Book Review: The Character Assassination of Malcolm X

Since I was a young boy growing up, the story of Malcolm X captivated me. Before I hit my 13th birthday, I had already read his autobiography, watched the Spike Lee movie and sat through countless hours of his recorded speeches with my African-American teachers – many of whom had reverted to Islam after meeting or learning about him. The fascination continued through college and Medical School, where a group of friends and I gave presentations on the life of Malcolm X at Universities across the UK.

Therefore, as you can imagine, I eagerly awaited the latest biography by Professor Manning Marable called “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” He had based his book on a decade worth of research and set out to reveal the man behind the legend. It would be a chance to get to know the character traits and morality of a person who had served as an inspiration to millions across the world. That Marable himself had died days before the book was published made it all the more interesting.

However, the emotion that I experienced whilst reading the book was not one of discovery or insight, but of profound disappointment bordering on disgust. Interspersed between slow and rambling passages, the book is littered with various accusations including that Malcolm X lied about his criminal past in order to sex-up his bad-boy image, that he was involved in a sexual relationship with an elderly white businessman, that he was a hypocrite who drank alcohol whilst calling others to be teetotal and that he carefully airbrushed all these parts out of his autobiography.

An example of the unjustified extrapolation that Marable engages in to arrive at these accusations is how he uses a letter from Malcolm X talking about a rough patch in his marriage and the fact that he was constantly away on speaking tours to come to the wild-leap conclusion that he and Betty were “most likely” unhappy and involved in an extra-marital affairs. Such statements have little evidence beyond the fertile imagination of Marable himself and are more befitting the lowest rung of tabloid newspapers rather than a serious academic text.

Given the amount of speculation deceitfully presented as factual revelations, one would think that the book would be consigned to the garbage tip of history. Instead, the literary community has this week awarded it one of its highest honours – the Pulitzer prize in history. What were they thinking? Perhaps they just wanted to honour a Professor who died before he could see his work published. Perhaps they didn’t even read it. Or perhaps they wanted to pull the icon of Malcolm down a peg or two to the level of other great (but morally flawed) leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or JFK.

To a jaded non-Muslim audience, these “revelations” are not shocking since it is possible for someone to engage in hypocrisy, adultery and lying on a grand scale in their private lives and still have their public image heralded as an example to millions. To Muslims and those who truly love Malcolm X, these accusations are a slur on the character of a martyred comrade, an inspirational leader and – most importantly – a brother in faith.

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“A Life of Reinvention” was supposed to epitomize the amazing transformation Malcolm underwent from deep down in the gutter of humanity to one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Instead, this biography has ended up as a reinvention too far.

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18 responses to “Book Review: The Character Assassination of Malcolm X”

  1. Avatar MW says:

    Jazakllah Khair for the piece; it’s shameless self-promotion on the late Marable’s part to try and formulate some new, provocative material – regardless of whether or not it’s accurate.

  2. Avatar Informed_Citizen says:

    Thank you for writing this article. The meager evidence used by Professor Marable is weak at best and completely circumstantial. This book is a blatant character assasination of a great American hero. What good is it to lash baseless accusations on a man who is 45 years past his death, and thus cannot respond?

    The truth cannot be tarnished. Let the establishment give awards to this book. History will prove that this book of lies will be ignored.

  3. Avatar burqa barbie says:

    “Or perhaps they wanted to pull the icon of Malcolm down a peg or two to the level of other great (but morally flawed) leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. or JFK.”
    The man went through an episode of black supremacy and other extreme activities until 1964 before he was assassinated so how in the world was Martin Luther more flawed than him? How was Martin Luther King morally flawed? It seems like you have no problem trashing other people because of their non-Muslim religious ties but conveniently ignore Malcolms problems because he was Muslim.
    “To a jaded non-Muslim audience, these “revelations” are not shocking since it is possible for someone to engage in hypocrisy, adultery and lying on a grand scale in their private lives and still have their public image heralded as an example to millions”
    This is very bigoted. You are placing Muslims above everyone else. Isnt it hypocritical to decry religious bigotry torwards Muslims and then inferiorize people because they arent Muslim? Not to mention, but Muslims know a thing or too about the above mentioned behaviors, if anything they are adding to it every day. Remember, people who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.

    • Avatar Baracus says:

      “so how in the world was Martin Luther more flawed than him? How was Martin Luther King morally flawed?”

      Martin Luther King was famous for having many extra-marital affairs. I believe the author was alluding to this well known fact.

      As for your other comments, I would urge you to spend more time trying to understand the author’s points, rather than participate in the very behaviour you accuse him of.

      One such point I feel you may have missed is the fact that while moral integrity and chastity is a quality that is universally appreciated and upheld, Islam places an even greater degree of importance on the matter, especially in its leaders.

  4. Avatar Abû Mûsâ Al-Ḥabashî says:

    This is an interesting blog entry. I haven’t read the book but I did hear about it when it was published and am aware of some of it’s accusations. I just wish this blog entry was longer and provided more examples of baseless accusations in the book and why they are baseless.

    • Avatar burqa barbie says:

      Agreed. It simply seems like the author is upset at any “negative” association with Malcolm rather than the merit or validity of the claims. I’m still confused as to what moral flaws she’s referring to regarding Martin Luther.

      • Umm Zakiyyah Umm Zakiyyah says:

        burqa barbie, I can’t speak for the author of this post, but what I understood was that the author disagreed with the negative accusations that were *not* based on sound evidence; he wasn’t referring to those negative traits that were revealed based on clear evidence.

        It is well-known that Malcolm X had many negative experiences throughout his life. His autobiography makes that very clear.

        I myself have a difficult time understanding the purpose of “revealing” negative speculations (which is the most we can say of something without clear evidence or sufficient trustworthy witnesses) if the person is not alive to defend himself. That goes for any person who’s dead, whether Malcolm X or Martin Luther King.

        That fact alone makes me not even read the book. It’s like throwing a punch in the boxing ring toward your opponent once they’ve already gone home. What’s the point?

        Only a person who is seeking something far removed from what is ethical in the eyes of God would attack a person’s character in this way.

        May Allah guide us to what is correct.

        Umm Zakiyyah

  5. Avatar Ebmoosa says:

    I read the book too, and yes whilst there are some unfortunate conclusions made by the Professor, those cannot be used to write off an otherwise meticulous piece of research. If by any chance some of Malcolm X’s minor misdeeds were true, it just reaffirms that he was human like all else and could make mistakes. These however do not besmirch the lofty personality that he always was. After reading the book, I was left even more in awe at the greatness of the man and his deep foresight. Somebody who was not proud to admit that he was wrong, or change his deep rooted perceptions. And somebody who engaged across the divide in the promotion of justice. The book is also testament to the vicious FBI regimen of surveillance that began very early in Malcolm’s life, and which is still used to undermine our communities. Thus, whilst unfortunate conclusions may have been drawn, we should not use this to besmirch an otherwise momentous book

  6. Avatar Shahzad says:

    I always feel its dangerous to put any personality on a pedestal and tie our identity and self-esteem to that person. However, I also feel that disparaging role models that Muslims (or for that matter anyone) is a useful tactic towards disempowering that community. Notice how burqa barbie quickly got defensive when moral failings of Martin Luther King was suggested. Well, same thing goes for heros that other people identify with. 

    • Avatar Shahzad says:

      Sorry, meant to say, “However, I also feel that disparaging role models that Muslims (or for that matter anyone) identify with is a useful tactic towards disempowering that community.”

  7. Avatar Yaqub says:

    I don’t know if the book’s author’s claims are true…but hypothetically if they are true…why should the author be lambasted for the truth?

    If however the “reinvention” is carried out via lies about Malcolm X…then that is a whole different story.

    As for someone asking what moral flaws Martin Luther King Jr. had…well it’s well documented that he had various extra-marital trysts with women.

  8. Avatar WAJiD says:

    Walaikum Asalaam all,

    JazakAllah khairun for your comments. I thought I would deal with a few of the issues here inshaAllah:

    1. How was Martin Luther King (MLK) morally flawed as compared to Malcolm X?

    It is well known that Malcolm engaged in criminal activity before turning to the Nation of Islam. After all, that is what criminals do. However, after converting to the Nation of Islam he stopped all of this activity and never re-engaged. There’s no evidence from the police, FBI or any other source to prove it.

    Meanwhile MLK was a Baptist preacher ordained in a seminary. He was not a criminal, but someone who presented himself as a man of God and the spiritual leader of his congregation. Meanwhile (according to his close friend Ralph Abernathy, his biographer David Garrow and many others) he engaged in womanising, extra-marital affairs and other less-than-holy activities as a form of “anxiety reduction.”

    Such behavior is tolerated in the Western world with Presidents (JFK, Clinton) Entertainers (Pretty much every actor in Hollywood) Sports stars and others engaging in it on a regular basis… But, just because they are used to it does not mean they have the automatic right to say that Malcolm X did such things without any evidence.

    2. Why discount all of Manning Marables book when there were only a few points of contention in an otherwise well researched work?

    This is strange. On a legal level, if someone gave a testimony that was on the whole seemed true but threw in quite a few bits of wild conjecture then the whole testimony would be thrown out. Even on a emotional level, if someone was accurately recounting your fathers life in meticulous detail but decided to randomly throw in extra-marital affairs with both men and women, a secret drinking habit and other salacious information would you still be happy because the majority of it was a “meticulous piece of research.” No, you wouldn’t. So let us apply the same standards to our fellow Muslim and martyr Malcolm X – Al Hajj Mallik Shabazz.

    If we cannot even defend the memory of our heroes from false gossip, then we should not ask why Allah does not give us more of them.

  9. Avatar AzzamS says:

    Do not read books that engage in back biting and slander and they do not contribute to your increase in knowledge. You will incur the wrath of Allah

  10. […] Book Review: The Character Assassination of Malcolm X […]

  11. Avatar Ummiuzair says:

    Asak can u suggest me a good book Malcolm x for my teens .jazakAllah ummiuzair

    • Avatar Wajid says:

      asalaam alaikum sr ummiuzair,

      by far the best book about malcolm X is his own autobiography written with Alex Haley. It is in his own words (almost) and was named one of the top 10 works of nonfiction of the last century by TIME magazine.

      The problem is that most teens don’t read… so it may be that they need to watch a few videos maybe even the movie to get them into the mood to read the book.

  12. Avatar Ummiuzair says:

    JazakAllah for the reply can u also advise me some other books for teens. Ummiuzair

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