Born in Sin, Redeemed through Islam
-The Life of Ali Muhammad
The only thing that Ali Muhammad, born Martin Jackson of Chicago, would ever say about his childhood was Born in Sin, Redeemed through Islam. As far as can be determined, Martha Jackson was a black prostitute who became pregnant as a result of a tryst with one of her clients, an unnamed white man. Although Martha was a poor woman, almost completely on her own, she chose to have the child and bring him up as her son. Martin Jackson was born in 1973, the first and last child Martha ever had. She would die in 1988, strangled by a homicidal customer.
Martin had a tough upbringing by any standards. Martha was not the best mother in the world and her son found himself confronted by the twin stigma of being a prostitute’s son and having mixed blood. Both white and black folk looked down on him for being mixed; unsurprisingly, Martin found himself alone for much of the time. The one major exception to this rule was Mrs Langston, the librarian who ran the community library near his mother’s apartment. Mrs Langston was of mixed race herself and wound up serving as a substitute mother to the young boy, at least to some degree. He later claimed that he learned more from a library, run by a good librarian, than he ever did at school. Given the general condition of the public schooling in Chicago at the time, this was probably correct.
At sixteen, with his mother dead and the police unable and unwilling to hunt for her killer, Martin headed to the nearest recruiting office and signed up with the United States Marine Corps. He was promptly shipped to Camp Pendleton, where – in his own words – the Drill Instructors beat the shit out of him until he learned some discipline. Marine records note that he made a shaky start, but learned rapidly and well. He also received a special commendation for saving the life of one of his fellow recruits.
Martin became a full-fledged Marine just in time for the Gulf War, where he and his unit were based in Saudi Arabia while waiting for the order to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi occupation force. There, Martin was one of the many American soldiers who listened to Saudi-funded lectures on Islam – and caught glimpses of the true nature of Saudi society. No stranger to hypocrisy, he saw through the Saudi version of Islam to become fascinated with the real history of Muhammad’s religion. Muhammad wasn't perfect, something that captivated him. And Islam offered a brotherhood that would wipe away the stain of being mixed blood in a world where such things mattered, for no logical reason.
Some of his later supporters would claim that Martin liberated Kuwait single-handedly, a claim that always irritated him. In fact, as his autobiography points out, he was part of the advance on Kuwait City as just another Jarhead. He would later condemn George HW Bush’s failure to support the uprisings against Saddam, but such thoughts were far from his mind as he fought his war and, upon his return to the States, converted to Islam. Ali (as he came to be called after that point) retired from the Marines the following year.
His first experiences with the Black Muslims and the Arab Lobby were unpromising. The Black Muslims were a racist organisation, according to him, and the Arab Lobby – and the committees it sponsored – seemed more inclined to kowtow to the Arabs than anything more useful. Ali found himself meeting other American Muslims with similar ideas and headaches and eventually found himself writing articles on the true nature of Islam, the perversions practiced by the ‘Islamic’ states in the Middle East and how America could help to cure Islam by supporting a form of Islam that harked back to the early days of the Prophet. This was originally termed ‘American Islam,’ but Ali always objected to the name and eventually prevailed to have it called ‘Individual Islam.’ As he remarked in one of his first speeches:
“The decision to revert to Islam is a highly personal one, between a Muslim and God. To attempt to force this decision on anyone is to introduce disharmony and unbelief into the Islamic society.”
The society Ali helped to found and shape – the American League of Islam (no one noticed what the initials spelt until it was too late) – set itself three principle goals. First, ALI would provide information, advice and support to American reverts who wished to convert to Islam and/or learn more about the religion. Second, ALI would provide very limited support to poorer Muslims who required assistance, mainly through micro-loans and credit. Third, ALI would work to counter corrupted Muslims who were attempting to seduce American-born Muslims into betraying the United States. ALI passed on a considerable amount of information to the FBI on extremist preachers, honour killings and organisations that accepted funding from overseas. Sadly, the era of political correctness was in full swing and the FBI largely ignored the reports.
By 2000, ALI was a surprisingly large organisation, with chapters in almost all major American cities. (This was all the more surprising as it relied on donations from its members and flatly refused to take any money from overseas.) It had little success in converting those who were first-generation immigrants to America, but it had a considerable number of second-generation citizens as well as reverts under its banner. Unsurprisingly, ALI was hated by the more fundamentalist Islamic movements, including the Taliban and various Saudi-funded societies. At least one assassination attempt was later traced back to Al Qaida. It was 9/11, however, that really thrust the organisation into public eye.
Ali had been born and bred in America and considered himself a loyal citizen, as well as a practicing Muslim. As soon as Bin Laden’s involvement in the attack was confirmed, Ali held an emergency meeting of ALI and publically declared Jihad against Al Qaida. This was of questionable legality, as Islamic Law insisted that Jihad could only be declared by scholars after careful consideration, but Ali chose to press ahead. (Bin Laden had also declared Jihad under similar circumstances.) As Ali put it in his speech, 9/11 was an attack on civilisation itself. His attacks were given extra weight by his uncompromising denunciations of both the Taliban and the House of Saud. It is quite likely that anti-Saudi feeling was boosted by Ali’s persistent attacks on the country and its rulers.
The Bush Administration was looking for Muslim allies and found Ali to be a gift from God, although some of them had decidedly mixed feelings. Ali was scathing on how political correctness had allowed extremism to get a grip in American cities, or how many politicians had allowed themselves to be bought off by the Arab Lobby. Regardless, Ali was able to assist the early war effort by convincing a number of second-generation refugees from Afghanistan to work with the special operations forces in Afghanistan as they went after Bin Laden and the Taliban. Unfortunately, the mastermind behind Al Qaida was able to slip into Pakistan and vanish, for the moment.
Ali’s private war against Saudi-funded PR organisations, as he called them, was surprisingly effective. Naming and shaming extremist preachers actually worked, particularly when it forced the FBI to actually take action. It helped that ALI provided an alternative to extremist groups for young Muslims, as well as reverts. Ali never hid the fact that he offered a harder path, one where Muslims were called upon to think for themselves, but it didn't hurt.
His most important contribution to the war against radical Islam came in 2002, when President Bush asked him to serve on a secret committee that was planning the invasion of Iraq. Ali was one of the more enthusiastic members of the group, but as someone who had genuine experience in the Middle East, he was also more cautious. Removing Saddam would be a good deed in itself, he said to Bush, but it required some very careful planning to ensure that Saddam’s Iraq wasn't replaced by a hellhole that rivalled Beirut. Digging through his files, Ali was able to locate upwards of seven thousand Iraqi refugees who would be willing to go to Iraq to serve as interpreters and civil affairs officers. These men and women would not be proper soldiers, but help to facilitate the peacekeeping part of the occupation.
In response, Bush asked him to consider serving as the overall commander of the Iraqi Occupation, once American troops had reached Baghdad. Ali, according to his autobiography, hesitated. He was as committed to the occupation as everyone else, but he’d seen enough of the Bush command team to know that it was going to be a thankless task. However, after some hard bargaining, he accepted the task and set to work. Thankfully, he managed to find a number of officers in the Pentagon who had done an occupation plan, one that had been forgotten in the push for a rapid invasion of Iraq. This plan would serve as the framework for the early months of the occupation.
British and American troops entered Iraq in March 2003, accompanied by the small army of interpreters that Ali had provided. It took less than a month to reach Baghdad and occupy the city, crushing or capturing most of Saddam’s army along the war. The principle problem was caused by the irregular Iraqi soldiers, who had forced themselves on the population, but the interpreters were able to help root them out. Ali’s principle orders once the capital was occupied were to keep the peace, prevent looting and arrest anyone carrying a weapon, apart from allied soldiers. There was no major effort to disarm Iraqis, but forcing them to keep their weapons at home made it harder for the insurgents to fight the Americans.
Ali knew better than to immediately disband the Iraqi Army. Instead, he paid it and found jobs for it to do, well away from the cities. Iraqi troops, backed up by American personnel, secured the borders surrounding Iraq, capturing or killing a number of terrorists who attempted to slip into the country. In the meantime, new soldiers were trained from both the Shia and Kurd populations, using Marine tactics intended to hammer a sense of unit loyalty into their heads, rather than sectional loyalty.
Most importantly, Ali worked hard to cut through red tape – principally by ignoring it – and improve the lives of Iraqi citizens. Baghdad’s power infrastructure, badly weakened under Saddam, was rebuilt, followed rapidly by Basra and the other major cities. Ali found himself forced to waste time removing foreign aid workers who didn't really know what they were doing, or trying to steal funds from Iraq, but he’d largely managed to put together a good team. With American soldiers actually working with the local population, it was difficult for any insurgency to get off the ground.
President Bush was comfortably re-elected in 2004, partly because of the success in Iraq. This allowed Ali time to start the slow transfer of power from American occupiers to Iraqi citizens, carefully weeding out Iraqis who proved themselves unsuitable for power. (One of his less competent decisions, it was later felt, was pushing forward Iraqis who were of mixed blood, like himself.) The Federal Republic of Iraq came into existence in 2005 and assumed full independence in 2006. Ali was offered a chance to run for Iraqi President, but declined, pointing out that Iraq had to learn to stand on its own.
Having left Iraq, Ali took a holiday in America before being called back to politics by President Bush. With American resources (and a number of Iraqi soldiers) flowing into Afghanistan, the Taliban was retreating across the border into Pakistan, causing a significant political/military nightmare for the United States. The US needed Pakistan’s help, which limited the amount of pressure that could be brought to bear on Pakistan to deal with their own domestic problem. Ali served as President Bush’s personal representative to Pakistan and helped to convince the Pakistanis to do more, but he was privately unconvinced of the possibility of success. Pakistani society, he wrote to Bush, was not inclined to risk its existence by fighting for the Americans. Ali became a supporter of the covert war in Pakistan largely by default. Short of invading Pakistan, he saw no other alternative.
One appeared in 2007. Iraq’s rise to democracy and a surprising amount of internal peace had galvanised hopeless communities across the Middle East. Riots began in Egypt, Bahrain and even Saudi and Iran, all demanding change. The Saudis were in particular trouble; Iraqi oil was steadily coming online and as it replaced Saudi oil, the Saudis were having a financial crisis. They couldn't afford to pay their soldiers and police. Ali was instrumental in orchestrating the US response to what became known as the Arab Spring, eventually convincing President Bush to invade the oil-rich parts of Saudi Arabia, all populated by Shia Muslims. This was immensely popular in Iraq and Iraqi troops helped to secure and protect the new states. When Saudi society collapsed into chaos shortly afterwards, Ali wound up commanding an occupation force that captured Mecca and Medina, in the name of all Islam.
Ali’s name was put forward as a potential Presidential candidate by the DNC in late 2007, competing with Hilary Clinton and a young unknown called Barrack Obama. Ali was not, however, interested in running for President and helped to torpedo both Clinton and Obama, although for different reasons. He did attempt to convince Condi Rice to run for President and she eventually ran beside John McCain and became his VP when he won the election. McCain was less inclined to help Ali in his grand plan to restructure the Middle East, and drain the poison that had acuminated over decades, but he had to admit that it had been good for the American economy. Besides, who could say that Iraq hadn't been a success?