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Judging a Life

Reader comment on item: Muhammad Ali's "Beautiful Soul"

Submitted by Daniel (United States), Dec 1, 2005 at 15:38

Daniel Pipe's observations on the awarding of the Medal of Freedom to Muhammad Ali together with his follow-up of reactions from Jack Cashill and Judea Pearl constitute one of the most powerful and demanding discussions ever to be printed. It should become a "must read" for everyone who makes judgments about other people, especially people in public life.

Strong note need be given, however, to the comment about Ali's Parkinson's disease: the conclusion that handlers, not Ali, made the decisions regarding the Pearl matter and that Ali's mental condition was impaired in 2002 has no basis in fact, medical or otherwise. It is also smacks of a bias rather than objectivity so diminishes the argument he was not worthy of the award.

Similarly, Mr. Pearl's throwing a "shot" at Ali for not agreeing to serve on the Pearl Foundation Board is unsettling. Ali is obviously asked to serve on hundreds of boards and there is no reason the Peal board should take priority. Didn't Ali do enough - indeed more than enough?

The value of the discussions, however, goes well beyond Ali and the Medal. It is instructive because it vividly shows not just inconsistency but growth and change. Both Alis (Pipe's and Pearl's) are real and true, just as Thomas Jefferson could at one point condemn slavery yet years later become a slave holder.

The issue is how to weigh a person's life and deeds and how such judgments are impacted by circumstances, including the reason or purpose for making a judgment. In the case of public figures, whose lifetime deeds are indelibly recorded for all to see, the process becomes extraordinarily complex.

While initially agreeing with Pipe's attitude about Ali getting the medal, on reading Pearl's compelling recitation, my attitude changed. Over time and with more information, it could change again.

Part of the equation in this and similar cases is what public good is served in granting such a medal to someone who has demonstrably changed their attitude and character over a period of time.

This includes the question of whether there was anything Ali (reasonably) could or should have done to warrant the getting the medal or is he permanently stained - as I suggest Mr. Farrakhan is.

PS - Is Cashill serious about comdemning Ali for launching the career of Don King? I think he is.
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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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