(Blogger's Note: Long-time activist, veteran organizer and journalist Ashahed Muhammad is the Assistant Editor of The Final Call Newspaper. Born in Brooklyn, NY, and raised in Chicago, IL, he has been a registered member of the Nation of Islam for 17 years. He has been with The Final Call for seven years.
Bro. Ashahed is presently in route to Geneva, Switzerland to attend the UN's 2009 Durban Review Conference April 20-24. Just before he boarded the plane, I got an exclusive one-on-one about the importance of this trip!)
Brother Jesse: First, what are your thoughts as you prepare to attend the Durban Review World Conference on Racism in Geneva, Switzerland on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and The Final Call Newspaper?
Ashahed Muhammad (AM): I feel tremendously blessed and fortunate to be sent by The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan on behalf of The Final Call to cover the UN's 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. This is a major historic event. I am living it and reporting on it. It doesn't get any better than that does it?
Also, I feel a tremendous responsibility to do my very best to provide comprehensive coverage for those who are unable, because of resources and circumstances, to participate directly. My job is to go there and bring the info back. It is my duty and a responsibility that I do not take lightly.
Brother Jesse: Why is it important for The Final Call to be in attendance at this conference along with other media outlets from throughout the world?
AM: Clearly, in a world where media is controlled and most newspapers and programs are formulaic and only give coverage to viewpoints that reinforce a decidedly slanted worldview, it is important for The Final Call, as the widest circulating independent Black weekly in the United States to be present--with boots on the ground-- to tell the story firsthand in order to counteract the spin and propaganda that is sure to come.
We know that the negative spin and propaganda is forthcoming because it was prevalent in shaping the view of the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. It is always interesting to interact with members of the press from across the globe, share stories, information, and make contacts. There is a world out there beyond North America and there are many who want to help achieve justice for the oppressed. Many, once they know better will do better, and that is our job, to get the word out and bring truth to the people.
Brother Jesse: Once you hit the ground, what are some key things you will be looking to obtain to report on to our readership in the United States and throughout the world as it relates to the aim of this conference?
AM: One of the first things I am going to find out is the view of the community of nations regarding America's non-involvement in such an historic event during such a critical time. Under Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush we have seen some disastrous foreign policy decisions that have destroyed America's image and prestige in the world.
With the historic election of President Barack Obama, this could be, or could have been a key moment for America to truly address the horror of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as a crime against humanity by listening to truth that would act as a mirror that could be used to see what actions need to be changed as attempts are made to move forward and “Remake America.” How can that be done without dealing head-on with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
There has been global damage, and there needs to be acknowledgement and restitution on a wide scale, because the damage done in the past affects us in the present. That is going to be where the question of reparations is raised and surely a point I expect many of the conference observers and attendees from the U.S. to deal with squarely. Whether the member nations and representatives deal with it adequately, if at all remains to be seen. Many nations have been touched by Western global hegemony.
I expect the Israeli assault on Gaza to come up during discussion of crimes against humanity, especially with the recent Human Rights Watch 71-page report dealing with Israel's use of White-Phosphorous bombs. Reports are that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be present. I don't have to tell you, a one on one interview like that would be major. I will also have a translator present to deal with many of the Arabic speakers and representatives. That should be quite helpful.
Brother Jesse: President Obama and his administration have refused to attend the conference based upon what is called "harsh language" towards Israel in the conference. What reactions have you heard or read from activists and world leaders on the President's stance? Do you think this move could hamper in any way his efforts to better America's foreign relations with the Muslim world?
AM: A majority of the activists that I have talked to are very unhappy, even angry and very critical of that decision. I had heard rumblings that there was some back door diplomacy taking place, but nothing really substantial.
I think President Obama is doing the best he can with the terrible mess that he has inherited. Many of the activists are still hoping to be surprised. I am going to make a serious attempt to tell the story through the prism of the many members of the Non-Governmental Organizations traveling there from the U.S. They always make it interesting.
Brother Jesse: This conference is a follow up to the 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR). The goal has been a global drive for the total elimination of racism. Have you seen any progress or impact over the last 8 years on a global level as a result of that meeting?
AM: Regarding the 2001 event and its progress or impact, if you ask me on April 25th I will be more prepared to give a more thorough answer. Since I wasn't there, I don't feel qualified to really answer that question dealing with an analysis or determination of how race relations are globally.
I will say, as one whose profession it is to monitor and report world events, in viewing the geopolitical realities of war, bloodshed, poverty and theft of resources, it certainly appears to me that global racism still exists and discrimination and the spectre of death and genocide is lurking over the darker peoples of the earth. That much is clear.
Brother Jesse: Why should Black people pay attention to this conference in the midst of being jobless, void of health care and watching violence take place daily in our neighborhoods?
AM: There are many nations on the earth striving to throw off the yoke of colonialism and imperialism. It is not an “either, or” proposition, it is a “both and.” I say that because we have to be paying attention to the economic issues and other things going on within our communities, but at the same time, look beyond just what is affecting us immediately.
We should be thinking about the fact that for those who may lack the money to go to medical school, Commandante Fidel Castro offered free medical scholarships to Black students from America as long as they promised to become doctors and return to their communities to provide healthcare for their people. That solves a problem for many of our people by providing students with medical training to qualify them to serve those who might not make enough to have decent health care. In the problem is the solution. That is an example of how unity and cooperation can be used to solve problems.
There are resources in Africa, why are outsiders allowed to profit and not we, the sons and daughters of Africa in the Diaspora? With the proper application of social, economic and political pressure, Black people in America can be to Africa what American Jews are for Israel. A strong lobbying force which looks out for the interests of their people wherever they may be found. Our national challenges are daunting, but we are an international people. We should never forget that, or allow it to be forgotten or ignored by others.
(Follow Bro. Ashahed during his travels at ashahed.blogs.finalcall.com and twitter.com/AshahedM)