Sukant Chandan is a co-ordinator of the Malcolm X Movement, which is currently organising Malcolm X Film Festivals in seven cities across Britain and Ireland. These festivals bring together revolutionary thinkers and fighters from across the globe to discuss the legacy and relevance of Malcolm’s thought and practice to the fight against oppression, injustice and neocolonialism today. Here he describes his experiences taking the festival to West Belfast.
We arrived into Ireland on Friday 13th March as the latest political crisis was gripping this small section of the island of Ireland. Left-wing Irish Republican Party Sinn Fein had blocked an austerity budget leading to the freezing of the budget for Northern Ireland. Directly related to this was a public workers one day strike the day our delegation came to Belfast International airport, so we had to catch a taxi to West Belfast where we were staying with a local grassroots Irish republican socialist activist and friend. Sitting in the front of the taxi and chatting with the driver, I went through the usual careful and subtle probing as to find out where he stood on the British colonial-induced division in the six counties.
Was he from the Irish nationalist community (who happen to be overwhelmingly Catholic), a movement united with the “third world” anti-imperialists, including the African National Congress Party in South Africa, and who supported the total end to British rule and the reunification of their country, colonized and partitioned by British colonialism?
Or was he from the Unionist community (who happen to be overwhelmingly Protestant), historically planted into Ireland as colonial settlers, largely allied to racist right-wing forces, linked to supporting Apartheid South Africa and the white settler state of Israel and want the six counties to remain eternally a part of the United Kingdom?
As we passed the beautiful hills of Cavehill and Black Mountain which surround Belfast city we discussed the budget crisis – at which point the taxi driver said something along the lines of “those who have always held power here do not like to see that changing,” a clear indication that he was likely an Irish nationalist. It turned out he was (which made me more comfortable) and we got into a big conversation in which he, like so many who lived through the “Troubles”, was more than happy to impart an insightful and sophisticated analysis informed by experience of the horrors of the conflict there.
Towards the end of the conversation we discussed British covert operations in their dirty war in Ireland, with “the Brits” supporting the pro-Unionist “Loyalist” death squads through what is infamously known as “collusion” – reminding me of the same covert operations and collusion with neo-colonial death squads in the Muslim world. Our journey came to an end, we bid farewell and he wished us a good stay in West Belfast.
It felt great to return to this region. It was my second time there, and my fifth visit to Ireland since 1999 – each trip had been about partaking in political and cultural work with the Irish revolutionaries of Sinn Fein and other independent Irish republican socialists and anti-imperialists. Belfast and Derry hold some of the most politicized anti-imperialist and socialist working class communities in the entire “West,” and as such are prime – and inspiring – examples of how a brutally colonized people (indeed the first English colony 800 years ago) can resist, organize and steadily build their politics in an inter-generational time frame.
This time we arrived to deliver the first of seven events in the First Annual Malcolm X Film Festival at the well-known cultural centre Culturlann, on the historic Falls Road in West Belfast. We spent the day before the event walking around Falls Road, seeing the many revolutionary murals painted on gable ends of terraced homes and on the road’s long walls illustrating the history of the struggle of Irish freedom from colonial rule.
Also featured on the murals were heroes like Palestinian revolutionary icon and leading PLO and PFLP member Leila Khaled. Khaled herself would be addressing the Malcolm X Film Festival the following day. These works of art reflected the Irish republicans’ affinity and solidarity with the people of Palestine and South Africa against white supremacist rule, while also featuring their own revolutionary martyrs, people like James Connolly and IRA prisoner of war and elected MP Bobby Sands.
While West Belfast remains palpably politicized, one can feel the “Troubles” receding into the background with a new generation of young people and teenagers born after the start of the peace process (formally initiated by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998/1999).
Our Irish host would greet and have a wee chat with people of the community, all of whom were politically active in some way or another – either working with local youth, or committed to various anti-imperialist and socialist activities. This is a community that is pulsating with political discussion and activity, hardly spending any time on social media, but deeply embedded in real life struggles in their community. We sat down for a snack and a tea with three young community activists and anti-imperialist socialists. Two of them were from solid revolutionary families whose family members had served in the national liberation movement of the Irish Republican Army, said by some to be the unofficial armed wing of Sinn Fein.
There was also evidence of the experiences of living through a brutal war. Any working class community has its fair share of trauma, but add into the mix high levels of shootings, massacres, torture and imprisonment, and it all adds up to a terrible mix that no human should have to live through.
The following day was The Malcolm X Film Festival, attended by over 50 local activists, a decent turn out, considering the time and what was concurrently taking place.
The event opened with a specially assembled montage of Malcolm X speaking on Civil Rights and Black Power in speeches and interviews from his final years, following which a number speakers gave their responses, relating Malcolm’s words to their own struggles and situations.
Opening the panel discussion was Bernadette MacAliskey, the first of two Irish speakers at the event to “translate” Malcolm X for the audience. A hero leading the Irish Civil Rights movement, inspired by the American Black Civil Rights Movement and Indian Peoples non-violent national liberation struggle. At a very young age MacAliskey, became the most inspiring and audacious revolutionary fighting against the British Army’s occupation of the working class district of the Bogside in Derry. She took to the people’s barricades, helped mobilize the youth and the community against the British military police and army, and is the youngest ever woman to have been elected on a national liberation and socialist platform to parliament.
As with those historic examples, the oppressed Irish people’s struggle for non-violent change was met with brutality and massacres by the colonialists. The notorious Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres were conducted by the British state in 1971 and 1972, killing 25 unarmed nationalists and leading to a further radicalization of the movement.
She recounted her experiences of going to the USA in the late 1960s and 1970s as a highly sought after speaker, invited by white feminists and relatively well-off Irish Americans who lived in houses that, with their “two toilets and three bathrooms….appeared like plush hotels” compared to the poor working class areas of Derry where she came from, in which the struggle for better housing for Catholics and Irish nationalists was one of the primary issues in the civil rights struggle against the Irish apartheid system.
She explained that she found herself having more in common with the black and brown women who were house servants of the white feminists and middle class Irish-Americans she met. Feeling at home with movements such as the Black Panthers and the radical Puerto Rican anti-imperialist socialist group the Young Lords. Famously, MacAliskey, when handed the keys to New York City as an honour from the mayor, decided to give them straight to the Black Panthers!
Following MacAliskey was Dr. Moussa Ibrahim, the last media spokesperson for the Libyan Socialist Jamahirya government before NATO and its proxies destroyed it in 2011. Dr Ibrahim is underground and a leading figure in the anti-NATO Libyan resistance, for which the organisation have placed him on the Interpol Red List.
He eloquently explained that Malcolm X is a central figure for inspiration for the Libyan resistance and that like X, Kwame Nkrumah and other African revolutionaries, Muammar Gaddafi was pioneering the capacity building of the African continent, and gearing the African Union towards assisting the Black liberation struggle across the world. The two things, Dr Ibrahim explained, that motivated NATO to destroy Libya were Gaddafi’s proposal for a gold-based African Dinar that would have ended the Dollar and Euro domination of Africa, and also the Global South military alliance that was being developed with Bolivia and Venezuela: a South Atlantic Treaty Organization to counter NATO.
Dr Ibrahim conveyed that Libya should be one of the most important Black Liberation struggles on the planet, to which we should give our solidarity; and that the general anti-NATO resistance in Libya is united with darker skinned or Black Libyans who have been systematically persecuted in acts of genocide by NATO’s proxies in Libya.
The second Irish speaker was former IRA prisoner of war and Sinn Fein member from Derry, Gerry MacLochlainn. He recounted how the Irish democrats of the 18th and 19th centuries mobilized to ensure that the Belfast port was not used in the genocidal industry of European slavery against African peoples, powerfully concluding that the Irish people have to thank the British in a way – for ensuring that Ireland did not become a European colonizing power, instead pushing them into the camp of the global anti-imperialist movement against racism and colonialism. I had to nearly pinch myself as I wondered if Ireland had ever seen white supremacy, colonialism, resistance, liberation and Malcolm X being discussed like this by such an array of revolutionary speakers.
Leila Khaled spoke about the importance of Malcolm X’s message of dignity and liberation of oppressed peoples, and emphasized that the death squads such as “Isis” are working for – and indeed are creations of – imperialism and Zionism, destroying the countries and communities in the region. She stressed that it was an urgent necessity for people to unite against these neo-colonial death squads.
A light hearted moment came when for the third time when she struggled to understand the English of our Irish comrades, requiring me to translate. Poignant too, for whilst MacAliskey and MacLochlainn politically translated Malcolm X for the attendees, I translated their contributions for Leila Khaled; I suppose all of us who are resistant victims of colonialism have to make efforts to listen, learn and understand the differences in our accents and languages to better unite for our common liberation.
Later in the evening, I was told by an Irish comrade that the event would, for many young activists, have been the first time they heard non-white people and those with English accents talking about anti-imperialism, socialism and the liberation of Ireland.
It would also be their first experience of hearing Malcolm X’s words about “rejecting the white man,” developing independent Black liberation organizations, rejecting dehumanization from the white man, taking inspiration from the united struggle of the “darker nations” of Africa and Asia against European colonialism, and so on.
The event ended with discussions on how the Malcolm X Movement and the Irish activists will work together to prepare for the Second Annual Malcolm X Film Festival in 2016 which will be dedicated to, and working alongside, the Black Panthers.
As the plane took off from the runway and drifted back to the heart of colonialism and whiteness in London, carrying on board the delegation of the Malcolm X Movement, satisfied that we had fulfilled part of our revolutionary duty to unite Malcolm X with the Irish in a common cause of anti-colonial liberation. There still remains much to be done.
Attend the Malcolm X Film Festival: Saturday 11th April, 5-8pm, Black Cultural Archives, Brixton, SW2 1EF
Sunday 12th April: 2.30pm-8pm, Malcolm X Community Centre, Bristol, BS2 8YH
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Sukant Chandan is one of the coordinators of the Malcolm X Movement. He has been involved in global solidarity with struggles of the people of Global South against neo-colonialism for nearly twenty years including work around struggles in Palestine, Colombia, Korea, Turkey, Zimbabwe and Libya. He was one of the co-founders of the radical youth coup the Che-Leila Youth Brigades in the early 2000s, which was launched from occupied Ramallah, Palestine at the height of the Second Intifada in 2002. He has also been involved in grassroots work in initiatives such as the Culture Move and other projects around issues of police brutality and racist and religious hate crimes. He appears regularly on Russia Today and Press TV in advocating for the rights and resistance of peoples against neo-colonialism.
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