Just when you think you have this Louis Farrakhan guy pegged, he goes and throws you another curve.
We in the media -- a k a the Farrakhan-bashing business -- have pretty much defined the Nation of Islam leader on our terms. We have tagged him with the labels of anti-Semite and bigot. When Farrakhan said Hitler was "wickedly great," we were there with our pens, notebooks and cameras to record the words. When he implied that Jews practiced a "dirty" religion, we quickly changed the word to gutter, although a tape recording clearly indicated otherwise.
On those occasions when Farrakhan was saying positive and noteworthy things, we turned a deaf ear. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Warith Mohammed -- a chief Muslim rival of Farrakhan's -- says positive and noteworthy things often. But we ignore him, too.)
But Farrakhan's essay in the November issue of Essence magazine provides new insights into the man. Whether you love or loathe Farrakhan, his essay "The Price of Faith" will move you. You may not read a more poignant work this year.
The essay reveals not the public Farrakhan we have come to know: the militant firebrand castigating Jews, whites, Asians and yes, though we often fail to report it, even blacks. This is a quiet, more reflective Farrakhan telling us of his spiritual journey that saw him at first try to emulate his heroes Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad before finally being content with who he was.
"Each thing has its own uniqueness," Farrakhan came to realize. "At some point you have to stop and appreciate God's wisdom in making you exactly as He made you."
This is a Farrakhan who acknowledges that he neglected his family while rising to the leadership of the Nation of Islam and that one of his children "is trying to overcome a horrible problem with drugs."
I was shocked by this kinder, gentler Farrakhan. But I shouldn't have been. There were hints of him even in Nashville last summer when he was giving his now infamous tongue-lashing to the National Association of Black Journalists at its weeklong convention. I realized this not by talking to Farrakhan but to his southeast regional minister, Jamil Muhammad.
Formerly head of the Baltimore mosque, Muhammad had set a tone of moderation and forgiveness when he refused to criticize Bishop Henry Lyons for canceling a Farrakhan speech at Nashville's National Baptist Center.
"We will return a blessing for a curse," a Nashville newspaper quoted Muhammad as saying. The conciliatory tone was no ruse, as I found out when I met Muhammad in the hallway after Farrakhan had finished his speech.
"Mr. Kane," he said, grasping my hand and greeting me with a smile. We exchanged pleasantries, and I introduced Muhammad to Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Afi-Odelia Scruggs as perhaps Farrakhan's most capable minister. Muhammad then gave me his card and asked me to call him.
This is the same Jamil Muhammad, it should be noted, who two years ago was absolutely livid when I referred to Farrakhan as a thug in an opinion/commentary piece. If he hadn't forgotten the incident, he surely must have forgiven me for it. Muhammad's conduct that week wasn't just diplomatic, it was downright statesmanlike. Even Christianlike. The scene in Nashville in the summer of 1996 was one that truly boggled the mind: Louis Farrakhan and his southeast regional minister out-Christianing the Christians.
Farrakhan's Million Man March to Washington, D.C. -- with its theme of atonement, forgiveness and reconciliation -- was almost a year past at the time of the NABJ convention. When I left Jamil Muhammad in the lobby of the convention center, I was forced to ask myself a question.
"You mean Farrakhan actually meant all that atonement and forgiveness stuff?"
Muhammad's spirit of reconciliation and Farrakhan's willingness to publicly face his own imperfections raise yet another disturbing question for Farrakhan bashers. When Louis Farrakhan says he is willing to reach out in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness to those he has offended, including Jews, could it be that the guy just might be telling the truth?
Jewish leaders might reconsider Farrakhan's offer to open up a much needed black-Jewish dialogue. The worst that can happen is that they'll get the same old Farrakhan. But they just might get that Farrakhan who has shown he is a man capable of spiritual growth and forgiveness.
Pub Date: 11/20/96