The Military/Katrina Connection

In a recent column published in the local paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Salim Muwakkil, senior editor at In These Times magazine in Chicago and a former member of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, remarked that, “The Iraq War is changing the way blacks view the military. For decades, they saw military service as a route out of poverty and an escape hatch from discrimination. Not Now.”

Muwakkil noted that the number of blacks going into active duty and reserves in all the services declined from 51,500 in 2001 to 32,000 in 2006, a whopping 38% drop during the action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nearly 25% of Army enlistees five years ago were black. This figure dropped to 13% in 2006, almost exactly a reflection of the percentage of blacks in the general population. Muwakkil also cited a University of Maryland’s constituent-agency report that black Marine recruit-numbers fell from 21% in 1974 to 8% by 2006.

Muwakkil makes two strange statements that seem to contradict each other: “The sharp drop reflects blacks’ negative attitude toward President Bush,” and a few paragraphs later, “Although blacks had a disproportionate presence in the military, they have seldom been gung-ho for military action.” Translation: Subject of black recruitment is used at least partly to make a political statement against Bush, since the second thought effectively guts the first one. Muwakkil simply notes that blacks aren’t anxious to get shot…perfectly normal.

Muwakkil also mentions – and discounts – better economic/educational opportunities than before for blacks, claiming that a more plausible explanation for the military falloff is simply the high incarceration rates of young black males, i.e., they’re going to jail instead of into the Army. This is sad if true.

In a way, Muwakkil indicates black motivation to involve what the Army can do for the black instead of the reverse. This ties in with an article he wrote in August 2006, which he began with this paragraph: “The national movement to gain reparations for the descendents of enslaved Africans was a fast-rolling bandwagon until slowed by events of 9/11. Well, it’s accelerating again.” Incredibly, he claimed the reason to be Hurricane Katrina, that “blew the cover off this nation’s well-camouflaged race/class divide.”

So, according to Muwakkil, while the war has slowed black recruitment, Katrina has whipped up substitute compensation in another way – outright financial grants to those who happen to be black, young or old. Muwakkil said a year ago, “As I see it, the question of reparations for racial slavery and Jim Crow apartheid is one of the nation’s most substantive issues.”

Noting that “Several lawsuits are pending and others are anticipated against insurers, railroad corporations and banks seeking reparations for the profits of slavery,” Muwakkil claimed that, “Reparations conventions and forums are occurring across the nation.” Merely contemplating the voluminous entanglements, legal and otherwise, that would accrue to the subject of reparations is mind-boggling. However, simply watching these proceedings on C-Span proves the point.

There’s no doubt that discrimination has played a part in the problems blacks face. However, since at least the 60s, everything from school/student-quotas to affirmative action (often eliminating opportunities for whites) to special considerations in college admissions to myriads of types of welfare have been available to blacks. The nation has bent over backwards to redress grievances, real or imagined, so what would cash handouts do, particularly in view of what happened to the cash handouts thrown all over the place – indiscriminately, it seems – in the aftermath of Katrina?

Perhaps Muwakkil sells his people short. Forty percent of former New Orleans residents have not returned and most likely never will…not to a city in which a drenching rain can produce flooding in the streets and where unpredictable levees/pumps cannot and never will completely protect a city six-eight feet below sea level…and still sinking.

Since the 50s (Brown vs. Board of Ed.), the black community, rather than realizing societal/economic gains while advantageous government efforts on all levels have been employed, has deteriorated to the point that single-mom households are the norm, an absolute guarantee of poverty or near-poverty conditions. In 1960, the rate of illegitimacy among blacks was 23.6% of births, meaning that 75% of black families could be assumed to be headed by a man and wife. Now, that rate of illegitimacy is 70%, probably much higher in places like New Orleans, the logical conclusion being that currently only 30% of black families are headed by both parents. Therein lies the explanation, and no affirmative action in the world can correct the problem.

From the Koran (definitions): “A slave who is granted permission from his master may be a Muwakkil or Wakeel.” According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Salim is “peaceful, a place near AEnon (q.v.), on the west of Jordan, where John baptized (John 3:23).” Perhaps this furnishes a window on the mind of Salim Muwakkil, who was born Alonzo Canady, Jr. in 1947 and officially changed his name in 1975. Perhaps not. Whether as a measure of military participation or one of societal arrangements, the proof is in the pudding, and African Americans must get their house in order, not expect largesse (redistribution of tax monies) to which they have no claim.