By Lindsay Pindyck
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York
Louis Farrakhan is one of the most controversial figures in American society today. On February 3, Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, renounced a top aide for anti-white and antisemitic remarks made at a recent speech. In a November speech at Kean College, top aide Khallid Abdul Muhammed attacked Jews, whites, Catholics, and homosexuals. Upon hearing the speech, Farrakhan said, "I found the speech, after listening to it in context, vile in manner, repugnant, malicious, mean-spirited and spoken in mockery of individuals and people, which is against the spirit of Islam. While I stand by the truths that he spoke, I must condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which those truths were represented."
In the speech, Muhammed called Jews "bloodsuckers," referred to the Pope as a "no-good cracker," attacked homosexuals, and called for the blacks in South Africa to kill all whites there. He even insinuated that the Holocaust may have been justified.
Farrakhan did not detail the "truths" that he stood by beyond saying that Muhammed was correct when he said that 75% of slaves in America South were owned by Jews. Although Farrakhan has been trying to become involved with the mainstream black civil rights movement, his agreement with some of Muhammed's opinions may have greatly endangered his relationships with the N.A.A.C.P. and the Black Caucus. Although Farrakhan condemned Muhammed, Muhammed could possibly return to his job, if "he demonstrates that he is willing to conform" to Nation of Islam standards.
Farrakhan grew up in Boston as Louis Eugene Walcott before joining the Nation of Islam at the urging of Malcolm X. In the early 1960s, as Louis X, Farrakhan was minister of the Nation of Islam's Boston mosque and a kind of understudy to Malcolm X. When Malcolm X split from the Nation in 1964 and turned orthodox Islam, Farrakhan sided with Elijah Muhammed, leader of the Nation from the early 1930s until 1975, and the bitter conflict ended with the assassination of Malcolm X by three of Elijah's followers in 1965.
After Elijah's death in 1975, Elijah's son W.D. Muhammed inherited the Nation of Islam and renamed it the World Community of Islam in the West. W.D. had been very good friends with Malcolm X and renamed the Harlem mosque in his honor, much to Farrakhan's chagrin. Since Elijah Muhammed believed in separation of the races, more strain developed when W.D. proclaimed that whites were welcome as members of the sect.
In 1978, Farrakhan announced his departure and the formation of the new Nation of Islam on the basis of Elijah's teachings. When the World Community of Islam disbanded in 1985, Farrakhan's group was left as the only legacy of Elijah Muhammed. Farrakhan reestablished the Fruit of Islam, the Nation's security force, and restored all of the old ideology. Some of the old teachings include claims that blacks were the world's "original" race; that black Americans are descended from an ancient, "lost" Asian tribe; and that the white race originated from a demonic laboratory experiment. From this time on, Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam have continued to gain recognition.
Farrakhan's call for separatism and his assertion of black racial supremacy have caused many problems for the multicultural America. He preaches black self-help and self-love, and he plays on the anger of many blacks towards whites. In a Time/CNN poll, two-thirds of the African-Americans surveyed view Farrakhan favorably; 62% thought he is good for the black community; 63% feel he speaks the truth, and 67% say he is an effective leader. Farrakhan's presence seems to have a powerful appeal. In Atlanta in 1992, Farrakhan outdrew a World Series game the same night, which further demonstrates his growing popularity.
Farrakhan has caused problems for the Jews of America, as has Khallid Abdul Muhammed. Farrakhan calls Jews "bloodsuckers," and he justifies that remark by saying that they "suck the life from you to sustain their life." In an interview with Time magazine, he said that "in the '20s and '30s and '40s, up into the '50s, the Jews were the primary merchants in the black community. Wherever we were, they were. . . . We bought food from them; we bought clothes from them. . . . So if they made a profit from us, then from our life they drew life and came to strength. They turned it over to the Arabs, the Koreans and others, who are there now doing what? Sucking the lifeblood of our own community." In the past, Farrakhan has also called Judaism a "gutter religion" and accused Jewish doctors of injecting the AIDS virus into black babies, and in a January 24 speech at a Harlem armory he said, "We know that the Jews are the most organized, rich and powerful people, not only in America, but in the world. They're plotting against us as we speak."
Farrakhan is also a problem for the African-Americans who do not believe in his methods of teaching, especially targeting college campuses -- and for the majority of Islamic Americans who reject Farrakhan's condemnation of other religions and his call for the separation of races.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL), a Jewish civil rights organization, is one of Farrakhan's leading critics. The ADL and Farrakhan have battled each other for over ten years. The ADL were the people who brought Khallid Muhammed's speech to the attention of the world by publishing excerpts of it in a full page ad in the New York Times. On Farrakhan's repudiation of Muhammed, ADL director Abraham Foxman said, "it sounded to me like he didn't reject the message, he did not reject the messenger, he rejected the manner of its delivery." Farrakhan said that the ADL's ultimate goal is to destroy the Nation of Islam and its relationships with other mainstream civil rights organizations. He also said that he obtained an ADL "secret" report that reveals the Jewish group's strategy for dealing with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. The report says, in part that the, "ADL has the right to expect and to demand that any organization or individual genuinely committed to the fight against bigotry and antisemitism turn a cold shoulder to Farrakhan." It also talks of the "dilemma" the ADL faces in trying to maintain relationships with "respected leaders in the black community who are no longer willing to ostracize" Farrakhan and asked whether there should be a change in policy towards the Nation of Islam. Foxman has responded that the ADL thinks it is "important for the American people to see the level of hate and bigotry that is being promoted and sold under the banner of the Nation of Islam."
Other Jewish groups have also commented on Farrakhan's rejection of Muhammed's speech. The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council said, "By deliberately choosing to ignore that his aide's speech was quintessentially racist, antisemitic, anti-Catholic and homophobic, Minister Farrakhan proves that his own message is inherently racist."
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said his organization was "repulsed by Louis Farrakhan's comments today. It is the same old bone-chilling hate delivered with a smile." Foxman said that Farrakhan's words were, "double-talk, double-think, acrobatics, and semantics."
With his words on Muhammed's speech, it was thought that Farrakhan had endangered his relationships with both the Congressional Black Caucus and the N.A.A.C.P., but at this time nothing is confirmed. After Farrakhan spoke, Representative Kweisi Mfume, Maryland Democrat who heads the Black Caucus, said that no alliance could exist between the caucus and the Nation of Islam as long as blacks in Congress had doubts about Mr. Farrakhan's tolerance toward Jews, Catholics and other groups. Prior to this incident, both Mfume and Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, were trying to forge a working relationship with Farrakhan. Yet, by confirming some of the opinions expressed by his aide, Farrakhan may have ended those efforts. Representative Mfume had pledged a "covenant" of cooperation with both Farrakhan and mainstream black leaders, but it was renounced. Representative Major R. Owens of the House Black Caucus saw Farrakhan's movement as a "hate-mongering fringe group" that he said was "dangerous poison" and must be repudiated. However, the N.A.A.C.P. has since stated that it is satisfied and prepared to believe that Farrakhan is "neither antisemitic nor racist."
One major appeal of the Nation is the sect's commitment to rehabilitation. The Nation of Islam runs counseling programs for prisoners, drug addicts, alcoholics, and street-gang members. Chavis of the N.A.A.C.P. credits Farrakhan with the effectiveness of rehabilitation in the communities.
In Chicago, a security firm in cooperation with the Nation of Islam patrols three housing projects that are funded by the state and has been hired by the Chicago Housing Authority for eight high-rises at Rockwell Gardens. "I've seen what black Muslims have done with hardened criminals; they go into the penal system and work with these young men, so when they come out they are no longer on drugs and respect their women and their neighbors," said Vincent Lane chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority.
When asked how the Nation of Islam rehabilitates a person, Farrakhan said, "We can't do it without the help of God, and we can't do it unless we can reconnect that person to the source of truth and goodness that is Allah . . . by teaching us our history beyond the cotton fields, beyond our slave history in America . . . and teaching us our relationship with the father of medicine, the father of law, the father of mathematics and science and religion, this makes us desire now to come up out of our ignorance and achieve the best that we possibly can achieve. And this is what begins to transform a person's life."
Louis Farrakhan is gaining more support everyday, especially with influential college students. We must learn about their feelings and their claims and then we might be able to understand why they feel such hatred and vengeance, and take steps to end it.
Student Art by AETI Staff Artist Shana Hildebrand
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