By DeWayne Wickham
So, Ayman al-Zawahiri wants to “play the dozens.”
That’s what it sounds like to me from his recorded response to Barack Obama’s election victory. Why else would Osama bin Laden’s mouthpiece call the president-elect a “house Negro.”
Playing the dozens is a game I’m sure Obama, a former community organizer, knows well. It’s a public exchange of insults between black youths that often takes place in this nation’s inner cities. More than anything else, playing the dozens is a war of words – ugly words. Calling someone a “house Negro” is to accuse them of being servile to whites.
In his attack on Obama, al-Zawahiri draws his invective from a 1963 speech in which Malcolm X described the conflicting roles of field slaves and those who worked in their master’s house.
“The house Negroes – they lived in the house with master, they dressed pretty good, they ate good 'cause they ate his food – what he left. They lived in the attic or the basement, but still they lived near the master; and they loved their master more than the master loved himself…Just as the slave master of that day used Tom, the house Negro, to keep the field Negroes in check, the same old slave master today has Negroes who are nothing but modern Uncle Toms, 20th century Uncle Toms, to keep you and me in check, keep us under control, keep us passive and peaceful and nonviolent,” Malcolm X said.
Al-Zawahiri believes this house Negro description fits Obama.
I think he’s spent too much time in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan hiding from American troops. Far from a house Negro, Obama is the master of the White House he will soon move into. In less than two months he’ll be this nation’s commander-in-chief.
People who play the dozens battle for respect. Not needing the deference of al-Zawahiri and bin Laden, Obama chose not to respond to this verbal attack. And in a way that might be an even bigger putdown. But during a recent interview on “60 Minutes,” Obama made it clear he has bin Laden – the al-Qaida leader who ordered the September 11 terrorist attacks – in his crosshairs.
“I think it is a top priority for us to stamp out al-Qaida once and for all. And I think capturing or killing bin Laden is a critical aspect of stamping out al-Qaida,” said the President-elect. “He is not just a symbol, he’s also the operational leader of an organization that is planning attacks against US targets.”
The verbal shot Al-Zawahiri took at Obama appears to have been intended to rally opposition to him among Muslims, who hold in high esteem Malcolm X, a one-time member of the Nation of Islam who near the end of his life changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and practiced a more traditional form of Islam.
In his message, Al-Zawahiri condemned Obama for wearing a Jewish skullcap during a July visit to Israel. But that’s the kind of religious demonization that Malcolm X rejected after his conversion. “I believe in one God…And that that God taught all of his prophets the same religion, so there is no argument about who was greater or who was better: Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, or some of the others. All of them were prophets who came from one God,” he said in a Rochester, N.Y. speech five days before his assassination, on Feb. 16, 1965.
“They had one doctrine, and that doctrine was designed to give clarification of humanity, so that all of humanity would see that it was one and have some kind of brotherhood…I believe in that,” he said. “I believe in the brotherhood of man.”
And so does Barack Obama, whose great political success would surely delight – not enrage – Malcolm X.