Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Devon Dick | Muhammad Ali More Than a Boxer

Published:Thursday | June 9, 2016 | 6:00 AM

The death of Muhammad Ali, three-time heavyweight champion, marks the passing of a fighter extraordinaire. He was defiant in converting from Christianity to the Nation of Islam and equally defiant that he would not be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War of the 1960s.

The United States (US) is a militaristic society which prides itself on being a military might and will engage in pre-emptive strikes. Being a war hero enhances one's reputation for political office. Some church services glorify success at wars and every American has the constitutional right to bear arms. Therefore, Ali was going against conventional wisdom when he refused to go to Vietnam. No wonder he was tried as a traitor.

It is paradoxical that a few days before Ali's death, US President Barack Obama, a Christian, visited Vietnam and one of the first things he did to restore diplomatic relations between the US and Vietnam was to lift the arms embargo, thereby allowing US companies to sell the government of Vietnam weapons of war. Vietnam, a communist country, can now be perceived as a friend to be armed for war against a perceived threat, communist China. War knows no ideology.

 

REASSESSING WAR

 

In tribute to Ali, we need to reassess the engagement in war, and war should be a last resort and under specific conditions. Most wars are unjustified, but, unfortunately, this is realised only after the war. War makes enemies of fellow human beings who are mere pawns for egoistic politicians who perceived themselves as kings of the world. War disfigures the value of human life. This is viewed as collateral damage. Soldiers kill people as if in a movie.

In warfare, there are no win-win situations, but mainly losers. The survivors, after participating on the battlefield, are usually plagued with serious psychological issues. And it has come to light that US veterans are not treated adequately. War, by its very nature, often reverses the rules of morality. Nearly all virtues are expelled and nearly all vices are acceptable. War hardly changes anything as the status quo remains but with the face of a different oppressor.

It is ironic that Ali was anti-war and was said to have thought that 'American Rugby' was too violent, but he was involved a violent sport called boxing. Boxing needs further reform based on the damaged done to Ali and others. Championship fights have moved from 15 to 12 rounds. Further protection is needed, such as allowing professional boxers to wear headgear like amateurs, and stopping a fight after one of the fighters has been legitimately knocked down twice. Ali's embrace of all aspects of boxing, including its disreputable side, shows that in spite of his name change, he had feet of clay.

 

FAR-REACHING IMPLICATIONS

 

However, despite his feet of clay, his conversion to being a Muslim has far-reaching implications, two of which I will mention. It means that the stereotype of Muslims as being violent needs to be expunged based on Ali's statements and practice, and the Muslims who are warmongering need to take a page from Ali's book. Second, some Christians like to validate Christianity based on the conversion of famous people to Christianity. These persons are paraded to prove that the Christian God is superior to all others; containing more truth and light. Ali's conversion from Christianity to Muslim has disapproved such folly. The validity of Christianity is based on certain beliefs that Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive for evermore, thereby offering us the hope of life triumphing over death, good over evil and truth over falsehood.

Ali was more than a boxer, and we need to fight to end wars and have a better understanding of religion.

- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.