Shooting is likely to fuel Nation of Islam paranoia

May 31, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Leaders of the Nation of Islam believe there is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy their faith and cripple the black community -- a conspiracy aided by the highest powers in the land and abetted by blacks whom the Nation calls "traitors, Uncle Toms, quislings, and sell-outs."

I believe the leaders of the Nation of Islam are wrong.

But Sunday's attempted assassination of Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a former spokesman for Minister Louis Farrakhan, is guaranteed to fuel the Nation's paranoia. In fact, events seem to have conspired to reinforce the Nation's bigotry, anti-Semitism, and sense of persecution ever since Mr. Muhammad's controversial speech last November where he called Jews the "bloodsuckers" of the black community.

For instance, Mr. Muhammad's remarks were publicized at considerable expense by a Jewish organization and repeated in most media long before reporters could confirm the accuracy of the quotes. Black leaders with no connection to the Nation were called upon to "repudiate" Mr. Muhammad's statements and then criticized when those repudiations were not strong enough to suit critics' tastes. Congress voted to condemn a speech by a civilian, while ignoring equally contemptible remarks about African leaders by one of its own members.

Do those events mean there may be some truth in the Nation's conspiracy theory?

No. They only illustrate the dangers of a credo built upon fear: Paranoia feeds upon itself; when you look for ugliness you will surely find it; when you walk on the dark side the world seems shrouded in shadow.

This is a wisdom understood by the first Africans brought to these shores and practiced for over 300 years. Through both slavery and segregation, blacks were taught to despise their condition but not the people who put them there. The justifiable feelings of bitterness, rage, and anger toward whites were dismissed as a waste of time and energy. Blacks were taught instead to work toward change, to believe in a better future.

But today we waste an awful lot of energy documenting the wrongs against us; searching for conspiracies; denouncing racism. And few groups feed upon negativity like the Nation of Islam.

Sunday, Mr. Muhammad had just finished yet another fiery speech at a community center at the University of California at Riverside. He reportedly described whites as satanic liars and spoke again of a Jewish conspiracy to hold back blacks. He was interrupted by shouts from the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League who was escorted out of the hall. Shortly afterward, Mr. Muhammad left the hall, stepped outside to answer questions from the crowd, and was shot at least twice by a lone gunman. Mr. Muhammad was hit in the leg and foot. He was described in good condition late yesterday. Two others hit by the gunfire were in stable condition, officials said.

Meanwhile, onlookers beat the suspected gunman to a bloody pulp, shouting, "He's working for the Jews." Police identified the beating victim and alleged gunman as 49-year-old James Edward Bess, a black man who reportedly was kicked out of the Nation of Islam three years ago.

So here you have all of the makings of a conspiracy, complete with a black quisling or traitor as the alleged assassin. The incident echoes the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, after which three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime. But nearly 30 years later, some people still search for B BTC hidden conspiracy behind that assassination, though not one of those theories brings the black community any closer to eliminating the social ills that afflict it.

Now might be a good time to examine the effects of the rhetoric of rage espoused by Mr. Muhammad and the Nation of Islam: Economic development? No. Better schools? No. More jobs? No.

Since November, Mr. Muhammad's angry rhetoric has provoked anger in return; recriminations; charges and counter-charges; the isolation of black leaders and the shattering of an attempted covenant of unity.

And now, his rhetoric has provoked violence: It is not a good record, not a record of progress.

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