Martin Luther King Jr’s voice reverberates across the world even after 50 years of his assassination. The relevance and importance of his voice has increased manifold given the rise of ignorance and racism in countries that boasted of enlightenment and humanism. MLK, through his relentless struggle and piercing eloquence, reminded us of what binds humanity together and what leads to its annihilation.
At its core, Martin Luther King’s philosophy rests on the premise that man needs to give equal, if not more, importance to universal human values such as human dignity, equality and justice. Technological progress, though necessary, cannot provide solutions to problems that stem from flaws in human nature. He emphatically warned that our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power and that we have to catch up in spirit with the guided missiles.
Evil in the form of greed and arrogance manifests itself in even bigger and contagious problems such as racism and bigotry. If not cured with antibiotics of reason and spirituality, the evil within the human heart leads to wars and violence. Human suffering then becomes a natural phenomenon, with everyone focusing on their individual wellbeing. Instead of thinking of all of humanity as one extended family, and planet earth as a shared treasure, we tend to seek refuge in the restricted borders of nation states and turn to dogma for salvation during times of crises.
MLK rightly denounced the spectre of racial discrimination. Living under the dark shadow of prejudice, the black community virtually had no life to enjoy and nothing good to celebrate. They were denied all civil rights. Martin Luther King called for an end to racial segregation in public schools, passing a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of colour in seeking employment and protection from police brutality. All these demands were, in a sense, against the established order of the US; and fighting for them meant putting one’s life in the line of fire.
In his famous speech, Martin Luther King said “I have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Although fallible and having limited control over the mass movement he was associated with, MLK was undoubtedly a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through non-violent means. The world, particularly the US, needs another MLK to heal humanity, fractured by fanaticism on the one hand and Islamophobia on the other.
Presently, leaders like President Trump and Prime Minister Modi look for and exploit the insecurities and fears of their people as it ensures an easy path to power and glory. It was this same strategy that resulted in the two devastating world wars during the first half of the twentieth century in Europe.
As a tribute to Martin Luther King’s free spiritedness and persistent struggle against injustice, we need to carry on his legacy with full vigour and honesty to save our present and future generations. We should not behave as silent spectators to human suffering and passive recipients of tyranny.
We should remember MLK’s lasting words that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
The writer teaches at the Sarhad University.