Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Open Letter to Minister of Oil, Republic of Iraq, Review: Pursuit of Happyness

Open Letter to Dr. Hussein Shahristani, Minister of Oil, Republic of Iraq

Marvin X

Dear Dr. Hussein Shahristani:


As-Salaam-Alaikum, my brother. It has been forty years since we last met at your apartment in Toronto, Canada, 1967. You may recall that I was resisting the Vietnam War and you were a student at the University of Toronto. I saw that you went on to become a nuclear scientist but was persecuted under Saddam Hussein because you refused to work on his "Islamic" bomb. Al Hamdulilah, you survived. I saw your name on the list of persons for the first prime minister of American occupied Iraq. I noticed you refused this most dangerous job. I prayed for your safety. It was good to know you are a servant of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. I have watched you advance from leader of the assembly to minister of oil.

Oil is the reason I am writing you, other than to let you know my prayers are with you and I recall fondly how you taught me my prayers in Arabic and our conversations on Islam.
I recall how you related that you wanted a Nation of Islam, thus you agreed with the vision of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Clearly, your nation shall become a nation of Islam. It appears to me southern Iraq is a de facto Islamic nation. Correct me if I am wrong.

But back to oil. As minister of oil, I would like you to consider assisting North American Africans in the United States of America who recently experienced hurricane Katrina, only to discover they were left at the mercy of themselves, with little assistance from the local, state and federal government. Some were too poor to buy gasoline to leave town for safer ground. Some were shot trying to reach higher ground by KKK policemen.

As you know, President Chavez of Venezuela has assisted many poor and minority communities in America and throughout the Americas. He has given them discounted gasoline and oil. Perhaps, you can assist us as well. First, we need to establish a community strategic reserve through the North American African community, just in case of emergency since we know we cannot depend on FEMA, Homeland Security or any government agency. Thus, we see the need to establish our own reserve in each community with storage tanks and tanker trucks equipped with nozzles for roadside emergency service.

Brother, see if you can help us so we are not dependent on this sham government.

Finally, I would like you to consider a speaking tour of Black America to explain to us your perspective on the situation in your nation. It is truly painful for me to hear about the daily violence in Iraq. But it is equally as painful to know about the daily violence in our neighborhoods, the grieving mothers, fathers, siblings, relatives and friends.

We grieve for the Iraqi people and the innocent American soldiers. Please consider a brief tour of the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York, also Detroit and Chicago. We want to hear from you. I know you are in the midst of war, but perhaps you can slip away for a few days. Let me hear from you soon.


Marvin X (El Muhajir)
P.O. Box 1317
Paradise CA 95965

The Pursuit of Happyness

Starring Will Smith

Marvin X

Will Smith has processed himself into a great actor, from rapper to Fresh Prince, to Ali and other characters. But Pursuit of Happyness lacked the full drama of being down and out in the most beautiful city in the world, San Francisco. The film was a Miller Lite version of homelessness, and the narrow focus on the main character excluded the high drama of homelessness in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, that poverty area two blocks from the famous Cable Car line at Market and Powell, and a few blocks from the Shopping area for the rich, Union Square. The contrast is so overwhelming we wonder how could the filmmaker fail to show us this. It is totally shocking to tourists who often make the wrong turn coming out of their hotel room and find themselves in the Tenderloin, the multiracial ghetto inhabited by Blacks, Latinos, Asians and poor whites, with a great amount of the population addicted to drugs. All we see of the homeless are them standing in line at Glide Church, administered by Rev. Cecil Williams, the angel of San Francisco’s homeless, addicted and afflicted, the male version of Mother Theresa. Cecil appears in the film as himself; after all, no one can perform his role except him. The most dramatic moment is this scene outside Glide when Rev. Williams allows the main character and his son to get in line for a room. But it is powerful because we see the army of the homeless and the hungry in America. This moment is communal and we see the individual as part of a nation of homeless. France has called homelessness a matter of national security. France is calling for its citizens guaranteed housing. America can do likewise. There is absolutely no excuse for homelessness and hunger in America, the richest nation in the world.

I lived the life of a homeless drug addict in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. On one level, it was good to see the main character was not drug addicted. But it would have added so much more drama. Maybe his little frustrated wife should have been on drugs, because she has no real motivation to depart for New York, leaving her son behind for a two dollar job. Her character was weak and should have been explored, or at least included a violent departing scene. Since Will Smith used his son, why not have Jada as his wife, surely they could have created more drama, including a love scene that was absent in the film.

After I spent a decade in the Tenderloin (and God only knows how I made it out alive—thank you God Allah) as a Crack addict, I knew many mothers and fathers who abandoned their children for the drug life. Yesterday, a young lady at my outdoor classroom, downtown Oakland, told me she became homeless in San Francisco because her mother was doing Crack and she had to escape, so she lived in the street. The young lady, now 19, said she grew up in foster care.

A few weeks ago, a young brother recently released from prison, asked me about his mother whom he hasn’t seen since he was a baby.—she has been lost in the Tenderloin for years, and I have seen her from time to time, so I told the young man, also a product of foster care, now the California Department of Corrections, to go stand at 6th and Market and eventually he will see his mother, passing by on a mission impossible. I had told my nephew to do the same to find his father, lost and turned out in the TL.
This is some of the pain the film lacked.

It showed the grand beauty of San Francisco, but again, it should not have neglected the contrasting ugliness. There was a scene with Chris and his son at the East bay bus terminal, where they spent the night along with other homeless, although we don’t see the others in the film. I spent many nights on those benches at the East bay terminal; it was difficult to find bench space in those days, around the same time as the film, early 1980s.

Ok, this is one man’s story, the struggle of an individual to get ovah in America, a slave narrative. Slavery was communal, not individual, so we need to know about all those others who are still there, who didn’t make it out. Can they get out? I got out. Chris got out, so it takes discipline as he demonstrated. You got to be bout it bout it. For Chris it was one step forward two back, but he fought all the way, trying to be husband, father, and worker in a racist society. Apparently he was successful.

Marvin X’s latest collection of essays is Beyond Religion, Toward Spirituality, Black Bird Press, 2006. ISBN: 0-9649672-9-4. His book is available in Oakland at De Lauer’s books, 14th and Broadway, and Your Black Muslim Bakery, San Pablo at Stanford. Otherwise send $19.95 to Black Bird Press, P.O. Box 1317, Paradise CA 95967.
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