Protesters wrong Farrakhan this time

March 29, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

Some 33 years after he was dragged unwillingly into infamy, Norman 3X Butler is in the news again.

Butler is now known as Muhammad Abdul-Aziz. On Feb. 25, 1965, police arrested him at his home and charged him with being one of the three men who had, four days earlier, shot and killed Malcolm X in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom. Abdul-Aziz was convicted, sentenced to life in prison and paroled in 1985.

Abdul-Aziz is a member of the Nation of Islam. Minister Louis Farrakhan recently appointed Abdul-Aziz the Fruit of Islam captain of the Nation of Islam's Harlem mosque. Some have said Farrakhan's decision was, at best, insensitive. One of them was, surprisingly, C. Miles of Baltimore's WOLB talk radio.

Miles is the same guy who not very subtly implied that the St. Mary's College students who were raped in Guatemala got what they deserved. I didn't know the words "sensitive" or "insensitive" were in his vocabulary. But there he was Thursday afternoon, questioning - and rightly so, I might add - whether Farrakhan's decision was a correct one.

A Washington, D.C., Nation of Islam official called the show, claiming that whoever is the Fruit of Islam captain of the Nation of Islam's Harlem mosque is the Nation of Islam's business. The next caller objected, saying the Nation of Islam had made it black America's business.

"We're the ones they come to when they want to sell the papers and the bean pies," the caller said, adding that it was high time the Nation of Islam abandoned the charge that the FBI or the CIA murdered Malcolm X. He, too, thought Farrakhan had made a bad move in appointing Abdul-Aziz. Several other callers agreed.

All this righteous display of indignation is misplaced. For nearly 20 years now, there have been many who are convinced that Abdul-Aziz and Thomas 15X Johnson - now Khalil Islam - were the victims of one of the most despicable railroad jobs in American judicial history. Islam was arrested shortly after Abdul-Aziz. Both maintained their innocence. Talmadge Hayer - now known as Mujahid Abdul Halim - was the only assassin caught in the Audubon Ballroom. He told the court, to no avail, that Abdul-Aziz and Islam had nothing to do with the crime. In 1979, Halim went so far as to finally confess to Malcolm X's murder, admit it was a Nation of Islam plot hatched in the Newark, N.J., mosque and name his confederates - who did not include Abdul-Aziz and Islam.

Peter Goldman, author of "The Death and Life of Malcolm X," interviewed all three men in 1979 and became convinced of Abdul-Aziz and Islam's innocence. So is Michael Friedly, author of "Malcolm X: The Assassination." But if Goldman, Friedly, Halim, Islam and Abdul-Aziz don't convince us, maybe Benjamin Karim will.

Karim - formerly Benjamin Goodman - was Malcolm X's closest associate after both left the Nation of Islam. Karim had much to say about Abdul-Aziz and Islam in his own book, "Remembering Malcolm."

"Neither [Johnson nor Butler] had attended the rally at the Audubon that Sunday. If they had, I would have spotted them from the platform when I was opening up. Any of the other brothers at the door would have recognized them if they had entered the ballroom. As any current NOI member was considered suspect by us, both Johnson and Butler would have been checked for weapons at the door and, in all likelihood, been barred from the meeting. (In March 1965, I testified both to the assistant district attorney and before a grand jury that as I left the stage, I had not in fact witnessed the assassination and therefore had not seen the assassins themselves. I was nevertheless certain, I testified further, that neither Butler nor Johnson could have been involved in the assassination as neither was present that day at the Audubon. I was not called by the defense to testify at the trial itself.)"

Abdul-Aziz was guilty of being a member of the Nation of Islam and having incompetent lawyers. The last I checked, neither of those were crimes. Abdul-Aziz was a model convict for 20 years, educated himself in prison and became a counselor for other Muslim inmates. That makes him a better man than those of us who would question his appointment. Farrakhan was not insensitive in appointing Abdul-Aziz Fruit of Islam captain. It would have been insensitive - and immoral - for Farrakhan to continue punishing Abdul-Aziz for a crime the man didn't commit.

Benjamin Chavis-Muhammad, the minister of the Harlem mosque, could have said just that when he called Miles' show. Instead, Chavis-Muhammad chose to Jew-bait. The original story about Abdul-Aziz appeared in the Village Voice, a "Jewish-backed paper," Chavis-Muhammad claimed, bent on creating division within the black community.

Someone should remind Chavis-Muhammad that the same Peter Goldman who has loudly proclaimed Abdul-Aziz's innocence for 19 years is - lo and behold - a Jew. But it's hard sticking to facts when you Jew-bait almost reflexively.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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