TO MY knowledge there's been no law passed making it a crime to say anything good about Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But you wouldn't know that from the brouhaha that ensued when Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp praised Farrakhan's self-help philosophy.
What, exactly, did Kemp say? According to a story from the New York Times News Service that ran Sept. 10:
"In the Boston Globe interview, Kemp 'praised Louis Farrakhan ... for emphasizing black self-reliance and family values.' "
"Kemp told the newspaper that he did not agree with all of the teachings of Farrakhan, who has made statements widely viewed as anti-Semitic, but said his self-help philosophy was 'wonderful.' "
Kemp soon found himself on the defensive for uttering such truth. Reaction from at least two major Jewish organizations was swift and predictable. According to a Sept. 11 story by Sun staffer Karen Hosler:
"[Kemp's] remarks drew a quick protest from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which complained in a letter to the [Boston] Globe published [Sept. 10], that Kemp's positive comments were 'not representative of the poison Minister Farrakhan peddles.'
"An even stronger denunciation came from the National Jewish Democratic Council.
" 'The Jewish community does not differentiate between the message and the messenger,' said Stephen Silverfarb, deputy executive director of the group. 'It's like allowing Adolf Hitler to take the podium.' "
Let's try to keep our focus here, Silverfarb. Whatever else Farrakhan is, he certainly isn't a mass murderer who led the world into a war that cost millions of lives. Nor is he a Benito Mussolini, to whom he's also been compared. In disparaging the effective and necessary work Nation of Islam Security has done in several housing projects across the country, Farrakhan critics have belittled the efforts by sneering that "Mussolini made the trains run on time."
What I'm about to say will no doubt get me in trouble with the Jewish community. Protesters will have to stand in line. They can queue up behind my friends in the Nation of Islam, where perhaps they will come to a meeting of the minds on at least one issue.
Because the truth is there is much about Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam that is praiseworthy. Comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini for making the trains run on time don't begin to describe the nature of the Nation of Islam's work. Carlos Muhammad of Baltimore's Mosque No. 6 pointed to one NOI member who, before he joined, was a crack addict.
Reaching out to redeem drug addicts and others filled with hopelessness has been part of the NOI's mission for years. If Louis Farrakhan sends his ministers out into the streets to help save such people, he deserves praise, not condemnation. Funny, isn't it, how those of us who have viciously vilified the man over the years are now shamefully silent about the allegation of the San Jose Mercury News that it was indeed the cia that backed a group that introduced crack to Los Angeles, triggering an epidemic that spread across the nation. We excoriate the man fighting to end it and say not one negative comment about the ones who may have helped start it.
Earlier this year, Farrakhan told Mike Wallace of the television show "60 Minutes" that America was the most corrupt society on earth. If the CIA/crack story is true, it turns out that Farrakhan was on the mark. Don't you loathe him when he's right?
We loathe him when he's right and wrong, and in spite of the clearly good things his organization has done in the impoverished areas of urban black America. But if we apply moral absolutism in the case of Louis Farrakhan, let's be fair and apply it to everybody.
Because the CIA may have helped flood America's streets with crack, let's conclude that America's government is evil and incapable of being reformed. Because former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky charged that the Israeli intelligence agency recruited three Palestinians to assassinate former President /^ George Bush; executed the would-be assassins when the plot failed; did indeed assassinate British media magnate Robert Maxwell; and used Palestinians and blacks in Soweto, South Africa, as guinea pigs in biological and chemical warfare experiments, the government of Israel must be inherently evil.
We won't do that, of course. We'd much prefer to bask in the rays of our own self-righteousness, not even acknowledging that next to those good ol' boys in the Mossad, the Nation of Islam leader looks downright saintly. Louis Farrakhan, we charge, is anti-Semitic, bigoted, intolerant and intransigent. But it looks like his most vocal critics may be guilty of some intolerance and intransigence of our own.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Pub Date: 9/22/96