by Jackie Muhammad
With a sculpture of Moses gracing the walls of Congress, Pope Francis addressed the bipartisan body of national legislators and the American people on September 24th and intoned that the work of the U.S. Congress was reflective of the work of Moses.
The pontiff said: “Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work; you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every face.”
However, the pope also said, “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty…” He further stated, “A nation can be considered great…when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed.” Invoking the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he said, “Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his ‘dream’ of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of dreams. Dreams which lead to action…”
The pope’s words were interesting because in lauding the U.S. Congress he was also being very gracious in his use of language to describe a Congress that is seen as being one of the worst Congresses in American history; a Congress that has an approval rating of 13 to 15 percent, with the vast majority of the American people totally dissatisfied with that national legislative body. The oppressed in America would be hard-pressed to view the Congress as liberally as the pope does. Moses was viewed as a Great Liberator, but this Congress is dominated by conservative Republicans who rally behind racists like Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who not only complained about Black people abusing the public welfare system while he was using public land for his own profit, but also openly wondered if Black people were better off as slaves.
These same members of Congress have denigrated and hamstrung the President of the United States because of the color of his skin, preventing him from addressing the myriad problems that plague the Black community. If the president shows any deference to Black people, he is labeled a racist.
More specifically, however, the Congress has killed several bills designed to end some aspects of racial discrimination. Bills such as H.R. 2851, introduced by Representative John Conyers to end racial profiling by law enforcement; or H.R. 838, introduced by Delegate Eleanor Norton, a bill whose purpose was to provide grants to states to prevent racial profiling. We can add to the list H.R. 3907, introduced by Representative Steve Cohen, a bill whose purpose was to increase public confidence in the justice system and address any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.
More Black men are in prison or in the criminal justice system today than there were slaves in 1850—as a direct result of a half-century of failed policies crafted and enacted by Congress. The nation’s police departments have become occupying armies—courtesy of congressional lawmakers, who have passed racist draconian war-on-drug legislation. Injustice is the consequence of the legislative activity and inaction of Congress.
As the pope was articulating the themes of unity, justice, and liberation and extolling the virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan had already been traveling tirelessly around the country seeking to unify the Black community, along with the Native Americans, Latinos, poor Whites, victims of misogyny, and the disenfranchised, whom the pope has identified as the oppressed. In other words, Farrakhan, serving as a precursor to the pope, has actively been organizing a masterly strategy to implement exactly what the pope has been speaking about philosophically. The very thing the pope as the “Vicar of Christ” has been advocating is the exact same thing The Minister has been lambasted for.
When the pope invoked the name of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and reminded us of King’s “dream,” he may not have been aware of The Minister’s efforts to remind the public of the demands Dr. King made on the American government for our freedom, justice, and equality, which have never been granted to us as a result of our manumission from slavery. That’s why almost 50 years after his death that which Dr. King died for is still unfulfilled.
The political body the pope extolled for its reflective virtues patterned after the great prophet to the Jews collectively shares the burden for the destruction of King’s “dream” and the nightmare that we suffer as a result of their congressional policies, practices, and procedures. Both parties have compromised, collaborated, and colluded to add to our national nightmare. High unemployment, high dropout rates, high death rates, and low self-esteem are the byproducts of congressional activity and indifference.
Just before he was murdered, Dr. King rebuked the Congress, Black politicians, and the President of the United States for not galvanizing the power of government for an all-out assault on poverty. Today’s Do Nothing Congress exhibits that same malaise and inaction.
Not only has the U.S. Congress promised $45 billion in new free weapons to Israel, but the pope is aware that the majority of the weapons of war in the Middle East originates in the United States. The budgets of certain states, like California, depend mainly on the manufacturing of weapons. Weapons manufacturers, like Boeing, Rockwell, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and others, make significant campaign contributions to the members of Congress. Their contributions are significant enough to influence the White House and the Congress and influence foreign policies and military budgets.
The United States and Israel are number one and number four in the world as the planet’s leading sellers of these destructive weapons of death. Israel, therefore, holds the distinction of being both the leading recipient of weapons of mass destruction and one of the world’s leading manufacturers of such weapons. Israel also test markets its weapons on the Palestinians. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (September 2013), “massive profits are to be made from testing Israeli military innovations on the more than four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”
If the pontiff wants to honor the legacy of Dr. King and stop the arms race, he has to start with the U.S. Congress and the Israeli Knesset. The pope is well aware of Dr. King’s antiwar stance. He was one of America’s most vocal antiwar critics, rightly accusing the government of wasting money on the Viet Nam war at the expense of the poor. The pope could have leveled that same criticism against the 114th Congress.
And what happens to that excess war equipment? Much of it finds its way into the Black community. In the aftermath of the militarized police response to Ferguson protestors, an amendment was introduced in Congress to halt the Pentagon’s 1033 program, a program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military-grade weapons and equipment to local police annually. Such equipment makes our community look like a Third World War Zone. Did the Congressional Black Caucus vote to discontinue the militarization of the police force? No. Our tepid Black congressional leadership voted overwhelmingly to continue militarizing the police. Yet, some of these same congressional representatives could be seen eagerly applauding the pope as he talked about stopping the global military buildup. How do we spell hypocrisy?
Pope Francis said: “A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces.” It seems as if The Minister has been planning for the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March on 10-10-15 in Washington, D.C., with the words of the pope in mind. He has the interests of all the oppressed in mind, unifying them in an open and pragmatic way and demanding justice. Of all the things the pope said to the U.S. Congress, he got this right: “A nation can be considered great…when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed.”
The Minister and the pope are in sync with each other on this point: they both believe in justice. However, Farrakhan’s position is “Justice or Else.” Farrakhan’s position is the same as that of Moses, the Lawgiver. What would Moses say to a congress that allows millions of his people to languish in poverty while the rich consume the nation’s wealth and the wealthy prey on the poor? Isn’t Farrakhan saying what Moses said, “Let my people go?” Did not Moses warn Pharaoh that God would send plague after plague until Pharaoh relented to Moses’ demands?
Isn’t Farrakhan warning America in the same way Moses warned the Biblical Egyptians? It seems to me that Farrakhan is more reflective of the sentiments of Moses than the Congress of the U.S. Government is. Therefore, maybe the pope is looking at the wrong entity for the justice he’s advocating. Maybe he needs to see how God works His spirit through Farrakhan and not through the Congress. Stay tuned—we may be very surprised.