Lessons from the Black Panther Party Applied to the Islamic State

by aupara123 on April 11, 2016 - 2:29pm

The self-proclaimed Islamic State has flourished with the radicalization of its militants in Iraq and Syria, as well as in many countries worldwide. As indicated in my post “Europe Awakens to the Islamic State’s Ambitions and Proficiencies”, the Islamic State has successfully implemented a sophisticated network in Europe, despite the reduction of 40% of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria. Radical organizations have come and gone. History can guide us in identifying potential solutions on how to address the threat of the Islamic State. A study of the Black Panthers Party, the short-lived revolutionary black American nationalist organization that originated in the 1960’s, offers interesting views as to the factors that led to its decline. Michael O. West has published on December 1, 2013 a review of the book “Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party” by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. and published by Black Scholar. It is through this review that solutions will be sought.
The Black Panther Party (BPP), founded in California in late 1966, armed its militants in order to patrol the neighborhoods, such to fight against police brutality towards the black population. The BPP militants, similarly to the militants of the Islamic State, were seen as a security threat. The BPP movement had at its root “black anti-imperialism”, as it considered the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, issued in 1964 and 1965, as having limited effects in its purpose of anti-discrimination.
The movement shifted rapidly at its inception from a local to a national movement, even having international extensions in Algeria. The BPP started losing momentum within two years and was back to a local movement by 1972, with a formal closure by 1982. In his review, Michael O. West states that the book deviates from the two factors that are generally privileged in explaining the decline of the BPP: state repression and internal dissension. Bloom and Martin rather indicate that the BPP thrived on repression, as the party’s greatest growth coincided with the year of greatest repression. The book stipulates that it is rather state neutralization through the “state cooptation thesis” that led to the BPP’s downfall.
Bloom and Martin state that U.S. President Nixon’s promotion of black capitalism was the neutralizing agent to the movement. Concrete actions were taken to increase black elected officials. The Affirmative Action helped enhance the access to employment and education for black people. Black studies in universities had become an accepted reality. These changes reduced the BPP’s influence in the United States. Furthermore, the U.S. government also targeted, using diplomatic negotiations, countries that had been supportive of the BPP, notably Cuba, Algeria and China. These actions crippled the BPP’s overseas network. Bloom and Martin state that these actions, identified as the state cooptation thesis, are the primary reasons that led to the demise of the Black Panthers Party. The review by West does highlight his disagreement on certain aspects of the book, notably in having dismissed the long-term effects of repression that had been severe and targeted directly at the BPP. Nevertheless, the above information may bring insights as how to deal with the threat of the Islamic State.
The Islamic State, as the BPP, appears to thrive on repression, as it gives justification to the cause. Fear has led to the discrimination and repression of Muslims. Due to fear and ignorance, there is a tendency by many to generalize that Muslims are either terrorists or agree with the barbaric actions taken by the Islamic State. As a potential solution, ideas from the state cooptation thesis could be applied. Our world is multicultural – instead of repressing Muslims, let’s respect them and involve them in our day-to-day lives. As they are part of our society, accept their mosques and practice of Islam; provide them advancement opportunities in the public and private sectors; give them positive air-time in commercials and movies where they are not limited to being the bad guys. It is important to change the image currently portrayed of them. In short, we need to respect them. This way, they will feel welcomed, be integrated, and limit the justifications for radicalization. This way, it will help diminish the fuel of the Islamic State and the movement will die down, similarly to the Black Panthers. It is not to say that targeted repression or self-defence is not required, as was done for the BPP, to protect land and populations against the Islamic State’s brutal actions.
To conclude, the Islamic State is a threat which generates fear in populations worldwide. The Black Panther Party, also a radical armed movement in the U.S., was short-lived due to a major contributor in what the book Black Against Empire called the “state cooptation thesis”, where positive changes in the acceptance and integration of the black community into the daily lives of white Americans has led to the demise of the BPP. Some of these concepts could be applied to address the threat of the Islamic State. In that sense, the acceptance, integration and respect of Muslims as part of society would go a long way in diminishing the radicalization of people towards becoming militants of the Islamic States, and thus put an end to the threat.