American boxing legend and civil rights icon Muhammad Ali was an “enlightened pharmacist dispensing solace to all in need” and “leading others to the source of that medicine,” according to Barry Grossman, an international lawyer and political commentator.
“It is strange how the same media pundits and political elite who have always showed contempt for everything Muhammad Ali stood for now rush to cash in on his legacy by praising some contrived caricature of the man or by focusing on his accomplishments as an athlete,” Grossman said.
US President Barack Obama led tributes to boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who died at the age of 74 on Friday.
“Muhammad Ali was the greatest. Period,” Obama said in a statement issued on Saturday. “If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was double the greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail.’”
Ali, the three-time world heavyweight champion, died on Friday evening, following respiratory problems exacerbated by his longstanding battle with Parkinson’s disease.
“Obama invoking Muhammad Ali’s legacy to prop himself up is no less hypocritical than his earlier efforts to assume the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. Both come across as cynical political tactics which stain the memory of those fine men by dragging their legacies down into the mud that is Obama rightful place,” Grossman told Press TV on Sunday.
“Without wanting to put too fine a point on it, there certainly is nothing about the way Obama has spoken about Ali or Martin Luther King which comes across as a genuine effort to elevate the public’s perception of their achievements. That is to say, Obama’s comments about both great men are, by implication, premised on an assumption that their accomplishments are lesser than his own. Any genuine tribute ought to concede exactly the opposite,” he added.
“As for Bill Clinton, his rush to grab some political advantage by praising Muhammad Ali in terms so uninspired that they bring to mind the expression ‘damning with faint praise’, could hardly be more offensive bearing in mind the way Clinton’s presidential legacy still hangs like a yoke around the collective neck of African Americans,” the analyst continued.
“If I somehow manage to become one tenth the man Ali was, I will be ten times the man I am now. There are very few people who can make any higher claim for themselves and neither Barrack Obama nor Bill Clinton are among them,” he stated.
Who Muhammad Ali was
“Apropos the media’s rush to cash in, the mind boggles that – even after Ali made it clear that he considered his birth name to be the equivalent of a slaver’s brand and that he expected always to be referred to as Muhammad Ali – some pundits now trying to capitalize on Ali’s popularity, still bizarrely insist on referring to him as Cassius Clay,” Grossman said.
“We should not be confused about these matters; about who Muhammad Ali was or about the establishment’s attitude towards him. When he first rose to prominence as the heavy weight champion of the world, the same establishment that bent over backwards to insulate privileged nobodies like George W. Bush from their duty to the nation, wasted no time drafting Ali into the ideologically driven fight against people in Vietnam with whom Ali had no quarrel. The courage of his convictions – demonstrated by him at immeasurable personal cost – have rarely if ever been seen again from anyone who has risen to prominence in the public eye,” he stated.
“When they turned on him, he minced no words making clear his preference for giving up anything, including his freedom, rather than running away or hiding like so many others, or taking up arms on behalf of his own oppressors against people who, despite their differences, he considered brothers. The establishment wasted no time stripping him of his title, his boxing ‘license’ and his freedom, though they have been oh so fast to forget and now claim Ali and his legacy as their own,” the commentator explained.
Boxing doesn’t represent Ali’s greatness
“Yes, Ali was an athlete, a boxer; in my opinion, the greatest boxer of all time. But boxing in no way represents all of the man and the man’s greatness was in no way limited to boxing. His athletic prowess, great as it was, was the lesser part of the man we all came to admire. His real greatness lay in his humanity, his humility, his unwavering submission to Allah, and what he did outside the ring,” Grossman said.
“While he was a master of the boast, that was of course only an entertainment technique and career tactic perfected, ironically, by a man who refused to submit to the dominant and oppressive cultural expectation that he ‘know his place’ and never presume to stray from it,” he added. “The genuine humility he had when not performing is nicely encapsulated by what he said about his work: ‘It’s just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up,’ he said.”
“Ali consistently demonstrated to all people, regardless of their race, creed or convictions, what it meant to be a man of principle and service. ‘Service’ he not only said, but demonstrated for all to see, ‘is the rent we pay for our room here on earth,’” he stated.
“Whenever an opportunity to help others presented itself, he seized it and acted without fanfare. When a distraught young man was threatening to jump from a 9th floor window in 1981, Muhammad Ali was there to remind him of the reasons he had to live,” he noted.
“When in 1990 America’s political apparatus all but abandoned 15 US citizens detained by Iraq in the lead up to the [Persian] Gulf War, Ali flew to Baghdad to negotiate their release with Saddam Hussein amid a chorus of condemnation and ridicule from media outlets that were following the lead of George W. Bush,” he said.
‘God works through people; it’s not me’
“After getting 15 hostages released, a journalist interviewing Ali observed that ‘it would be nice to have the detainees come over this evening.’ Ali replied by quietly saying: ‘They don’t owe me nothin; they don’t owe me nothin.’ When one of the hostages later said to him as they were preparing to fly back to the US, ‘Champ, I don’t think there is any way in the world I can adequately thank you,’ Muhammad Ali replied: ‘thank Allah; thank God. God works through people; it’s not me,’” Grossman said.
“While others who face the kind of hardship he endured often become cynical, bitter and twist it into an excuse for rejecting God, Ali was grateful that by giving him Parkinson’s, Allah reminded him that he – Muhammad Ali – ‘was not number one.’
“Ali showed us that everything is possible. He was and will forever remain a well of hope to those enduring hardship and injustice. Instead of remembering him for his amusing quip that he was ‘so mean’ that he made ‘medicine sick’, I will remember him as a kind of enlightened pharmacist dispensing solace to all in need and, by his humble example, leading others to the source of that medicine,” he observed.
Grossman said Muhammad Ali “did not proselytize or set out to convert anyone and always remained sensitive to other people’s beliefs. While others preached, he acted and always endeavored to manifest the examples set by Muhammad and Ali – peace and blessings be upon them – in all that he did.”
“Muhammad Ali was Muslim. That is all that needs to be said. He is dead now but he will always shine as a beacon of hope, reminding us, as he said, that ‘it isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear us out; it’s the pebble in our shoe,’” he concluded.