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Some hard questions about Nation of Islam


Minister Louis T. Farrakhan's attitude toward Jews makes me wonder whether he is on someone's secret payroll; whether the Nation of Islam leader has an agenda in addition to his stated one of uplifting his people and community through the teachings of Allah.

I do not know the answer to that question but I believe it is a fair one; first, because Minister Farrakhan frequently raises the same one about other black leaders; and second, because leaders -- black or white -- ought to be challenged, scrutinized and called to account for themselves and their policies.

The case against Minister Farrakhan at this point is largely circumstantial.

Exhibit One is that his attacks against Jews are irrational to the extreme. You might argue that bigotry is always irrational, and I agree. Yet, on most other issues, Minister Farrakhan and the Nation conduct themselves with a scholastic dignity that commands respect even from those who may disagree.

So, why does he pick on the Jews? Why does he spread teachings that might have come straight out of a Ku Klux Klan handbook?

Over the past several days I debated this with friends and acquaintances who belong to the Nation of Islam. The discussions were heated. We quibbled over terminology, such as whether the minister "picks on" Jews or reveals "truths" about them. The Muslims questioned my motives for defending Jews, while I, with equal intensity, questioned the Nation's motives for attacking them.

I can tell you that many of the sentiments expressed in New Jersey last November by Khalid Abdul Muhammad, who was at the time a Nation spokesman -- and in Washington last week by Minister Farrakhan -- appear to be representative of Nation of Islam doctrine, Mr. Muhammad's demotion last week notwithstanding. And contrary to the ludicrous assertion made this weekend by the NAACP, some of those beliefs are anti-Semitic.

Exhibit Two raises even more questions about Minister Farrakhan's motives: It is that his anti-Semitism seems to surface at times when the black community he purports to love will be hurt the most. In 1984, Minister Farrakhan's speeches were used to scuttle any potential alliance between Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and the mainstream Jewish community.

Today, Minister Farrakhan's attitudes threaten to sabotage the "sacred covenant" of unity announced last fall during the annual Congressional Black Caucus conference. At that meeting, Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume sought to forge an alliance of such black leaders as Jesse Jackson, of the Rainbow Coalition; the Congressional Black Caucus; Dr. Benjamin Chavis and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Minister Farrakhan. Such an alliance could have been tremendously important.

For too long, black leaders have allowed their egos to get in the way of a unified effort to improve black communities. One could argue that the clash of egos among the leadership is partially responsible for the splintered, inadequate response to the problem of violence and crime.

So, why is Minister Farrakhan so unwilling to modify his views -- even for the sake of unity; even when such a modified stance might be for the overall good of the black community?

One answer to the questions posed in both exhibits is that Minister Farrakhan is on someone's secret payroll; that his hidden agenda is to keep black leaders isolated and defensive and politically weak.

Here's another possibility: It may be that anti-Semitism is more central to Minister Farrakhan's appeal than even his writings and speeches indicate. Anti-Semitism, after all, allows the minister to shock and outrage the mainstream. It makes him look "hard" while the other leaders look soft. In certain eyes, even the calls from some quarters for black leaders to "repudiate" Minister Farrakhan works to the minister's favor.

We talk a lot about the dignity, discipline and self-respect with which Nation of Islam members carry themselves, but how much of that apparent self-esteem is based on having an outside enemy to hate? Are Jews their scapegoats?

Uncomfortable questions, I agree. But the answers could be revealing.

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