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Opinion: 50 Years of Freedom | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Scaffolding surrounds the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on a rainy day in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

We are facing an interesting paradox this week, namely the 50th Anniversary of one of the most famous and important speeches in modern history. I am referring here to the speech made by African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King before hundreds of thousands of people in Washington DC on August 28, 1963, in what has become known as the “I have a dream” speech.

This was the speech that inspired America’s leaders and people to continue on the path of affording rights and liberties to America’s black community. The paradox is in that this anniversary comes at a time when Barack Obama, the first president of African descent, is in the White House. This is a crowning achievement that follows many illustrious achievements and gains by America’s black community.

Many African-Americans have reached Congress and the Senate, while they have also succeeded in the world of business, presiding of multinational corporations. The positions of chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even the position of secretary of state, have been held by members of the African-American community.The same applied to sports, literature and the arts world in general, as well as TV talk shows.

However, despite all this, there are clear statistics that cannot be ignored, which strongly emphasize the existence of a massive gap–especially economically–between African-Americans and the rest of society. African-Americans still face greater risks of poverty, illiteracy, family breakdown and crime. Sociologists blame this on the failure of government development plans to include everybody equally.

I looked long and hard at the meaning of Martin Luther King’s great speech, which inspired the entire world. This speech inspired America to make great strides in the fight against racism, stimulating Washington to enact courageous laws which engendered freedom and equality. The US later enacted new laws forcing companies and institutions to provide all people with the same opportunities and rights, or face severe legal consequences.

If after all that, we believe that the US still has a “huge deficiency” which needs to be addressed, then what can be said about other societies and the ghastly racism which exists within them, particularly when they do not even acknowledge the existence of this phenomenon?

In short, these are broken societies who divide their members in a despicable and appalling way. These are societies which do not acknowledge the presence of a problem and deny it to the extent where government institutions become segregated; accepting only members of the same sect or ethnicity. In this case, these same institutes become nothing more than a tool for corruption and corrupting, in complete ignorance and mismanagement.

Racism is a malignant disease, and the failure to address it seriously leads to destructive social catastrophes. It is something the US decision-makers recognize very well. They are trying to address its damaging effects once again because the US will face the same challenges and dangers with the growing Latino community, which is now one of the fastest growing communities in the United States, and has a hugely important presence in the most important states, such as Florida, Texas, California and New York.

Fifty years have passed since this inspirational and striking speech, but there is a lesson which has yet to reach the world. It is not an issue of stopping racist chants in football grounds, but criminalizing racism in all its forms. Only then will societies be righteous and virtuous.