On November 19, Osama Bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appeared in a propaganda video denouncing President-elect Barack Obama. While images of Malcolm X kneeling in prayer flashed onscreen, Zawahiri addressed Obama directly: “You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him).” Zawahiri heaped praise on Malcolm X for several minutes, hailing his promotion of the “worldwide revolution against the Western power structure.” Then he delivered the cruelest insult he could muster to Obama: “And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning ‘House Negroes’ are confirmed.”
The day after the release of Zawahiri’s tape, I interviewed Malaak Shabazz, the youngest daughter of Malcolm X. Malaak never knew her father. When a Malcolm X was gunned him down in the Audobon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, Malaak was still in her mother’s womb. Since the accidental burning death of her mother, Betty Shabazz, in 1997, 43-year-old Malaak has come into her own, emerging as a torchbearer of her parents’ legacy.
“Looking at the Obamas, it’s like my father and my mother 43 years later,” Malcolm X’s daughter said.
Together with her sisters—she has five of them—and Dowoti Desir, the ex-daughter-in-law of actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Malaak oversees the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, a museum that was constructed at the site of Malcolm X’s assassination. In keeping with her father’s late-in-life internationalism, Malaak works at the United Nations, focusing on aid to women and children in developing nations. “I’m basically a global community organizer,” she said.
Malaak had not seen the Zawahiri tape by the time I called her. When I explained what Zawahiri said, she reacted angrily, immediately comparing the Al Qaeda figure to Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam chieftain who was an avowed enemy of her father and has admitted he “may have been complicit” in inciting his murder. Malaak has nothing but praise for Barack Obama. She is a self-proclaimed “diehard Obama supporter” who sees the incoming first couple as a vision of “my mother and father 43 years later.
MB: What is your reaction to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s appropriation of your father’s legacy to attack Barack Obama as a “House Negro?”
MS: I ignore him like I ignore Farrakhan. Next question. Next. There’s other issues we need to deal with. We need to focus energy on what is central to what we’re doing, not that negative shit.
MB: What is your opinion of Barack Obama?
MS: When I heard him speak at the DNC [in 2004] I started supporting him. Then I endorsed him on the anniversary of my father’s assassination this year. So I am a diehard Obama supporter.
MS: Looking at the Obamas, it’s like my father and my mother 43 years later. It was the same old rock star thing, and I think Barack is continuing what my father did with true consciousness, true ability, and a global view. Michelle and Barack epitomize what my father set the stage for—they epitomize global community organizing. I’m a global child, I was raised a global child, and he’s a global child. You know, I look at Barack, he’s slim like my father, and Michelle’s full figured like my mother. And I just love it.
MB: If you father were alive today, do you think he would be as supportive as you are of Barack Obama, a mainstream Democrat?
MS: Well, we’re Democrats. So, of course he would. Absolutely. He and Michelle, in my heart, this is my personal feeling, epitomize what my mother and my father were. They are community organizers on a global level.
MB: Do you think your father would have been surprised by the level of white support for a black candidate like Obama, especially in the South?
MS: No, not at all. He had equivalent support as well.
MB: He had equivalent support from white people?
MS: Yeah. Not all white people are bad. He was not a racist, unlike what the white racist media would say. He had a global outlook just like Barack and Michelle.
MB: Would he have ever been able to imagine that at some point in the not-too-distant future white voters would propel a black candidate into the White House?
MS: It’s not about white people; it’s about human beings. My father wasn’t a militant racist. He was a human rights activist—he was about human beings, so let’s just get away from going way back then.
MB: Do you think Barack Obama has been influenced in any way by your father?
MS: We’re all African-American, so we’re all influenced by each other.
MB: I attended Georgetown Day School in Washington DC. It’s a private school where many prominent Washington people send their children, so not surprisingly, it’s at the top of the list for the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia. I wonder what advice you, as the daughter of an internationally famous political icon, would offer Sasha and Malia as they enter what will essentially be a new life.
MS: To me, it’s normal. We summered in Vermont, and me and my sister Ilyasah went to one of the top ten schools in the country [the Hackley School]. I think Malcolm Forbes got kicked out of our school and [Ethiopian Emperor] Hallie Selassie’s grandkids went there, too. Because of security reasons you have to go to those schools. We had a privileged life, fine, but also very secure. So I think it’s great where the Obama daughters are going to school. We went through the same thing so I think they’re gonna have a lot of fun. I’m telling you, they’re gonna have a hootenanny.
Max Blumenthal is a senior writer for The Daily Beast and writing fellow at The Nation Institute, whose book, Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books), is forthcoming in Spring 2009. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.