Can decrying words of hate successfully erase the message?

February 04, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

If you were planning to see Khalid Abdul Muhammad, the well-known hatemonger, you may be disappointed.

He probably won't make it for his planned appearance here in Baltimore tomorrow. Not after that little run-in with Louis Farrakhan, his boss over at the Nation of Islam, about a speech he gave a while back.

It was the one about the "bloodsucking" Jews and the "cracker" pope. Maybe you heard about it.

The reaction to the speech was so loud and so angry that Farrakhan yesterday suspended Muhammad, his adviser and top aide, saying he thought Brother Khalid's language was a little rough around the edges, like the part where he suggested South African blacks should kill all the whites there.

Here's the quote from Farrakhan: "While I stand by the truths that [Muhammad] spoke, I must condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which those truths were represented."

Well.

The "truths," one supposes, were those about Jewish slave traders and Jews running the Federal Reserve and you know the rest of the tired litany.

The message that Farrakhan apparently stands by is the one that charges "bloodsucking" Jews with keeping African-Americans down.

How do you respond when somebody says something so completely off base?

Do you laugh it off?

Do you argue the point? If you wanted to argue, how would you do it? I'm trying to imagine how the debate might go.

Proposition: Jews are bloodsuckers.

Argument against: Ladies and gentlemen, I have known Jews all life. And I've never seen a single one suck blood.

Nobody debated. Instead, Muhammad was shouted down. The U.S. Senate bravely voted 97-0 to condemn the speech. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who had entered into a "sacred covenant" with the Nation of Islam on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, condemned the speech. So did Jesse Jackson and every other black leader who could find a microphone.

Even Farrakhan had to back down, sort of.

What does it mean? It means that loudness counts. No one understands that better than the Nation of Islam.

It is only when their leaders turn up the volume that they get noticed. The way to get loud is with anti-Semitism. That's sure to get a reaction. Call the pope a "cracker," and the Holy See doesn't exactly feel threatened. Jews know about being

threatened. And persecuted. They also know the dangers of staying silent.

So, when they get attacked, they dependably challenge the attacker.

And the attacker, in this case Muhammad, makes the front page of the newspaper. His picture was on the front page of The Sun Thursday. I don't think Brother Khalid minded the publicity.

His message may seem absurd to us. It's not absurd to everyone.

When he gave the controversial speech at Kean College in New Jersey last November, he was greeted enthusiastically.

As late as Wednesday night, when Muhammad was defending himself before an audience at the University of Florida, he spoke to a room packed with believers.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out why the Nation of Islam's message resonates in certain parts of the black community. The ministers preach self-reliance. They represent a macho alternative to crime and drugs. The security people, in their trademark bow ties, protect schoolchildren.

The Nation of Islam stands for some good things. And for at least one very bad thing.

The very bad thing gets in the way. The very bad thing -- anti-Semitism -- has become the focus of Jewish-black relations.

Once upon a time, it seems so long ago now, Jews were very visible in the civil rights movement. There was a compact -- yeah, something like a "sacred covenant" -- between two peoples who shared a heritage of persecution.

Now, they share little more than mistrust.

And now when someone like Muhammad, who was virtually unknown, makes an intentionally inflammatory speech, black leaders are required to say that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, as if there were anything else to say.

Which gives Farrakhan the opportunity to say black leaders are in the pockets of the Jewish cabal.

Which means Jewish leaders want to hear more condemnations.

MA And so much energy that could be used for good goes to waste.

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