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Muhammad Ali, the racist roots of the Vietnam War, and 9/11 policies

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Racism in the Vietnam War, recognised and opposed by Muhammad Ali, resembles the rhetoric of discrimination in post-9/11 policies.

Muhammad Ali recognized the ways in which US militarism relied heavily on racism to
build public support for war against "the other".

Muhammad Ali's treatment by the US government during the time, when he openly opposed the Vietnam War, has some troubling similarities with the US government's rhetoric justifying its invasion of Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to challenging the best boxers of his time in the ring, Muhammad Ali challenged America's limiting notions of black identity more than any other athlete of his time. As the politial scientist from the University of Lousville, Dewey Clayton, said: "Muhammad Ali raised the fact early on that all African-Americans were not cut from the same cloth and we all did not have the same consciousness as such".

Muhammad Ali was not only an outstanding athlete, but also a funny, captivating and courageous personality who questioned the war on Vietnam and opposed it, leading him to face serious challenges in both his personal and professional lives.

He refused to participate in an unjust war and be responsible for shooting "some darker people for big powerful America", as he phrased it. As a result of Ali's courage and determination to stand up for the truth, he was investigated by the FBI and was subjected to discrimination and injustice.

Consequently, Muhammad Ali was convicted of draft evasion on June 20, 1967, and he was given the maximum penalty: a $10,000 fine and five years in prison. Muhammad Ali, the twenty-five-year-old boxer was stripped of his title by the World Boxing Association and banned from boxing for the period of four years as his appeal made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The great Muslim boxer understood the racist roots of war. He had the ability to clearly recognize the ways in which US militarism relied heavily on racism to build public support for war against "the other". Similarly, this phenomenon can still be seen in the way the US imposes its "democracy" and "freedom" on sovereign states and countries as well as its use of such rhetoric to justify violence and invasions.

Reading and contemplating history can easily reveal that the United States of America is an invading and aggressive state, but one can argue that the US did not institutionalize the practice of torture until 9/11, which marked a turning point in US history. The events of 9/11 were so significant that modern history is now divided into two time frames: the era before 9/11 and the era after 9/11.

Paradoxically, the more the US legislated laws against terrorism, the more likely it was to use torture itself as an instrument of terror. As the US lashes out other nations and groups and calls them terrorists, it is becoming increasingly evident that the US itself is also committing acts of terrorism.

While the video of Muhammad Ali linked below is quite humorous, in which he speaks about racism in a funny way, racism and religious discrimination continue to be very serious problems in the US, with increasing reports of hate crimes against the black people.

Acceptance, understanding, and appreciation of all individuals is the first step in reducing racism.

In both history and the present, we see the need to challenge institutional racism and celebrate multiculturalism and diversity.


Hauser, T. (2012). Muhammad Ali: His life and times. Open Road Media.

Cooper II, M. (2012). Muhammad Ali: And the Vietnam Resistance Movement. Constructing Relationships: Marriage, Religion and Society, 50.

Bowman, W. (2019). Feat of Clay: Muhammad Ali's Legal Fight against the Vietnam Draft. J. Sup. Ct. Hist., 44, 307.

Reed, T. L. (2004). Peace profile: Muhammad Ali. Peace Review, 16(1), 107-111.

Saeed, A. (2011). 'Worthy of all praises': Muhammad Ali and the politics of identity. Soundings, 47(47), 123-129.

Fletcher. M. (2016) Muhammad Ali and the complexity of black identity. Andscape.


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