Farrakhan vs. the Mainstream

January 28, 1994

When the Black Caucus, the NAACP and the Rev. Jesse Jackson extended a hand of reconciliation to Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan in the name of black unity last year, we predicted the honeymoon was apt to be short. Now it appears a parting of the ways may be imminent.

Last weekend, Mr. Jackson called on Mr. Farrakhan to repudiate remarks made in November at New Jersey's Kean College by Khalid Abdul Muhammad, one of Mr. Farrakhan's principal aides.

Mr. Muhammad reportedly told his audience that Jews "own the Federal Reserve," control the White House "from behind the scenes," and have names like Rubenstein, Goldstein and Silverstein because they have been "stealing rubies and gold and silver all over the earth." He also suggested that Jews were responsible for bringing the Holocaust on themselves.

Mr. Jackson called Mr. Muhammad's remarks "racist, anti-Semitic, divisive, untrue and chilling." This week he was joined by the NAACP's Benjamin Chavis, Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Kweisi Mfume, and William Gray, president of the United Negro College Fund, all of whom denounced the Muhammad speech. Mr. Mfume wrote Mr. Farrakhan urging him to distance himself from his aide.

Yet on Monday, Mr. Farrakhan not only refused to criticize his spokesman but lashed out again at Jews and accused his black critics of allowing themselves to be used as pawns in a conspiracy against him. The response seemed calculated to force a break with mainstream leaders.

Mr. Farrakhan has made a career of attacking other blacks as Quislings and Uncle Toms. He cynically used the good offices of Mr. Mfume and the Rev. Frank Reid of Baltimore's Bethel A.M.E. Church to enhance his own stature, only to turn on them at the first opportunity. Knowing blacks are reluctant to wash dirty linen in public, it is even conceivable he gave his blessings to the Kean College speech expressly to provoke a confrontation.

We empathized with leaders like Mr. Mfume, who hoped that by drawing Mr. Farrakhan into the mainstream fold he might be persuaded to moderate his views. But we are not surprised the strategy failed. Anti-Semitism is an irrational, sick obsession that ultimately blinds its adherents both to reality and to their own best interests.

Mr. Farrakhan exploits the very real fears, frustrations and insecurities many blacks feel in the post-civil rights era. African-Americans have suffered two decades of double-digit unemployment. Many are desperate for some message of hope. But the battle for equality is a moral and ethical struggle as well. It can be corrupted only by surrender to demagogy and hatred. That is where Mr. Farrakhan would lead his followers unless people of good will, black and white, summon the courage to stand and forthrightly condemn all who would lure their countrymen down that hopeless path.

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