Boris Tsang/Sun Staff Photographer

Malcolm X discussion at Morill Hall on February 25th, 2018.

February 27, 2018

Muslim Human Rights Activist Explores Malcolm X’s Legacy and Debates ‘Safe Spaces’

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“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land,” Yahya Abdul-Basser ’20 said, reading from Malcolm X’s “Letter from Hajj.”

Joined by Cyrus McGoldrick, a Muslim human rights activist of Iranian and Irish descent, the Cornell Muslim Educational and Cultural Association celebrated Malcolm X’s life through a roundtable discussion, late Monday afternoon.

MECA, which has served Cornell for over 20 years, aimed to offer Muslim and non-Muslim students a place to examine both Malcolm X and his legacy in contemporary U.S. politics.

The forum challenged common perceptions — in and beyond the Muslim community — of Malcolm’s contentious legacy by offering a glimpse of the activist’s lesser known years as a devoted Muslim.

“Malcolm realized on his pilgrimage that black and brown people across the world actually cared about what was happening to black people in America,” McGoldrick said about Malcolm’s journey to Mecca. “Malcolm began to identify with people beyond American black nationalism in a global sense.”

McGoldrick focused on Malcolm’s ability to balance opposing qualities like confidence and humility, inclusion and exclusion and spirituality and secularity.

“It is a tremendous act of humility to be able to change one’s mind and to do so publicly,” McGoldrick said. “Malcolm was someone who grew in public without being ashamed.”

On the issue of managing inclusion and exclusion, McGoldrick and MECA members delved into a divisive debate of “safe spaces.”

“I worry when I see us broadcasting weakness,” McGoldrick said of the safe-space mentality. “We need to be strong. We don’t need to talk about how damaged we are and how fragile we are, even if it’s true, I don’t think this helps us.”

Despite contention over safe spaces, the group agreed that Malcolm’s legacy has crucial implications for contemporary politics.

In particular, McGoldrick praised Malcolm’s ability to build “strong local communities outside of the state system,” his “clear language” and his steadfast devotion to a cause.

According to the group, most important of all was that Malcolm “internationalized the struggle” through his Muslim pilgrimage, changing “the discussion from civil rights to human rights.”