Muhammad Ali's honorary Bangladesh passport, from Muhammad Lutful Huq.

Date: 18 November 2016
Time: 18:30
Venue: Delfina Foundation
Tickets: Free. Booking now closed.

When Zindabad carries many meanings: On Muhammad Ali’s Bangladesh Passport 

In Black Star, Crescent Moon (University of Minnesota, 2012), Sohail Daulatzai charted post-1950s Black Internationalism as an intersecting history of Black Muslims, Black radicals, and the Muslim Third World. Daulatzai’s work builds upon Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination (Beacon Press, 2002), drawing together Muslim histories absent from that earlier work.

A series of conversations with Sohail Daulatzai and Adisa Banjoko in 2004 inspired Naeem Mohaiemen to research and write the essay Fear of a Muslim Planet: Islamic roots of hip-hop (Sound Unbound, MIT Press, 2006). Returning to Daulatzai’s work Naeem re-reads Reginald Massey’s documentary Muhammad Ali goes East (1978) through Daulatzai’s Black Star, Crescent Moon. Daulatzai, while praising Ali’s role as an ambassador for the Muslim International, he points out the way he went astray in later years: “Ali and the rest of the players in the film [When we were kings] are deafeningly silent on the political history of the U.S. involvement in Zaire/Congo.” Building on Daulatzai’s argument, Naeem wrote in Muhammad Ali, We Still Love You: Unsteady Dreams of a ‘Muslim International (The New Inquiry, June 2016) that Ali’s 1978 Bangladesh trip was similarly marked by silences and omissions.

This talk was initially presented within 34 Exercises of Freedom, curated by Paul B. Preciado, as part of documenta 14 Public Programs, Athens.


Since 2006, Naeem Mohaiemen has worked on The Young Man Was, a series of films and essays exploring the 1970s revolutionary left. The protagonists often display misrecognition, ending up as an “accidental trojan horse” carrying tragedy to the countries in question (from Japanese hijackers commandeering an airport for “solidarity,” to migrant labor pipelines transformed into PLO “volunteers”). In spite of the failures of state and extra-state attempts at socialism, Naeem’s reading of the potential of an international left is still, always, one of hope. As the text from Live True Life or Die Trying says, “a lover tries again, flower in hand.” Historian Afsan Chowdhury (whose diary inspired The Young Man Was project) bracketed the work of Naeem, Yasmine Saikia, Dina Siddiqi, Nayanika Mookherjee, and Bina D’Costa as a “second wave of history writing” about Asia. Naeem is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at Columbia University, and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow (film-video). ICA in London will screen the first three films in the Young Man Was series on 19 Nov20 Nov, and 23 Nov 2018.

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