Ali takes on racial profiling
NEW YORK— Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest heavy weight fighters in boxing
history, was known not only for his bruising battles in the ring but also
for his ready wit and razor-sharp rejoinders.
During the heyday of his boxing career in the 1970s, Ali was on a flight
from New York to his hometown, Louisville, Kentucky, when a stewardess
reminded the champ to fasten his seat belt just before take-off.
"Superman don't need no seat belt," Ali joked, raising a laugh among
passengers on the flight.
The stewardess was equally sharp when she shot back: "Superman don't
need no airplane either."
Perhaps it was one the few occasions when the wisecracking champ-described
as one of the world's most famous tongues- failed to have the last word.
Ali did fasten his seat belt — and kept it that way throughout the flight.
Last week Ali's glorious fights— and his now-famous witticisms — were
brought to the screen in a new Hollywood movie titled (what else?) "Ali".
Besides portraying some of his brutal fights with Joe Frazier— he lost
at New York's famed Madison Square Garden in 1971 and won in Manila in
1975 — the film also depicts his battle with the establishment when he
refused to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.
"I ain't got nothing against the Vietcong," he said, speaking in African-American
idiom. "The Vietcong didn't call me no nigger."
Ali, whose refusal to fight in Vietnam was later vindicated by the US
Supreme Court, is also quoted as saying: "I don't give a damn about Uncle
Sam. I ain't going to Vietnam".
Last month, Ali was back with the establishment he despised, but this
time as a spokesman for Muslims.
Providing support for the international war against terrorism, Ali said:
"I am a Muslim. I am an American. If the culprits are Muslim, they have
twisted the teachings of Islam".
In a reference to the September 11 attacks on the US, he said: "Whoever
performed, or is behind, the terrorist attacks in the United States of
America, does not represent Islam. God is not behind assassins."
The Hollywood movie industry, accused by some for stereotyping Middle
Easterners and Arabs as terrorists, has also engaged the services of Ali
to clean up its public image.
The former Cassius Clay, who became one of the greatest Muslim sports
heroes in the US since his conversion to Islam about 35 years ago, has
been assigned the task of telling Americans that not all Muslims are evil
Ali's plea comes at a time when racial profiling of Muslims is on the
rise throughout the US. The victims are not only Middle Easterners but
also brown-skinned South Asians.
The Hollywood movie industry, on the other hand, has taken a severe
beating from critics who say that some of the ideas for terrorist attacks
were taken straight out of blockbuster movies.
In the 1996 movie "Executive Decision" (with Kurt Russel and Steven
Seagal), a US airliner is hijacked in mid-air by a group of terrorists
threatening to crash the plane into the White House.
According to some reports, the plane that went astray and crashed in
Pennsylvania on September 11, was probably meant for the White House.
The terrorists in the movie are clearly portrayed as Muslims of Middle
Eastern origin as one of them unfurls his prayer mat towards Mecca to pray
Do terrorists really find time to pray while holding passengers hostages?.
Is this Hollywood's concept of realism or a just another ploy to depict
the hijackers as "Islamic terrorists"— a common phrase in the media these
In the 1998 movie "The Siege", another bunch of no-good Middle Eastern
terrorists hold New York city hostage until an abrasive military General,
played by Bruce Willis, declares martial law and takes over the city to
fight the bad guys.
In the 1994 movie "True Lies", Arnold Schwarenegger is the secret agent
who is pursuing (who else but) another group of Arab terrorists dying to
get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Although there have been endless stories of "Jewish terrorism" since
the founding of the state of Israel, Hollywood has chosen mostly to ignore
these potential plots and subplots for movies.
Despite his credentials, Ali would surely have a hard time trying to
paint Hollywood lily-white.
But as everyone admits, Ali's greatest performances will always remain
inside, not outside, the ring.
"When I stop fighting," he once said, rather prophetically, " the game
will go to the graveyard." And it has.