Malcolm X at the Oxford Union debate.
The following passage is excerpted from Malcolm X’s Oxford Union Debate speech delivered December 3, 1964. Here he discusses the role of Western media in shaping narratives –defining who the “good” guys are and who the “bad guys” are. He focused on the Congo during on part of his presentation and explained how Western media had polished the image of Moise Tshombe whom he called a “murderer’ for his role in the brutal killing of Patrice Lumumba on January 17, 1961. The presentation remains timeless, more so today when we see how Western media are framing another narrative — “election winners” and “election losers”– in the Congo. Malcolm could see even then the dangers of Congo having its story told by Belgium and its allies Britain, France and the United States. Malcolm himself was assassinated on February 21, 1965 just two months and a few weeks after his speech; he did not live to see the extent of the destruction of the Congo by the C.I.A agent Mobutu over a 37-year period. There’s much wisdom in Malcolm’s words. In this 21st century the Congolese must tell their own story. Today marks the 58-year anniversary of Lumumba’s murder.
A good example is the Congo. When the people who are in power want to use—again, create an image to justify something that’s bad, they use the press, and they’ll use the press to create a humanitarian image for a devil, or a devil image for a humanitarian.
They’ll take a person who’s the victim of the crime and make it appear he’s the criminal, and they’ll take the criminal and make it appear that he’s the victim of the crime. And the Congo situation is one of the best examples that I can cite right now to point this out. The Congo situation is a nasty example of how a country, because it is in power, can take its press and make the world accept something that’s absolutely criminal.
They take American-trained—they take pilots that they say are American-trained—and this automatically lends respectability to them, and then they will call them anti-Castro Cubans. And that’s supposed to add to their respectability and eliminate the fact that they’re dropping bombs on villages where they have no defense whatsoever against such planes, blowing to bits Black women—Congolese women, Congolese children, Congolese babies.
This is extremism. But it is never referred to as extremism, because it is endorsed by the West, it’s financed by America, it’s made respectable by America, and that kind of extremism is never labeled as extremism. Because it’s not extremism in defense of liberty. And if it is extremism in defense of liberty, as this talk has just pointed out, it’s extremism in defense of liberty for the wrong type of people.
I’m not advocating that kind of extremism. That’s cold-blooded murder. But the press is used to make that cold-blooded murder appear as an act of humanitarianism.
They take it one step further and get a man named Tshombe, who is a murderer. They refer to him as the premier or the prime minister of the Congo to lend respectability to him. He’s actually the murderer of the rightful prime minister of the Congo. They never mention that this man—I’m not for extremism in defense of that kind of liberty or that kind of activity. They take this man, who’s a murderer. The world recognizes him as a murderer. But they make him the prime minister. He becomes a paid murderer, a paid killer, who is propped up by American dollars.
And to show the degree to which he is a paid killer, the first thing he does is go to South Africa and hire more killers and bring them into the Congo. They give them the glorious name of mercenary, which means a hired killer; not someone that’s killing for some kind of patriotism, or some kind of ideal, but a man who is a paid killer, a hired killer. And one of the leaders of them is right from this country here. And he’s glorified as a soldier of fortune, when he’s shooting down little Black women and Black babies and Black children.
I’m not for that kind of extremism. I’m for the kind of extremism that those who are being destroyed by those bombs and destroyed by those hired killers are able to put forth to thwart it. They will risk their lives at any cost. They will sacrifice their lives at any cost against that kind of criminal activity.
I’m for the kind of extremism that the freedom fighters in the Stanleyville regime are able to display against these hired killers, who are actually using some of my tax dollars, that I have to pay up in the United States, to finance that operation over there. We’re not for that kind of extremism.
And again, I think you must point out that the real criminal there is the—or rather one of the –one of those who are very much involved, as accessories to the crime, is the press. Not so much your press, but the American press, which has tricked your press into repeating what they have invented.
But I was reading in one of the English papers this morning, I think it’s a paper called the [Daily] Express. And it gave a very clear account of the type of criminal activity that has been carried on by the mercenaries that are being paid by United States tax dollars. And it showed where they were killing Congolese, whether they were from the Central government or the Stanleyville government. It didn’t make any difference to them, they just killed them.
They had it fixed where those who had been processed had to wear a white bandage around their head. And any Congolese that they saw without that white bandage, they killed him. This is clearly pointed out in the English papers. If they had printed it last week, there would have been an outcry, and no one would have allowed the Belgians and the United States, and the others who are in cahoots with each other, to carry on the criminal activity that they did in the Congo, which I doubt anybody in the world, not even here at Oxford, will accept.