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Is Farrakahn's "Return" A Real Departure from Hate?

by Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman

The billboards all over Chicago touted "the return" of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, after a long silence during his recovery from a near-death battle with prostate cancer. The event was Farrakhan's recent speech at the NOI's Annual "Saviours' Day and the World Islamic People's Leadership Conference."

In a dramatic development which could signal rapprochement among African American Muslins was the appearance at the conference of W. Deen Muhammad, son of NOI founder Elijah Muhammad. For many years, Farrakhan regularly denounced Muhammad as "a cheap hypocrite" because of his rejection of the NOI's traditional antiwhite, antisemitic gospel.

Against this backdrop, observers were particularly interested to see whether Farrakhan's return would mark a definitive departure from his organization's track record of hate mongering-including labeling Judaism "a gutter religion," calling Hitler "a great man," and characterizing the U.S. "the great Satan."

In fact, there is some good news, particularly from the perspective of orthodox Muslims who want Farrakhan to abandon once-and-for-all the NOI's unorthodox theology, glorifying its founder, "Master Fard," as the deity incarnate and Fard's disciple, Elijah Muhammad, as a divine "messenger" and successor to the Prophet Muhammad. For the first time, Fard's picture was missing as a backdrop for the keynote speech by Farrakhan who embraced the color-blind Islamic faith, spoke respectfully of Judaism, and issued a call for spiritual redemption.

Close readers of Farrakhan's newspaper, The Final Call, are also guardedly optimistic about changes during the past year. Columnist Ali Baghdadi, a Holocaust Denier who also blames AIDS on the Israelis, no longer appears, though he may just be on hiatus. And antisemitic classics - such as Martin Luther's The Jews and Their Lies and the NOI's own, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews alleging "Jewish domination" of the slave trade-are not being advertised, at least for now.

All this is well-and-good. But unfortunately, this year's NOI Saviours' Day reveals that Farrakhan-insofar as his relationship with the Jewish Community is concerned-is still following a deeply flawed path that cannot lead to intergroup tolerance and religious reconciliation. One has only to look at Farrakhan's Jewish partners. Whether at a recent series of the NOI's self-styled Black-Jewish summits, or on the cover picture of The Final Call's January 2000 issue, Farrakhan has surrounded himself with rabbis in traditional garb belonging to Neturei Karta, a tiny sect which shares his criticism of "the Zionist media" and his refusal to accept Israel's right to exist. Ostensibly, these rabbis have sought Farrakhan's help in freeing 11 Iranian Jews facing trial and possible execution as "Zionist spies." No tangible help has been forthcoming, but Rabbi Chaim Fryman thanked Farrakhan, anyway, who smiled benignly as Rabbi Fryman declared, "I am overwhelmed by the terrible suffering and crimes committed by the Zionist occupation and the settlers in the Holy Land," and blamed synagogue bombings on "Israeli agents." Neturei Karta rabbis serving as "warm-up" speakers carried the same dangerous anti-Israel message to Farrakhan's keynote speech on Saviours' Day.

So here we have Farrakhan-who for so long has excoriated American Jewish civil rights supporters for allegedly trying to "anoint black leaders"-attempting, apparently, to turn the tables. The result is a charade of "theological inclusion" by inviting a sect of Jewish fundamentalists with almost no support in the Jewish world and whose views are about as representative of Jewish opinion as Bob Jones University is of Christianity.

Sadly, Farrakhan's flirtation with anti-Israel theological zealots is not an aberration but a logical extension of his unchanged, anti-American "foreign policy." Significantly, Imam W. Deen Muhammad, despite his rapprochement with Farrakhan, vowed not to attend a Saviours' Day session featuring as "savior of the day" Libyan leader and NOI financial benefactor Moammar Gadhafi whose message was teleconferenced in by satellite. Now touting himself as the George Washington of an emerging "United States of Africa," Lokerbie bombing godfather Gadhafi had promised at the time of Farrakhan's 1995 Million Man March, a billion dollars if the NOI would organize an all-black political party and a "500,000 man army" to lead African Americans to secede from the United States. Now Gadhafi has renewed this billion dollar pledge-without hinting what strings are attached-in "an exclusive interview" featured in the special issue of The Final Call online edition celebrating this year's Saviours' Day.

Among the vocal fans of both Farrakhan and Gadhafi has been Rev. Richard Butler of the white supremacist Aryan Nations, the "church" belonged to by last year's San Fernando Jewish day center gunman Buford O. Furrow Jr. According to Rev. Butler, "Mr. Farrakhan is a black patriot who hates jews (sic) and Whites. Mr. Quadaffy (sic) is a patriot who hates jews (sic)." Minister Farrakhan still needs to repudiate the perverse kind of "patriotism" associated with the Moammar Gadhafis and Richard Butlers of the world-before Americans of whatever color and creed can accept without reservation his claims to be a "changed man."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman is a consultant on Intergroup Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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