The following is in response to an article published in Quarterly Journal of Speech, volume 97, in 2011 entitled Muhammad Ali’s Fighting Words: The Paradox of Violence in Nonviolent Rhetoric—written by Ellen W. Gorsevski and Michael L. Butterworth, colleagues in the Department of Communication in the School of Media and Communication at Bowling Green State University.
When a discussion is opened on civil rights rhetors nowadays historians opine a polar view in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. occupies an end opposite to Malcolm X, and so it seems we posit. However Gorsevski and Butterworth, and I must agree, suggest a third leader on the same line somewhere in between King and X who’s “rhetorical performances [has] played a pivotal role in radicalizing the civil rights movement” and “provides a model for analyzing texts and social movements”—Muhammad Ali.(50)
Perhaps Ali is left out of discussion because his role in the movement was a paradoxical one. “He [Ali] was a fighter, a man of violence…who has worked nonviolently for peace and justice…(51)” Ali’s nonviolent, anti-colonialism, anti-Vietnam, anti-war opus culminated when he decided not to accept the draft in April, 1967 that would force him to tour in Vietnam. Ali outright opposed the draft because it “was a racist enterprise (56)” based on the fact that it “induced 64 percent of eligible blacks but only 31 percent of eligible whites. (Ernest and Baldwin, “The Not So Silent Minority,” 125.)”
Despite his recent struggle with Parkinson’s, Ali still speaks out about unethical political decisions in the US. After 9/11 a stereotype of Middle-Eastern—Muslim—peoples, that they are all potential terrorists and cannot be trusted, reared its disgusting head. As a member of the Nation of Islam, Ali gave his opinion on the matter in an interview on National Public Radio with Juan Williams—”Terrorists are not following Islam. Killing…blowing up people and dropping bombs in places…is not…Islam. So people realize that all Muslims are not terrorists. And all Muslims did not agree with what happened…I’m just hoping that people understand that Islam is peace and not violence.”
In a country like the United States that boasts an imperialistic foreign policy that attempts to police the globe and wage wars against people of other races, religions, and ethnicities, I for one am reminded of Muhammad’s nonviolent discourse. “Ali is exemplar of nonviolent paradox: his legacy to the rhetorical tradition is that in his most characteristic texts he embraces…discursive and symbolic representations of violence so as to further a nonviolent agenda.” (Gorsevski and Butterworth, 67)