if only by watering them down as of late to make them ‘white’ friendly versions, easily digestible by the diners at the table of social conform.

‘ “I pity Clay and abhor what he represents,” declared Jimmy Cannon – no less than a Boxing Hall of Fame sportswriter. He’s referring to Ali’s conversion to the Nation of Islam: an avowedly black supremacist group Ali joined around the time he knocked out Sonny Liston.

Today Cannon is cited as but one example of a viciously hostile press, condemned by the judgment of history. But exactly who among today’s media would cop to admiration for Ali’s belief at the time that white people were devils who should be kept entirely separate from blacks?’

>You don’t know a damn thing about the black supremacy movements or what they stood for. For you to simplify them down to a black vs anything white movement is total ignorance. Where your intellect has gone on this issue is beyond me, but Cannon was straight out racist and ‘white supremacist’. No surprise then he would find fault in a hero, previously a nice white washed version of a sporting icon the public could herald as their champ, then turning to a group that shook him to the core, then having to herald a fighter that didn’t blend well with his version of what a boxing champion should look like. But your next line expresses just how ignorant you are with everything to do with Ali. Sorry, ‘mate’, your names don’t bond you. The Y, most certainly raises the question as to WTF are you even doing writing this article. Seriously, sorry, words escape me and all I can say is WTF, Why Aly, Y?

‘Even the black press was uneasy, concerned that his separatist stance undermined the civil rights movement’s fight against segregation. It’s a radicalism that infused all Ali’s most significant moments.
His incessant taunting of Joe Frazier as a “gorilla” was awful, but formed part of his broader criticism that Frazier was the “wrong kind of negro”: a compliant “Uncle Tom” who “works for the enemy” in contrast to Ali’s in-your-face resistance.

Even his heroic objection to the Vietnam draft he cloaked in uncomfortable terms: “My enemy is the white people, not the Vietcong.” ’

>> But no, in Aly’s world no human can ever find their ground in anything other than docile obedience.
You talk of infusion as if it is a negative thing to happen, specifically, infusion of Ali’s beliefs into his career as being detrimental to him or others around him. Conveniently pointing to Frazier comments, passing quickly a comment over his stance against the war as if it were just a belt adjustment, just an a attire fixing, not really important or as important as calling a spade a spade, Frazier was quiet by nature, yes, perfectly domesticated for the market, treated as such too, his legacy as grand as he was a boxer, never came close to Ali’s and I wonder why?
Wasn’t it you who commented on the Goodes saga saying, “Australia is generally a very tolerant society, until a minority demonstrate that they don’t know their place, and at that moment, the minute someone in a minority position acts like they’re not a mere supplicant, then we lose our minds….”
Here’s the segment:
How strange you became so amnesic when it comes to Muahmmad Ali.

What is it with your ‘types’, jumping on this bandwagon of ‘Yeah, nah bro’ pieces, (you can’t take the Aussie out of you for a moment can you) and attempts at wound and heals, at praising tongue in cheek, of cowardly fence sitting (really fence sitting means ‘being against’ these days) on topics that are clear cut.

‘Don’t get me wrong: Ali utterly thrills me. But I’m obliged to examine why because I’m no more enamoured of the Nation of Islam than Jimmy Cannon was.’

>> Thrills you? Or is this attempted pun? How many of his fights have you watched, 15 rounders, you do remember those yeah? How many of his books, biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, etc have you taken in?
How many of his speeches other than the bombardment of recent social media bursts have you really listened to and comprehended?
How many of his hour long interviews have you watched? Really, what do you know of him much like the rest of Australia you seem so comfortable to vilify for honouring him, have only seen snippets of his life?

As for nation of Islam, you’re up in arms for a group borrowing a name to rise to fame.
Big whoop, so did Isis, so did Taliban, so did Salafis, and so are pseudo’s everywhere.
NOI was a necessity that had to happen for people to find the truth and thank God so many did, including Ali which you seem to find unacceptable without anchoring him to his past, making him forever an unforgivable figure. What you fail to realise is by penning your thoughts, your supposed opinion, you have played God and passed the ‘fatwa’ if you will to confine him to a realm he can never let go of. A bit of Aly-itis? Muslim-itis?

No one is free to roam without remembering their past, without thumb tacking it to their minds eh?
So you chose to mock him in your pensive way, an acceptable modern version of columnist licence to destroy any man, woman, organisation or idea, that just escapes the writer or the writer doesn’t like.

‘And it’s not enough simply to say that he eventually renounced black supremacy; that he would come to describe his alignment with Nation of Islam as “the time of our struggle in the dark and a time of confusion in us” with which “we don’t want to be associated … at all”.

>> No, in your wee lawyer mind, it wouldn’t be enough, because forgiveness is not part of the fabric that enshrines the mindset you were trained with. But it’s ok Waleed, as militant as I am in pulling apart your BS, I still forgive you and hope for you to wake up from your conveniently white pillow slumber.

‘Because although he left all that behind and entered Islam proper, I can’t deny that so much of his greatness and significance was forged in the fires of that “struggle in the dark”. ‘

>> You’d prefer his greatness wasn’t forged at all, secretly harbour a vice, jealousy or envy even, unable to deal with someone with a bigger name than you, will receive so much attention, and raise the name of Islam far more than you ever will. More people have learned about Islam from him, than they will you Mr Waleed, more people have converted too by his human approach than you Mr Waleed.

But thank you, from this moment, if anything, you have inspired me, shown me something about myself. Here from my confines, a loner, a self-infliction of solitude I have reserved myself to, I will no longer shut up and sit in shadows, I’m going to get out there and be as human as possible, speak to as many people as possible, share words, poetry and my Islam with as many people as possible, as peacefully militant and subtly radical as possible. Maybe you can write about me and my past, and boy oh boy we had some online fisticuffs in the past. You can dig up all the dirt on me, or just ask me and I’ll tell you them all.

You forget the most basic premise of being a Muslim that is in the words of Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a man you so often quote; there is a necessity for negation before affirmation. A purging if you will. In Ali’s case, a detox. Every human goes through this. For the Muslim, the very thing that enters you into the religion is the twin testimony of faith, “There is no deity worthy of worship” being the first part of the first half. That there, is a necessary proclamation and realisation. Every Muslim must atheist themselves. They must renounce all deities, all beliefs, all prior convictions when it comes to worshipping a God, and acknowledge then the only one true God. Monotheism, you would agree cannot be anything but this. To associate a partner with God, is immediate removal from faith. We negate, we affirm. This, in God’s wisdom is the nature of humankind the world over in every aspect. To accept things without negating anything prior is indeed either highly praiseworthy and ranking elite in faith or downright stupidity and ignorance. The second half of the testimony of faith is that Muhammad is the last and final messenger. Sure, one can easily accept that it only makes sense for there to be only one God, but to accept that Muhammad is the last and final messenger is a different thing altogether.
Muhammad Ali’s faith only became stronger when he realised the truth of this, when he learned of the proper testimony to faith, but you want to drag his past along like a ball and chain, a kind of testament to the imprisoned mentality you harbour, never able to let a man’s past go, even though God Himself would let it go, forgive him a thousand times over, as Rumi would say, ‘Come, come, wherever you are……..this is not a caravan of despair’, referring to God’s always open door. I’d recommend the rest of that poem to you, perhaps you can wake up out of this incessant need to act all QC and stuff by pulling out the record sheet of Muhammad Ali as if he were a felon.

‘Had he never been a black supremacist, he might never have been quite the historical figure he was. That’s because Ali’s legacy isn’t one of ideas. It is instead a legacy of more abstract virtues: of courage, sacrifice, even attitude. Anyone who has grown up with the headwinds of race sees him first and foremost as someone who refused to be scared. Ali took the social requirements of blackness – that he be nothing more than a polite supplicant – and utterly smashed them. “I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he declared. “I’m free to be what I want.”

His mode of “freedom” was undoubtedly extreme, and brought resounding mainstream condemnation. What speaks to the ages, though, is not his extremism but his unstoppable claim of self-determination: that his freedom came in not caring; in refusing to give any power to the judgment of others. His words failed as an ideology, but worked as a symbol of pride for a humiliated people.’

>> So your point is what? You start with a meek attempt at derailing his obvious initiation to finding an appropriate vehicle for him to carry himself with during those years and then attempt to moderate it with yet again wound and heal veneer, (I love that you taught me to use that word) then finish it by trying to self righteously say that his methods failed? Are you serious? This is high horsed, nose in the air incoherency at its finest. Look down, Mr Aly, come off the horse. Talk to humans again, you are literally losing it. I am somewhat gobsmacked you’d write such preposterous nonsense. How was his ‘mode of freedom undoubtedly extreme’ when he refused to engage in any type of physical violence outside the realms of his sport? How could he be  an extremist in the tone you’re trying to paint him in when he refused to be inducted into a system that was selling the most culturally accepted forms of extremism, that is, war mongering and blood thirsty killing of innocents.
It becomes apparent, your ideas of extremism are thwarted. No, even your ISIS spiel can’t save you from this one. If Muhammad Ali is an extremist, in the manner you so wish to negatively portray him, then it leaves not much else for the rest of humanity, nor you sir, nor you.
Your attempt to wish wash his activism as some sort of extremism, to comb over his conviction of belief as some sort of modern self-help guru buzzwords of ‘…abstract virtues: of courage, sacrifice, even attitude.’ And ‘…self-determination..’ speaks volumes of you, not him.

‘But Ali only works as a hero because he was so clearly prepared to suffer. His refusal to serve in Vietnam left him destitute, stripped of his titles, in what should have been the prime of his career. He flatly accepted the prospect of prison: “if I go to jail, I’ll go to jail happy.”

He declared he’d be happy to face a firing squad if it came to it, and you couldn’t doubt he meant it. We’re left with a man of inordinate courage who made some awful mistakes, was sincere enough to admit them, but at every moment was prepared to pay the price of his convictions. That’s my reconciliation, anyway.’

>> Why thank you for sharing that you finally found a way to allow Muhammad Ali into your diet, be careful though, black milk is unlike white milk. Let that gestate in you a while Mr Aly and whilst doing that, know we can all sleep at night knowing it took you to sift through all that mind garbage you managed to unravel from the Tuf bags of your soul, to finally find a place of reconciliation as to who Ali was, because we were waiting with abated breath for the opinion of a columnist-come-panelist-come-lawyer-come-rock-guitarist to make peace with himself and pray the four fold over a man. Until that happened, none of us could come to grips with who he was or who we are.

‘But as I’ve watched the tributes flow this week, I’m not sure that’s really the man we’re celebrating. There’s something about the gloss that has been applied to his life that somehow neuters him.

His often fiery rhetoric is being marked, not as provocation and conscience, but reduced to mere bragging: like he’s just a more eloquent, charming version of any number of American sports stars. His most famous bouts are written up as mere sporting contests, losing much of their political oomph.’

>> Errrr, come again? All that fodder you wrote, and you still find need to add more fodder? What the hell does this all mean? Silly word play, word games, neutral fence sitting and you have the audacity to claim that people celebrating him are neutering him? My gosh, what a clever brazen man you are. Never one to let it go without putting a stamp of political jargon on a piece, ever the fence sitter (read meekly indecisive) this part showing you know nothing of the man or his bouts, or his history, or the connectedness of it all.
Tell me Mr Aly, a man you heralded in the past, in your book and in writings I’ve read of you, Imam Zaid Shakir, took the reins of his funeral procession, offered much to his family and friends and was a long-time companion of Ali. A man (Shakir) of significant proportion, scholarly background and noble standing in the world of Muslims, without a smudge to his name, do you think he would befriend such a man merely for the celebrity of it? Do you hold yourself in a higher esteem than him to be making such passing statements, so void of truth or any real meaning? I just want to know, what is it that makes you think your opinion actually matters for you to have to write this endless tirade of what appears to be nothing more than a childish and impossible rant of jealousy. People are usually jealous of something they can fathom at least coming close to achieving. Why your negativity, your blatantly empty of context and factual knowledge piece actually made it to your fingertips, to be penned or typed into an article is really confusing me. The only reason I can muster, yes I am a simpleton, is that you’re utterly jealous, envious, perturbed by Ali. Either way, it is a vice and I abhor it in you. You hate social media so much, but parade in the shadows of formal media just as badly, just as ‘corrosively’….wink, wink.

‘ We’re delighted to reflect on Ali’s brutal triumph over Frazier as the mark of a genuine champion, but we’re less keen to recognise the Ali vs Frazier suite as something more than that: as a contest between two competing notions of blackness, only one of which was acceptable to white people.

Maybe that’s because, as the Goodes saga has shown, the boundaries of acceptable blackness are still remarkably constrained. Maybe we have no choice but to do this if we are to preserve his universal admiration. And perhaps that’s possible because in the end – in the saddest irony – Ali was voiceless. ‘

>> This is becoming clearer and clearer now. No, it’s not that ‘We’re delighted’ here. It’s that you are delighted.
This is all about you. Your inability to really reconcile and understand who he was. Do you know why? Because YOU DON’T KNOW WHO HE WAS. You have just used leverage afforded to you to try and sway a thought or two of your own and pass it off as important, by judgementally collecting the masses into one conscious and agreed upon view of Muhammad Ali.
Sorry sir, you failed, the masses mourn him because many know him better than you, and even the ones that don’t know him as intimately, somehow, with perhaps even less intelligence than you, have comprehended how great he was, not needing to dissect his past and use it as disclaimer to whether or not they wail or stay silent. Like humans, like Muhammad Ali, they know emotion, they know and feel things, which seems to be far removed from much of your work, it just has no emotion, no feeling, no spine and just comes across as phonetic mish mash of words, not even at the least poetically spoken or written, just words. Perfectly trained, like a kid who reads a newspaper cover to cover and comprehends none of it.

‘ That very thing that so lyrically set him apart had deserted him. His rare, late public appearances were always epic in emotion and symbolism, but they were ultimately silent. This lent him a kind of timeless dignity, but it also rendered him a blank canvas: a hero onto whom we could project whatever values pleased us. What Ali lost in the process was his complexity.’

>> The nerve. The utter nerve you have to paint him in such dull tones. This by far is your low point in the article, ironically at the bottom of your piece like the bottomless pit it comes from. It is stench ridden with a despondency of which is not of the attributes of a Muslim or human for that matter who should be far more aware and intelligent, and in tune with their side of compassion, emotion and spirit than what you have demonstrated in your write up. Lost his complexity? What on earth does that mean? What on earth does it seriously mean. You look down on him because of his affliction? You think him becoming quieter means he is less powerful? You think being silenced by circumstance renders him less of a human? Please help me out here, I can’t seem to take this line in any other way given the context of the whole article and specifically this paragraph.

‘Whatever the case, however you choose to remember him, I think we’re best not to sanitise Ali for our protection. If he’s the greatest, it’s because he so relentlessly (if sometimes dubiously) challenged the world he was in. And if that’s true, he deserves more than for us to remember him by forgetting who he really was.’

>> You have tried to disrupt the remembrance of him with nothing more than a demonstration of your ego that is out of proportionately dragging your very being through the mud. You think by penning something like this you have raised awareness, helped humanity see something they were missing, forged a new idea about Muhammad Ali or generally made the world a better place? No, my dear Mr Aly, you have cemented yourself as Mr Aly, not in any way, shape or form ever, remotely associated with the name of Ali. The true peoples champion, the true voice, the true man, the real man who won people over by compassion, even when he had the fists to pulverise them, even his enemies were in awe of him, now who does that remind you of? I’ll give you a hint, his first name which you also can’t have belongs to the example he was to emulate. May God have mercy on your soul Waleed and raise Muhammad Ali’s rank to the elite.

The reality is Muhammad Ali lives on and Waleed Aly died in this piece.

Wesam El dahabi


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