Profile: Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali was a participant or observer in the following events:
Reverend Jesse Jackson. [Source: Yann Gamblin / Corbis]What ranking US diplomat Joseph Wilson calls the “celebrity statesman tour” begins this month, with lawmakers and personages from all sides of the political spectrum visiting Iraq. Wilson notes that these visits, as well-meaning as they are, violate US and UN sanctions on non-accredited US citizens meeting with Saddam Hussein, and, in his opinion, help “create an illusion of legitimacy for the dictator.” Wilson will later write, “They would be photographed sitting attentively next to him, would make some inane antiwar comments to the camera and, as a reward, Saddam would bestow a few hostages on them (see August 17-23, 1990), enabling them to claim that they had been on an errand of mercy.” Wilson names as some of the visitors former attorney general and antiwar activist Ramsey Clark, former Texas Governor John Connally, sports icon Muhammad Ali (already visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease), former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, German Prime Minister Willy Brandt, and Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens (and whom Wilson misidentifies as Yousef Ibrahim). Wilson calls the visits “well-intentioned but misguided… a violation of international sanctions, and… dangerous, as Saddam had clearly demonstrated his penchant for taking hostages.” On the other hand, each hostage released into the custody of a celebrity is one more American safe from harm, so “we applauded each new release as we continued to press for the safe departure of all Americans.” Wilson and his staff decide to “be as supportive as possible; after all, even if the visitors were in technical violations of American law, they were our citizens and, as such, were legitimate beneficiaries of whatever consular support we could provide.” Wilson is particularly taken with one visitor, American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, whose stature and aplomb upstage even Hussein. Wilson is impressed that Jackson’s insistent and even confrontational tactics win the freedom of twenty Americans. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 145-146; Yusuf Islam, 9/28/2007]
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