Historian unpacks lessons from anti-colonial solidarities

February 19, 2022
Abdul Rahman Azzam, historian and author of The Other Exile and Saladin, discussed Malcolm X’s struggle for Black liberation and how his legacy continues to inspire present-day anti-colonial solidarities in the Global South at a Northwestern Qatar webinar marking Black History Month.
The event, hosted by the school’s Africana Studies Committee, the African Students Association, Georgetown Qatar’s Black Students Association, and sponsored by NUQ’s Liberal Arts Program, featured Azzam sharing insights from his grandfather Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzam’s relationship with Malcolm X. He connected the topic to broader anti-colonial solidarities across the Global South, examining the role liberation movement leaders and institutions played in promoting solidarity with anti-colonial movements in the U.S., Libya, Algeria, and Indonesia.
In one story, Azzam discussed his grandfather’s encounter with Malcolm X during a visit to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah and how it underscored Malcolm X’s bravery in pursuing his struggle for Black liberation. “Malcolm X actually told [my grandfather]… that he would be killed, “said Azzam, adding that Malcolm X truly became a threat when he moved away from the Nation of Islam and connected his anti-racist activism with moderate Sunni Islamic orthodoxy, thereby solidifying links with Muslim and “third-world” anti-colonial stances on a global scale.
In another story where a leader’s action prompted global solidarity against colonialism, Azzam recounted how Haitian Special Envoy to the United Nations Emile Saint-Lot, after speaking with the elder Azzam, went against his own government’s directive and became the deciding vote blocking a British/French backed UN resolution to stifle Libya’s more immediate independence. Several countries supported Libya’s independence, said Azzam, noting how “the Egyptian government gave its full support [to Libya], as did the Americans, the Iraqis, Iranians, Indians, Pakistanis, they were determined to secure Libya, they did not want Libya to fail.”
Recalling a 1960 meeting between his grandfather, the Secretary-General of the Arab League at the time, and the Algerian resistance leader Ahmad Ben Bella – where the elder Azzam agreed to divert Arab League funds to help finance the Algerian revolution – Azzam said it demonstrated a broader Arab-Islamic solidarity in the liberation of Algeria. “Egypt stood steadfastly with the Algerians throughout their resistance,” said Azzam. “Algeria finally gained its independence, so again here is an example of a personal meeting between two different people sharing the same values who felt that they had to sacrifice, they had to fight.”
According to Azzam, Indonesia’s struggle for liberation from the Dutch occupation is another example where South-to-South solidarities and institutions played a key role in supporting the cause. With Al-Azhar calling for Islamic solidarity and the Arab League lobbying the Egyptian Counsel General in Bombay to supply the Indonesian resistance with weapons, Azzam said, “the link between all these [efforts] was anti-colonial … and the Islamic rhetoric that was used was driven by anti-colonialism.”
Highlighting the need to learn from Malcolm X and other leaders’ bravery and struggle for liberation, Azzam said, “the younger generations have a duty to read the history to understand that there were people who fought.”  He added that, with the advent of mass media and social media, the youth have a greater responsibility to inspire solidarities with global movements such as Black Lives Matter and others.