In an article two days ago, " Muhammad Ali v. George W. Bush," I castigated President Bush bestowing a prestigious award on former boxer Muhammad Ali and for lavishly praising Ali's beautiful soul, his compassion, and his being a man of peace. I offered some evidence to the contrary and concluded by calling this incident "the nadir of his presidency."
The column prompted a fair amount of comment, positive and negative. I'd like to note here two noteworthy responses. One is from Judea Pearl, father of the late Daniel Pearl, murdered by Islamists in Pakistan in 2002:
When Danny was in captivity, we pleaded with Louis Farrakhan and Muhammad Ali to use their influence in the Muslim world and issue an appeal for his release. Farrakhan said: "Not ready." Ali did not hesitate a minute and issued a plea that only Satan could resist; it was published next day in Pakistan. Ali further called me by phone and insisted on being invited to the party, once Danny is released. Jesse Jackson then made a statement, without our even soliciting him. At that point, Farrakhan came back and said: I am ready. But by then, it was too late. I appreciate Ali's coming forward and, when I spoke at Danny's memorial (which Ali and his wife attended), I called him "a champion of humanity." Later on, though, when we asked him to join the Honorary Board of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, he declined on the grounds that he must focus his energy on his own foundation.
To which my response is this: I am delighted to hear that Muhammad Ali did these good deeds. But by 2002 he was far along with Parkinsonism, so his decisions were largely made by his handlers in his name. These do not provide real insight into his character.
That character, rather, was shown earlier, when Ali had full control of his facilities. To understand that better, I turn to Jack Cashill, author of the forthcoming book, Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King's Dream. Cashill sent me a copy of the book manuscript and it, to say the least, confirms my thesis about Ali's poor behavior. Here is an excerpt, reviewing Ali's negative accomplishments during his first crucial years in the public eye, 1960-75:
- Ali knowingly betrayed Malcolm X, a betrayal that led at least indirectly to Malcolm's assassination.
- Ali publicly turned his back on his press secretary, Leon 4X Ameer, which led to Ameer's death.
- When Nation of Islam activists executed five friends and family of the Hanafi sect—four of them children—Ali did not quit the Nation or even publicly protest. Nor did the media ask him to.
- For at least four years running Ali publicly degraded Joe Frazier, often along the crudest racial lines. "There's a great honor about Joe," says baseball great Reggie Jackson. "That was evident in the way he fought. And Muhammad ridiculed Joe; he humiliated him in front of the world."
- Ali also verbally and physically abused Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell, two men who did not deserve it.
- Ali was an unapologetic sexist. "In the Islamic world," he told Playboy, "the man's the boss, and the woman stays in the background. She don't want to call the shots." He wrote this in 1975, three years into the doomed struggle to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Feminists still wrestle over this one.
- While the black family was under assault, with its rate of unwed births nearly tripling during these fifteen years, Ali was fathering children out of wedlock with at least one teenage girl.
- He also was about to leave four of his children without a father in the home after rejecting their Muslim mother for a more glamorous, only marginally black eighteen year-old.
- Belinda Ali was the second wife he had publicly humiliated. Sonji was the first.
- Ali remained an unabashed racist, calling for an American apartheid and the lynching of interracial couples as late as 1975.
- In the years that mattered, Ali drove a wedge between the races. This may not have been evident to the cultural elite, but anyone who had been at Gary or like venues would know exactly what I mean.
- He routinely denigrated black heroes who did not share his point of view, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall among them.
- He continuously belittled and undermined Christianity, a bedrock of cultural stability in black America.
- Ali shamelessly courted some of the most brutal dictators on the planet: Qaddafi, Idi Amin, Papa Doc Duvalier, Nkrumah, Mobutu, Marcos.
- One of those dictators, Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Wa Za Banga, was complicit in the death of the black nationalist hero, Patrice Lumumba.
- Ali helped launch the career of Don King.
- And, oh yes, he rejected his country in its hour of need and expressed no regret at the fate of those millions we all abandoned. The man who compelled him to do so had conspired with the Japanese and cheered them on at Pearl Harbor.
With due understatement, Cashill comments that this summing up, "however unpleasant, sheds some useful light both on the young Ali and the generation that made him."
I repeat: this is not someone suitable to be honored by the president of the United States.
Jan. 12, 2011 update: Bush was hardly the only one to celebrate Ali. Here is another example, from a steakhouse chain:
Jan. 14, 2012 update: For pure puff-piece, it is hard to top the Associated Press report on Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday party. Excerpts:
As party-goers mingled in a lobby of the Muhammad Ali Center before the party, Ali walked slowly to a second-floor balcony overlooking them. The crowd immediately began to clap, then broke into chants of "Ali! Ali!" followed by singing as Ali watched for about two minutes. ...
Former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis said his boyhood idol is "still the greatest." "I feel so proud and honored that we're able to show our feelings and show our support for him," Lewis said. Lewis said Ali's strength and influence extended far beyond the boxing ring in his humanitarian efforts. "What he's done outside the ring — just the bravery, the poise, the feeling, the sacrifice," Lewis said "... He's truly a great man." ,,,
Guests paid tribute to Ali beforehand. "The reason I loved him is because of his confidence," University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari said. "He would talk and then back it up. He had great courage and who had more fun than him?"