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Black Muslims Respond to Arafat's Death
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, 75, died of unknown causes in Paris early on the morning of Nov. 11. His death is quickly capturing the attention of leaders across the globe.
Some remember Arafat for his continuous quest for peace within Israel, as well as his much-documented push to create an independent Palestinian state. But others remain less inspired about the legacy he has left, finding disfavor with his political strategies and even charging that he was corrupt.
But Akbar Muhammad, international representative for Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, says that Blacks should not let Arafat's critics cloud their opinions of him.
"We [Nation of Islam] have had many meetings with him. I feel that the Africans in the Diaspora, especially those in North America, need to make an assessment of Arafat not based on what we're hearing in the media of the West, but his relationship with Africa and his continuous reach for those who are struggling on the African continent as well as those who are off the African continent," he said in a phone interview with the AFRO.
For an example, Muhammad described how Arafat reached out to Andrew Young during his tenure as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"Yasser Arafat always felt that people, such as the Black Americans, would understand the struggle of the Palestinian people. Plus what a lot of people don't know that among the Palestinians, there's a tremendous population of Black Palestinians."
He also illustrated how Arafat developed admiration and strong relationships with African countries. Arafat was involved with the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity), even being conferred with honorary membership status. "He attended every meeting, every year until he was isolated in Ramallah," Muhammad said.
"His tenacity of will and struggle, and the man as a survivor should be respected in the close of his life. He started when he was 17 years old in this struggle, helping to smuggle weapons out of Israel to the people in Gaza, and at the close of his life, I feel strongly that it should not be the controversy over whether he was a bad man, he was this, he was that, he was corrupt.... He is a major player in the world," said Muhammad.
Meanwhile, a host of national and international officials, including President George Bush and Pope John Paul II, have responded to the death of the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
At the United Nations' Web site, a statement from a spokesman for Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the U.N., says he was "deeply moved" when he learned of Arafat's death and asserted that his quest for peace has never come into fruition, deeming such as "tragic."
"Now that he is gone, both Israelis and Palestinians, and friends of both peoples throughout the world, must make even greater efforts to bring about the peaceful realization of the Palestinian right to self-determination," he stated.
Yusuf Saleem, imam for the Masjid Muhammad in northwest Washington, hopes that Arafat's death will bring greater attention to the crisis in Israel.
"A lot of the articles highlight the unfortunate situation there in Palestine. A lot of light is on Iraq, Sudan in terms of the Middle East. We want to shed the light on all areas where injustice still prevails, and Muslims definitely feel the same in Palestine. Many Palestinians are under house arrest. You could say that Yasser Arafat was in that kind of predicament. So we're saddened by his passing, but we know nothing happens without the permission of God. But we're also saddened by the fact that we still have not established a Palestinian state for Palestinians with just rights. We really feel the world should be still alarmed until the situation is rectified."