Fake (?) MLK Quote and Its Inappropriateness in the Context of Osama bin Laden’s Death

ORIGINALLY POSTED ONLINE MAY 3, 2011.

The following quote has been and still is circulating rapidly on the Internet, even spreading beyond the English-language online communities.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

My initial reaction to this when I saw it in my friend’s Facebook update was, “yeah MLK might say that if he were alive, but would it be appropriate for him to say this in the context of Osama bin Laden’s death?”

As it turned out, after lots and lots of online research (too many bin Laden references!!), I found these webpages:

So, since I have been unable to find any source pointing to the realness of the quote being MLK’s, I have decided that the quote is fake.

But the quote being fake does not make the quote any less important or worth giving a thought to. I am sure that to many Americans, most of whom are celebrating this historical moment of the death of the terrorist of the century (so far), this quote allows them to think of what it means to treasure human life.

However, whether or not the quote is authentic, I do not believe that the quote is appropriate in this context.

First of all, would MLK consider Osama bin Laden “an enemy”? I think not. MLK was a prominent activist in the African American civil rights movement in which he and a massive number of Black people, who were disadvantaged and discriminated against severely, gradually gained rights and respect from the white-supremacist society. Who would have been his “enemy” in this historical context?

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend,” said MLK. The enemy in the context of the civil rights movement is the one that’s got the upper hand in violence. Then, it’s only natural to think that by “enemy” MLK would have meant “white supremacist.”

Now, when War on Terror is used as a rhetoric that backs up so many anti-Muslim campaigns and public hatred towards Middle-Eastern people in general, do you think that MLK would be happy to be quoted in today’s context where the quote is used to mean, basically, “well, bin Laden is our enemy but we don’t take pleasure in his death”? The question is, who is “we”? If those people who are quoting MLK think that the “we” includes MLK, then I would say they’re utterly wrong.

Indeed, MLK did say, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” But let’s call that first “violence” in the sentence V2, and the second V1. So it goes: returning V2 for V1 multiplies violence. And whose violence is V1 here? It seems to me that many people think that the 9/11 was V1. But that is absolutely bullshit.

There is no way of tracing back all the violent incidents throughout world history, but based on range, length, and effect, I would say V1 was the series of (physical, economic, and social) violence exerted on the lands of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, including the support of Israel, by the Western world and the United States in particular. The 9/11 is V2. What Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda comrades did was “returning violence for violence,” which, by the way, of course, as we have seen in the last decade, resulted in multiplication of violence (mostly done by the U.S. and its friends).

Even if the quote is MLK’s, I do not think that American citizens deserve to quote it. I believe that it is to be quoted by people in the Middle East in trying to end world-wide violence. I am not saying that Middle Eastern people are responsible for the world-wide violence and thus must stop it——in fact, it’s obvious that in MLK’s time, too, even though his anti-violence words were addressed to Black people, it wasn’t Black people but white supremacists that should have stopped attacking Blacks violently, and so, likewise, it is the Western world especially the U.S. that must stop its violence in the Middle East.

Quoting MLK (or pseudo-MLK) does not make a person quoting it any less responsible or guilty for the violence done by the United States. Let’s not defend Osama bin Laden as if he had started the whole thing. Instead, we must blame the U.S., blame the U.K., blame Japan, blame all other countries who have sent troops to the lands of Middle Eastern people, because it is we that responded to V2 by V3.

CORRECTION

No, MLK did not say “returning violence for violence multiplies violence.” Instead, he said “returning hate for hate multiplies hate” and “violence multiples violence” (see this for proof). This does not make my above statements any less plausible, but I apologize for the misquotation.

Masaki C. Matsumoto
Queer & feminist writer/YouTuber in Japan. To know more about Masaki, visit About.

Leave a Reply