Interview: Malik Zulu Shabazz

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[The Black Star News]

Malik Zulu Shabazz is an activist-attorney who has served as Chairman of the New Black Panther Party since 2001. A familiar figure on the world stage today, he can frequently be caught effectively articulating his controversial point-of-view everywhere from Fox News to CNN to MSNBC to C-SPAN. Reflective of the new leadership which has emerged from the Black liberation and Islamic movements, Dr. Shabazz is also the spokesman for the Black Lawyers for Justice.
A graduate of Howard University and its School of Law, his depth of his knowledge, professional organizing skills, potent legal advocacy and dynamic speaking skills have uniquely positioned Shabazz to weigh-in on a plethora of political and legal causes and struggles pertaining to African-Americans, the Muslim community, and African people worldwide. Here, he weighs-in on Obama and Gaza and responds to criticism leveled at him by original Panther Chairman Bobby Seale.

BSN: How do you feel about Barack Obama’s becoming President of the United States?
MZS: Fundamentally, I feel good. After eight years of George Bush, Obama presents the possibility of real change.

BSN: Are you going to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration?
MZS: I will be there, organizing, networking and recruiting.

BSN: Did you read Obama’s autobiography?
MZS: I liked that book. It wasn't heavy on my kind of ideology for but it gave me great insight into Barack's thinking and background. I felt a common experience with him as a community organizer, especially the road trips and the times when the struggles are so hard and your loved ones are telling you to give it up and pursue purely financial goals. I liked the fact that he had keyed into Huey Newton and the Black Power Movement. I like the fact that he chose Jeremiah Wright as his pastor. It was a good book, he is an inspiration to me and I see commonalities between his journey and mine,

BSN: Do you think America is on its way to becoming a "post-racial" society?
MZS: America is in no way post-racial. Race is still a major factor, but Obama's election means that Blacks can do what they will, regardless of systematic racism. Our youth, whose role models are over saturated with entertainers and athletes, needed to see a Black man overcome all obstacles in an intellectual arena in order to understand that we as a people can overcome and master anything in our path in this world.

BSN: Does Obama’s win mean there is less of a need for organizations like yours?
MZS: As far as the movement is concerned, Obama's election does not change the need to fight against racism, police brutality, bad education, lack of health care and housing, oppression abroad, or the litany of concerns our people face. Those problems are real and no one is lulled to sleep to think that because Obama has been elected those problems will disappear. What has happened is we have been inspired to do better in our organizational efforts to serve the people better. So, the New Black Panther Party, Black Lawyers for Justice is expanding now and building the Black Power Movement ( which is a broad based mass movement that includes 20 major ministries and organizing committees all over America and the world . We have been inspired by Obama's organizing to organize and serve the people like never before in 2009 and beyond.

BSN: What do you think of Obama’s cabinet appointments so far? Do they reveal anything to you about how he is likely to govern?
MZS: Obama's cabinet appointments have been more conservative than expected. He has to be careful not become a Bill Clinton re-mix. I still think he needs 100 days to be judged to see if he has a superior vision to enact through that cabinet.

BSN: I just read a recent article by you where you said that Obama needs to get it right on Gaza. Is it fair to be critiquing his position on the Middle East even before he’s been sworn in? After all, like he said, we only have one President at a time, and if anyone is going to intervene in Israel right now, it seems to me that it has to be Bush.
MZS: Obama has not been silent on the economy, nor the attacks in Mumbai, or on a number of other issues. If Bush is a lame duck, then Obama has to comment on critical matters that will be on his desk on January 21st. Right now, Obama is between a rock and a hard place. He pledged support to Israel in the election process, now he is in a position to get politically burned by that because Israel does not share his vision of reconciliation and justice. Ehud Barak, the defense minister of Israel and presidential candidate, is using Obama's previous statements as partial justifications for his current vicious and errant actions. So, as Israel continues to illegally pound and invade Gaza, we are not premature in calling on Obama to take the right position. Because if we wait to warn him, we will be behind the process, if he does what he is predicted to do: back Israel unconditionally. If Obama does this, which we advise against, he will soon unravel the worldwide goodwill that made his presidency so attractive to the darker and oppressed peoples of the world.

BSN: Normally, a new administration gets a pass from the press for its first hundred days? Are you going to give Obama that traditional wait-and- see period before criticizing any of his decision-making?
MZS: Not on foreign policy matters. On foreign policy matters, we call it as we see it. The world can be at war in one month, a lot less than one hundred days. On domestic policy, he gets a little longer because it is a more drawn out process to see what effect his infrastructure program, bailouts or market reforms will have. We want to be clear. We want Obama to succeed and make change and we are trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. One thing that Obama respects is good political pressure and advocacy.

BSN: What issues do you think ought to be high on the President-elect’s agenda?
MZS: Setting a new tone abroad that is different than the Bush administration’s well as urban policy that the poor can benefit from. We heard a lot about the middle class during the election, but in my neighborhood the poor need help, the ex-felons need help, the youth and inner-city schools need help. So, urban policy and help in the inner cities is critical. Obama must make good on his pledges to close Guantanamo and to end torture, and he has to resist being swallowed up by the neoconservatives.

BSN: How do you plan to get his attention?
MZS: By organizing the Black Power Movement, aligning with oppressed peoples, speaking up and engaging in vigorous politically-savvy advocacy. By using the legal tools available to Black Lawyers for Justice from my base in Washington D.C., we will be heard. I will be using my diplomatic hand heavily in 2009 in order to work with others to affect U.S. Government policy. Even if we don't get Obama's attention, it makes no difference, because the real work is re-organizing the movement so that it makes sense and becomes more organized and effective. When our liberation movement and its power is concretized, the powers that be will begin to bend to our will. We have taken a positive tone on Obama because the people are in a good mood and we respect the people.

BSN: In October, Jesse Jackson predicted that after Obama was elected, "decades of putting Israel’s interest first would end" and that the "Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades" would lose their power. Do you agree?
MZS: I don't agree that Obama will necessarily end the Israel- first policy. He should, and can, but he has to have the will to do it. Today, it is mainly whites in the streets demonstrating against Israel's attack on Gaza. So, the American people do not support an Israel first policy and all Obama has to do is reverse the cycle of bias, thus helping himself and the world to be a more peaceful place. Obama promised he wouldn't be controlled by special interests. The pro-Israel lobby is not an American majority; it is merely a special interest. The choice is Obama's. He can either be an agent for peace and change or be used as a tool by a special interest group whose actions actually endanger U.S. national security. Every bomb that Israel drops on Gaza, every baby that is killed, will produce a martyr ready to avenge the murders of their people or to die trying. If Obama criticized the foreign policy of George Bush, then he can afford to be a hypocrite and back the policies of Israel as they are being carried out in this hour. He can change this; all he has to do is do it.

BSN: How do you propose to bring peace to Gaza, immediately, and to the Middle East region, long term?
MZS: Recognize Hamas as the democratically elected government of Gaza, which it is. Give them the rights and privileges of an independent nation which is free trade, supplies, rights of defense and internationally protected borders. End the blockade and the stranglehold on Gaza. Turn over the entire West Bank and end all checkpoints and settlements in the West Bank. This will ease the crisis in the short term. However, because of the fact that the basis of the original set up of the state of Israel was based on the illegal removal of the Palestinians, killing them, razing their villages, and making them refugees in their own land… hostility will certainly always exist. The Arab nations are woefully divided and could do much more to bring justice to this process. Ultimately, a better day will come when America practices a fair foreign policy and Arab governments allow more democracy. The Arab governments must also unite, end oppression, get back to Islam and pool their resources, particularly in the areas of military defense.

BSN: When I interviewed Bobby Seale about the New Black Panthers, he said that your organization’s "leadership is nothing but government operatives." He was also upset by your politics, saying that you "spout a bunch of black racist remarks" and that you support Al-Qaeda. Is that true?
MZS: Does it sound like I’m uneducated? Do I sound like I'm a racist? Show me where I have ever supported Al-Qaeda! Bobby Seale‘s problem is that he is uneducated about me and the New Black Panther Party. He is so caught up in discrediting a new generation of Panthers that he refuses to dialogue or become informed and therefore comes off very ignorant and emotional when discussing us. What Bobby Seale also knows from his own history, that calling someone a government operative without any facts whatsoever is a Cointelpro [Counter Intelligence Program] move on his own behalf. So who is doing what here? Despite his libel and slander of the New Black Panther Party, we will generally ignore him because the New Black Panther Party is growing every day and if he misunderstands today, perhaps he will see better tomorrow. We love him the same as we do all the Black Panthers of the Sixties and Seventies.
We even offer all of them to come join with us and let’s continue the mission together, elders and new. We have good relations with former Black Panther members all over the country. I am here to tell all former Panthers that by God's permission the New Black Party will become larger, more educated, more skilled and more effective than ever before. We have an impressive and experienced young cadre. We have the benefits of 42 years of successes and failures since 1966. We are connected to black peoples and their issues all over America. Our Black Power Movement will change the face and nature of struggle in America. To be against Malik Zulu Shabazz, the New Black Panther Party and the Black Power Movement is to be against the very liberation struggle itself. Watch and see.

BSN: Do The New Black Panthers have a website where people can learn what you stand for and more about the organization?
MZS: Yes, and The Black Power Movement is a mass movement we are pioneering amongst a variety of new and established leaders that is developing 20 national and international ministries to serve Black people as well as 300 national and worldwide organizing committees. The New Black Panther Party is adding about 6 chapters a month. We expect to be 100 chapters strong by the end of the year in the U.S., Europe and Africa.

BSN: What was the last book you read?
MZS: I am re-reading Blueprint for Black Power by Amos Wilson. Also, I’m currently re-reading the Old Testament.

KW: What music are you listening to nowadays?
MZS: I like T.I., Common, NY Oil and the rappers in the New Black Panther Party. Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce’ are cool too. Conscious reggae is standard.

BSN: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
MZS: Dr. Khallid Muhammad, Huey P. Newton, Louis Farrakhan and Kwame Ture and Barack Obama and most importantly, my mother, who has given me superior training.

BSN: What inspired you to become a politically-active attorney as opposed to a corporate one?
MZS: The culture and climate of Howard University, which as a undergraduate was very black conscious and rife with pro-nationalist activity. At Howard, I became a student and helper to minister Louis Farrakhan, Dr. Khallid Muhammad, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr. Tony Martin and others. I heard Kwame Ture and worked with the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party. I helped Marion Barry get re-elected Mayor. I read everything black I could get my hands on and was inspired by Huey P. Newton, Elijah Muhammad, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I embraced them all, despite the differences. All of these forces shaped my life. By the time I graduated Howard University Schooled of Law I was already well known in the black community and they have provided me a solid client base ever since. I have been a solo-practitioner from day one, which gives me not only the freedom of movement to fight for the people politically but just as importantly to wage a variety of civil rights struggles against forces of discrimination that harm African people. I'm at my legal peak right now, busy as ever. Now, Black Lawyers For Justice is coming up and will give the legal struggle new definition.

BSN: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow your footsteps?
MZS: Be active in the student or liberation movement and resist the temptation to give up struggle for personal comfort and ease or because of a particular disappointment.

BSN: What is your organizational experience?
MZS: I formed the Progressive Student Movement in 1988 at Howard University. We sponsored Minister Farrakhan and that's where our relationship began. I formed Unity Nation before I went to law school and was Chairman until 1998. In 1993, I became the student organizer for Dr. Khallid Muhammad and became trained in the Nation of Islam. In 1996 I formed Black Lawyers for Justice and was ordained as a minister in Black Liberation Theology. Also in 1998, I became the National Youth Director for Dr. Muhammad's Million Youth March in Harlem. In 1998, I followed Dr. Muhammad into the New Black Panther Party and became his National Spokesman and Minister of Justice.

In 2000, I served as a local organizer for NCBL (National Conference of Black Lawyers). In 2001, after Muhammad's passing, I was elected Chairman of the New Black Panther Party. In 2002, I served as a national organizing member of the Millions for Reparations March. In 2004, I served as a national organizer for the NDABA Reparations Movement. In 2005, I was a National Co-Convener in Minister Farrakhan's Millions More Movement and March. In 2008, I initiated the Black Power Movement.


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