Yuri Kochiyama

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Yuri Kochiyama (1921-2014) was a Japanese-American political activist born in 1921. During World War II, Kochiyama's father — a fish merchant, was questioned by the FBI for his allegedly suspicious photographs of shipping vessels, and died in police custody due to negligence of his medical requirements. The rest of her family was subsequently sent to an internment camp along with the other Japanese-Americans, where she met her future husband. After the war ended, Kochiyama and her husband moved to Harlem, New York, where they had six children. Kochiyama became involved in the civil rights movement, where she met and befriended Malcolm X. She became dedicated to Malcolm's advocacy of African-American nationalism, being one of few non-African-Americans involved heavily in the black nationalist movement. She was present at Malcolm's assassination; a photograph of her holding his body became widely circulated.

Kochiyama remained an activist and came to support Maoism, creating her own theories which blended it with Malcolm's ideology. To this end, her beliefs at this point in time could be understood as a precursor to the Black Panther Party. She also became a leading figure in the Asian-American civil rights movement and was integral to the Commission On Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, which granted reparations to families held in camps during World War II. She also campaigned against the Vietnam War and for nuclear disarmament. She converted to Sunni Islam secretly in the early 1970s, and worked with controversial ex-Black Panthers Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Most controversially, she worked with the Peruvian Maoist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), considered by most to have been nothing more than a drug cartel with a fetish for communist imagery. She seemed to have become something of an Islamist later in life, supporting Al-Qaeda and comparing Osama bin Laden to Malcolm X. She remains a controversial figure in American history and left-wing discussion, with many seeing her "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" mentality as dangerous, in particular relation to her comments on bin Laden. In short, Kochiyama was often supportive of violent ultra-nationalism so long as it presented itself in an "anti-Western" form.