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Not your father's Farrakhan

By Mario H. Lopez
Bombs Away  

In his still nascent quest for legitimacy, Louis Farrakhan sought to reach out to more Americans by weaving mainstream issues into his Million Family March speech, and by making the march about him.  Monday’s egoism came even as the Nation of Islam is beset by internal strife some say is the result of his leadership.  Farrakhan's lack of his usual fiery rhetoric resulted in his ulterior motives becoming all-too transparent, an inability to overshadow the nature of the family theme, and a speech that showed the degree to which Farrakhan is now a mass of contradictions.

Farrakhan’ three-hour speech on Monday did not use the word “bloodsucker” to describe Jews, as he has in the past.  He did not refer to Judaism as “a gutter religion.”  Instead, he rambled on about everything from reparations for descendents of slaves, to ending the economic embargo against Iraq, to calls for attendees to fund his plan to create his proposed economic development bank—the ostensible goal for which would be to help create neighborhood businesses.

The day prior to the gathering, Farrakhan went on Meet the Press and referred to the relationship between blacks and Jews as a “master-slave relationship.”  While he told host Tim Russert that he did regret that sometimes his way of speaking is “caustic and harsh,” he also told Russert that “[He didn’t] need to apologize for telling the truth.”

Before Farrakhan’s speech, the huge video monitors scattered around Washington DC’s National Mall showed a video biography of such quality as to rival similar presentations made at both the Republican and Democratic political conventions.  The speakers at the March continually praised Farrakhan, but quotes from the audience showed them to be more interested in general themes of family than in Farrakhan specifically.  Valeria Ward, a resident of Sterling, Virginia, told The Associated Press that she went “for my two sons so they can know the importance of family, so they can understand everybody coming together.”

The use of the family as a theme exemplifies Farrakhan’s attempt to gain legitimacy, all while he continues to refuse to offer an apology for past slurs against whites, Jews, and others.  Farrakhan knows that a successful association of himself with mainstream issues would make him more powerful than before, despite the Nation of Islam’s current problems.

Former Nation of Islam member Sonsyrea Tate was in NOI for 10 years before getting out.  Tate was gratified to have African-Americans come together for such an event, but was quoted beforehand as saying that the gathering would “give the appearance that Mr. Farrakhan has the backing of the masses of African-Americans, which gives him tremendous power overseas.  I would be wary of giving him that power.  Who is he accountable to?”

Tate’s observation might account for some of Farrakhan’s positions on international issues, such as ending the economic embargoes against dictators in Iraq and Cuba, and easing financial restrictions against another dictator in Libya.  Actually, Farrakhan has sued the U.S. government, arguing that financial restrictions against Libya do not apply to NOI, because of its religious nature.  For the record, Libya has about a billion dollars worth of aid waiting to come to Farrakhan should such restrictions be lifted—money that will surely be controlled by Farrakhan himself.

And speaking of money—the most amusing aspect of the Million Family March was hearing Farrakhan, in his best imitation of Al Gore, berate everything corporate, only to pull up the march’s web site to find a logo for a credit card sponsor: “The Official Credit Card of the Million Family March.”

Coming on the five year anniversary of the Million Man March, which attracted between 400,000 and 800,000 participants, Farrakhan’s most recent gathering failed to attract even one-quarter of the promised million families.  That first gathering, which promised to focus on atonement, has yet to inspire Farrakhan into atoning for his own past statements.  We will wait and see whether Monday’s Million Family March will lead Farrakhan to really draw attention to family issues, or if he will remain as uninspired about those issues as Monday’s crowd was about him—despite his best efforts.

© Mario H. Lopez, 2000

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