Dot’s Reading Room: Jan. 11

January 11, 2024

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in Bedford, it’s worthwhile to look back on some of Rev. Dr. King’s more controversial stances.

He spoke out against the Vietnam War, urging a ceasefire. It took courage for him to take a stand for peace during the civil rights movement, supported by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was at the same time urging more military involvement in Vietnam. Rev. Dr King found it hard to balance these two competing stands. 

In an article posted on The Conversation, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Moral Stance Against the Vietnam War Offers Lessons on How to Fight for Peace in the Middle East,” sociology professor Hajar Yazdiha writes:

“Since the onset of Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza and the West Bank after the attack by Hamas in Israel on Oct. 7, debates have arisen among historians and media pundits about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stance on Israel and its conflicts with Palestinians. Some claim King was a fierce Zionist and point to his speech on Mar. 25, 1968, before the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly [in which he said], ‘Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.’

“Others, like American-Israeli scholar Martin Kramer, have pointed to King’s views on Palestinian rights to their homeland. During a 1967 interview with ABC News, shortly after Israel launched the Six-Day War against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and seized control of land in Gaza and the West Bank, King said that ‘Israel should return Palestinian lands.’”

Hajar Yazdiha, an Assistant Professor of Sociology, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is a scholar who researches social movements, racial politics, and democracy. She believes there is a larger story beyond King’s stance on Israel and Palestinians. That story is on King’s views of war – and his courage to stand for peace. This is the story of the anti-war King who understood that violence begets violence and that the political courage to speak for peace is essential to democracy.

Read more of her thoughts here, as posted in “The Conversation” on Jan. 10.

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