Louis Farrakhan would be the first to admit that he is no Elijah Muhammad. There is no better illustration of that than the way Minister Farrakhan handled the Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad.
Khalid Muhammad's speech at Kean College in New Jersey last November 29 is infamous by now. It was a classic Jew-bashing, ofay-bashing tirade common to the black nationalist mode of thought. Khalid Muhammad characterized Jews as ''the bloodsuckers of the black nation''; labeled the pope a ''no-good cracker'' who needed to have his ''dress'' lifted up to ''see what's really under there''; and, from the relative safety of New Jersey, urged South African blacks to kill all the whites in South Africa.
It was a harangue worthy of a man desperately in need of a straitjacket. But how did Louis Farrakhan handle this situation?
He held a press conference in the nation's capital to announce that he had removed Khalid Muhammad as national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Mr. Farrakhan said that he found the speech ''vile in manner, repugnant, malicious, mean-spirited, and spoken in mockery of individuals and people, which is against the spirit of Islam.'' In other words, kind of like a Louis Farrakhan speech when the good minister is feeling especially ornery.
But I digress. Having made that statement, Mr. Farrakhan added the following comment, which might baffle those who don't really know the man:
''While I stand by the truths that he spoke, I must condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which those truths were represented.''
What is the truth in Khalid Muhammad's statement that Jews are named Silverstein, Goldstein and Rubinstein because Jews have been ''stealing rubies and gold and silver all over the Earth?'' It isn't a truth. It isn't even a fact. It's an opinion, and a crackpot one at that. It sounds to me like the good minister gave Khalid Muhammad a slap on the wrist followed by a brotherly, surreptitious wink.
Compare Mr. Farrakhan's actions to those of Elijah Muhammad some 30 years ago. Elijah Muhammad was not a man without faults -- too numerous to be detailed here -- but it would take a Louis Farrakhan to leave you pining away for him. On December 1, 1963, Malcolm X, then the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam, did a gleeful lindy-hop on the grave of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, who had been shot dead in Dallas some nine days before.
The assassination was a case of ''chickens coming home to roost,'' Malcolm said in that famous question and answer session in which he had manipulated members of the press into asking the question he wanted them to ask. America had plotted and carried out assassinations against foreign leaders -- Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, to name only two. The implication was that Americans shouldn't dish out what they weren't prepared to take.
It was a comment that would have been better uttered nine years after JFK was in the grave, not nine days. But Malcolm really stepped over the line by declaring that ''chickens coming home to roost never made me sad. They only made me glad.''
Elijah Muhammad rightly nailed Malcolm X for the remark. The country loved the president, Mr. Muhammad told Malcolm, and the statement would make it hard on Muslims in general. The Nation of Islam leader then suspended Malcolm X for 90 days. Elijah Muhammad, to his credit, did not issue some cryptic statement about ''standing by the truth'' of Malcolm X's statement -- which contained far more truth than the lunacies uttered by Khalid Muhammad. There was no ambiguity in Elijah Muhammad's statement rebuking Malcolm's indiscretion. He said it, he was wrong, he's suspended -- that was the essence of Elijah Muhammad's response to America about the ''chickens coming home to roost'' affair.
In his later years, Elijah Muhammad toned down his rhetoric about whites being a race of devils. He had come to realize that the time for such harsh rhetoric had passed. When he died on February 25, 1975, he passed on the mantle of leadership of the Nation of Islam not to Louis Farrakhan, but to his son Wallace -- who rooted out corruption in the organization and guided it in a more ecumenical direction.
It is a direction in which Louis Farrakhan and Khalid Abdul Muhammad should start moving with alacrity.
Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Sun.