For some of the younger people of Northern Ireland, “it was the first time they heard Malcolm X’s own words speaking about ‘rejecting the white man,’ developing independence Black liberation organizations, rejecting the dehumanization from the white man, and being inspired by the ‘darker nations’ of Africa and Asia uniting against European colonialism.”
Translating Malcolm X into Irish: Malcolm X Film Festival’s First Historic Event in West Belfast
By Sukant Chandan, one of the MXM coordinators team
As we passed the beautiful hills of Cavehill and Black Mountain that immediately surround Belfast city we discussed the budget crisis at which point the taxi driver mentioned something along the lines of “those who have always held power here do not like to see that changing,” which clearly indicated to me that he was probably an Irish nationalist. It turned out he was and I felt more comfortable and we got into a big conversation whereby I mostly asked questions and he, like it seems so many people who lived through the “Troubles,” were more than happy to impart their usually insightful and sophisticated analysis informed by their experiencing 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-Unionists “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 Muslims world. Our journey came to an end, we bid farewell and he wished us a good stay in West Belfast.
“The murals reflected the Irish republicans’ affinity and solidarity with the people of Palestine and South Africa against white supremacy rule, but featured mostly their own revolutionary martyrs.”
It felt great to return to West Belfast, my second time there, and my fifth time in Ireland since 1999, every one of those visits I come to partake in political and cultural work with the Irish revolutionaries who are in Sinn Fein and 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 is a primary example and inspiration of how a brutally colonized people (indeed the first colonized nation of English colonialism 800 years ago) can resist, organize and steadily build their politics in an inter-generational time frame.
We arrived to deliver the first of seven events in the First Annual Malcolm X Film Festival, taking place at the well-known cultural centre, Culturlann on the historic Falls Road in West Belfast. However, we had the full afternoon before the event day to have a walk around Falls Road and see the many revolutionary murals painted on gable ends of terraced homes and the famous rows of murals showing brightly and colorfully the recent and ancient history of the struggle of Irish freedom from colonial rule.
|Leila Khaled speaking at the Malcolm X Film Festival|
We saw Palestinian revolutionary icon, leading PLO and PFLP member Leila Khaled, featured on a few murals. Khaled herself would be addressing the Malcolm X Film Festival the following day. The murals reflected the Irish republicans’ affinity and solidarity with the people of Palestine and South Africa against white supremacy rule, but featured mostly their own revolutionary martyrs, people like James Connolly and IRA prisoner of war and elected MP Bobby Sands whose mural has pride of place on the Falls.
While walking around the Falls our Irish host would greet and have a wee chat with people of the community who were all politically active in some way or another – either working with local youth, or whatever anti-imperialist and socialist activities they were committed to. This is a community that is pulsating with political discussion and activity, hardly spending any time on social media, but actually being socially embedded in real life and struggles with their community. We sat down for a snack and a tea with three young community activists and anti-imperialist socialists, two of them coming from solid revolutionary families with family members having served back in the conflict in the revolutionary national liberation armed movement of the Irish Republican Army, said by some to be unofficial armed wing of Sinn Fein.
Along with the great “craic,” hospitality and political discussions, the quick wit and charisma and intense discussions that seems to be nearly universal characteristics of the people, there were also instances of the trauma of living through a brutal war. Any working class community has its fair share of trauma, but add into the mix lots of shooting, massacres, torture and imprisonment, and it all adds up to a terrible mix that no humans should have to live through.
The Malcolm X Film Festival saw over 50 local activists attend the event the following day, which my revolutionary Basque Country comrade told me was a decent turn out in West Belfast considering the time and what was concurrently taking place. The event opened up with the first film montage of Malcolm X speaking on Civil Rights and Black Power in his last final years of speeches and interviews. There would be no one more fitting to speak on this panel than Bernadette MacAliskey, who became the most inspiring and audacious revolutionary at a very young age against the British Army’s occupation of the working class district of the Bogside in Derry. She took to the peoples barricades, helped to mobilize the youth and community against the British military police and army, got elected on a national liberation and socialist platform to parliament and remains to this day the youngest woman ever to have been elected. She was a leader of the Irish civil rights movement inspired by the Black civil rights movement in the USA and the undivided Indian peoples non-violent national liberation struggle. 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 Bloody Sunday Massacre was conducted in 1972 by the British state, killing 14 protestors and leadig to a further radicalization of the movement.
|Bernadette MacAliskey speaking at the MXM Film Festival|
|Dr Moussa Ibrahim speaks at the MXM Film Festival|
The second Irish speaker who translated Malcolm X for the Irish audience was former IRA prisoner of war and Sinn Fein member from Derry, Gerry MacLochlainn. MacLochlainn 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. The most powerful thing MacLochlainn said and on which he finished was that the Irish people have to thank the British in a kind of way, thank them for ensuring that Ireland did not become a European colonizing power and instead because of the British colonial oppression of Ireland pushed the Irish 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 such a discussion of white supremacy, colonialism and imperialism, resistance, liberation and Malcolm X with 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 creations of, imperialism and Zionism to destroy the countries and communities in the region. Leila Khaled stressed that it was of primary urgent necessity that people must unite against these neo-colonial death squads. Leila Khaled and the whole room laughed when for the third time she could not understand the English of our Irish comrades and I had to “translate” the questions for her. I later commented and joked with Irish comrades that MacAliskey and MacLochlainn politically translated Malcolm X for the attendees, and I translated the contributions so Leila Khaled could understand. 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.
We completed our event and visit with discussions about how the Malcolm X Movement and the Irish activists and struggles will work closer together and build for the Second Annual Malcolm X Film Festival in 2016 which will be dedicated to, and working alongside, the Black Panthers to commemorate the 50th anniversary since the founding of another primary radical anti-imperialist and socialist movement from within the West. As the airplane pulled away from the land of Ireland and drifted back to the heart of colonialism and whiteness in London, the Malcolm X Movement delegation left Ireland 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 remains much uniting to be done.