Tempers Flare at MLK Commemoration

January 23rd, 2004 - by admin

by Yahya Abdul Rahman / Montreal Muslim News Network –


Montreal, January 20th, 2004 — I had the honour to be invited by Rev. Darryl Gray of Montreal’s Union United Church to attend an interfaith service to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The event took place on Monday January 19th at the Union United Church, and I felt honored to present a reading from Dr. King’s work (see below) and, at the invitation of Rev Gray, to offer a few of my comments if I so wished. There were at least 350 people in attendance.

Let me state here that I had no idea who was going to be at the event, and I certainly did not expect the Israeli Consul General in Montreal, Marc Attali, to be in attendance. I decided that in my comments I would honor the life and sacrifice of the late British activist Tom Hurndall, as I felt he embodied the spirit of nonviolent resistance espoused by Dr. King, and he, just like Dr. King, paid for it with his life. Below is the full prepared text of my speech.

‘Have Some Respect’
Shortly after beginning my speech David Birmbaum — Executive Director, Canadian Jewish Congress of the Quebec Region — began to heckle me while I was speaking and told me to respect the spirit of the event and yelled “have some respect” and creating an overall fuss, but since I was speaking I could not tell everything he was saying, other than that he was angry and raising his voice. I ignored him and kept reading my speech. He actually walked out of my speech.

After finishing my speech, Mr. Attali then proceeded to force himself to the lectern and took control of the microphone and, with a very angry look on his face, further denounced me, accused me of abusing my freedom of expression and demanded from me several times an apology, that I should not have used the event for political purposes, and said “shame on you.”

He further stated that I, in fact, did not honor the legacy of Dr. King. I just sat there and looked at him as he angrily pointed at me and saying words like “people like you….,” but I did not respond, nor did I apologize.

He then left in anger, but was later, along with Mr Birmbaum, convinced to come back. It was also obvious from the response and murmmurings in the congregation — many said “enough” as Mr. Attali continued to talk — that the people did not appreciate very much what he did and said. In my opinion, he made himself look very unprofessional and his behaviour was not appropriate for a diplomat in his position.

‘Yahya, I Am No Longer Your Friend
Later I had to leave before the service was over as I had another engagement. On my way out, I met a Rabbi (who I will not name here), who I know and was friendly with in the past. “Yahya,” he said, “I will accept your apology now.” I stated that I had nothing to apologize for so he then stated he was no longer my friend.

Mr. Attali made an interesting comment about Dr. King during his earlier prepared speech, which I recorded. Mr. Attali stated: “At a time when his own people faced unspeakable oppression and injustice he was not blind to the sufferings of others…..”

That is 100% correct and that is what inspired me to make the following comments, and this is what inspires millions of people world-wide, including Palestinians, to struggle for their legitimate rights in the face of overwhelming oppression and injustice.

It is interesting to note also that Mr. Attali quoted an alleged comment made by Dr. King in 1968 during a speech at Harvard University where Dr. King is alleged to have said that: “When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews.” But the fact is this quote cannot be authenticated. Please see: http://www.palestinechronicle.com/story.php?sid=20040118182914624

(See also Uri Avnery’s latest article entitled “Anti-Semitism vs. Anti-Zionism” at: http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery01192004.html)

Mr. Attali closed his speech with a prayer by saying: “I wish peace to all of us here in Montreal, in Canada, in the US, Israel and all over the world.”

Very nice words, Mr. Attali. A good place to start in implementing this wonderful dream is to work towards ending the occupation of Palestine and put a stop to this madness once and for all.

Text of Yahya Abdul Rahman’s Speech

Thank you for giving me the honor to participate in this gathering tonight.

Perhaps the first recorded stories of nonviolent resistance to a violent government is the story of the Hebrew midwives in ancient Egypt — Shiphrah and Puah — and then of Miriam and Pharaoh’s own daughter, who refused to carry out Pharaoh’s murderous orders. And due to that non- violent resistance a child — prophet Moses — was preserved and led his people from the shackles of slavery and servitude to liberation. (Exod. 1: 15-22 and Exod. 2: 1-10 and Acts 7:20, 21)

I would like to make a brief tribute to someone many of you have not heard of. His name is Tom Hurndall.

Tom Hurndall was a British photographer. He was also a peace activist working with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine, a group which, in the spirit of Dr. King, participates in nonviolent resistance against a brutal military occupation currently being heaped upon the Palestinian people.

Last April, Tom, who was only 22 years old, was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper in Gaza while he was shepherding young children out of the line of fire. He finally died on January 14th after spending 9 months in a vegetative state.

Jesus was reported to have said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Words Attributed to Jesus Christ – John 15:13)

Adam Shapiro, a Jewish activist, also with the International Solidarity Movement, wrote today in an article entitled: “Unbound Spirit: Ayed Morar and Martin Luther King Jr.” the following words:

On this day, when we as Americans reflect on the life of a man who dedicated himself to the causes of equality, freedom and justice, we must also consider what Dr. King would do.

Would he sit idly by while fences and walls were constructed on 125th Street in New York City to block off Harlem from the rest of Manhattan? Would he ignore the razing of hundreds of homes in Compton, making thousands homeless? Of course, Dr. King would act — we would all expect it and hope too that we would find within us the courage and determination to join him in that struggle. Dr. King knew that the spirit within all men and women for freedom and justice could not be bound, lynched, segregated, isolated, imprisoned or relocated.

I, a believer in a just and merciful God and the last day, invite you all — no matter what your faith profession, no matter what the colour of your skin is, or the language you speak, or the profession you earn you living with, or your national origin — to join hands and forces to resist the ever-rising tide of tyranny, injustice, and the erosion of our civil liberties, and to raise our voices against the drums of war and xenophobia and all forms of intolerance, so we can once again echo those inspiring words of Dr. King in his “I Have A Dream” speech delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28, 1963 when he stated:

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Good night, Tom Hurndall, and thanks for your sacrifice.

Passages Read from Dr King’s Work:

Admittedly, nonviolence in the truest sense is not a strategy that one uses simply because it is expedient at the moment; nonviolence is ultimately a way of life that men live by because of the sheer morality of its claim. But even granting this, the willingness to use nonviolence as a technique is a step forward. For he who goes this far is more likely to adopt nonviolence later as a way of life.

• The principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites–acquiescence and violence–while avoiding the extremes and immoralities of both. The nonviolent resister agrees with the person who acquiesces that one should not be physically aggressive toward his opponent; but he balances the equation by agreeing with the person of violence that evil must be resisted. He avoids the nonresistance of the former and the violent resistance of the latter. With nonviolent resistance, no individual or group need submit to any wrong, nor need anyone resort to violence in order to right a wrong.

Yahya Abdul Rahman is the editor of the online Montreal Muslim News Network and can be reached at: montreal@montrealmuslimnews.net