Last month Louis Farrakhan – Muslim minister, black nationalist leader, and spokesman for the militant ‘religion’ the Nation of Islam – came to Belize, his third visit in 38 years. As well as giving interviews to the media, he was given a reception and dinner by the Government, met with religious and community leaders, spoke at the University and the Prison (talk about a captive audience), had some one-on-one face time with both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, and finished off with a public speech in the unlikely location of Bird’s Isle, a small island in Belize City that’s just big enough for a car park, a basketball court, and a restaurant & bar (he ‘held court’ in the basketball court).
The publicity surrounding the week-long tour didn’t give very much away, but after the minister had left, the conversations and speeches he made contained many references to terms like “unity”, “education”, “responsibility”, and “national pride”. All fine ideas, and relevant to a member of any race of people living in the developing world. Farrakhan even had a few choice words to say about Belize’s jaundiced political system, and advised the kleptocrats in charge (my words, not his!) to work together for the good of the whole country and its people. Being a shrewd operator, he was sensible enough to keep a fairly tight lid on his religious beliefs – a sound idea, as Belize (like the rest of the region) is overwhelmingly Christian (and any devout Muslim would soon find that the minister’s version of Islam is lax enough to make an ayatollah choke on his kebab). And he was careful not to alienate the Mestizo population by not focusing too much on only the black Belizeans. So far, so good.
But sadly, all the inspiring words in the world can’t hide the fact that Farrakhan himself is a racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, and a man whose charismatic personality and gift for oratory and colourful language have allowed him to get away with much more than he should’ve been allowed. Which makes it disturbing when he’s invited into a democratic country by politicians and religious leaders – until you realise that politicians are always happy to be seen with charismatic orators (especially ones who claim to speak for ‘the people’); and religious leaders can always find something in common with each other (and in the case of the Belizean churches’ leaders and Farrakhan, it’s an unflinching belief in God and an equally unflinching dislike of gay people).
I first heard of Farrakhan after listening to Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise in the 80s (like any self-respecting white teenager, I listened to hip-hop!). But I first saw him in Brother Minister, a 1995 documentary about the assassination of Malcolm X (who left the Nation of Islam and publicly denounced it for its racist teachings and the sexual improprieties of its leaders). It contains a secretly filmed segment showing Farrakhan shouting at the top of his voice in an NOI temple in 1993. Verging on hysteria, he says of the murdered Malcolm X: “If we dealt with him like a nation deals with traitors, what the hell business is it of yours?” His apparent admission of what had long been suspected – that it was him and the rest of the NOI leadership that ordered Malcolm’s killing – isn’t known by enough people, or remembered as often as it should be. Nor is it widely known that, two months before the murder, Farrakhan wrote in an NOI newspaper that Malcolm was a “Judas” and “worthy of death.”
I invite any Belizean, any black person, in fact anyone at all, to remember those words and to look at the film of Farrakhan’s sweating, yelling face, and to bear in mind that this self-righteous thug, who once boasted of “dealing with” one of black America’s true heroes, is someone now invited to Belize to tell Belizeans how to support each other.
And Farrakhan’s immoral statements don’t end there. He’s produced flat-out racism (calling white people “evil”, “devils”, and “unevolved”), and bizarre science (apparently caucasians are the result of a sick experiment by a black scientist six thousand years ago – in breeding out the blackness, the deranged doctor inadvertently removed all the black man’s virtues too, and as a result, the white race has connived to enslave black people ever since). Then there’s his anti-Semitism – according to him, Jews are responsible for everything from the slave trade to the global financial crisis. And in his conspiracy theories, he manages to combine all of the above into a paranoid whole – Jewish doctors inventing AIDS and infecting black children with the disease, and the white establishment suppressing cures in order to commit the covert genocide of blacks. And that’s before you get onto his quasi-religious pronouncements – Hurricane Katrina being “God’s punishment for America’s warmongering and racism.“ And if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also compared himself to Adolf Hitler, accepted money from Colonel Gaddafi, and expressed an interest in Scientology!
Any comment on Farrakhan and his rantings tends to dwell on the negative effect that black chauvinist rhetoric has on white people. But why would any thinking black person want anything to do with a raving nutbag who believes that everything that’s wrong in the black community is the work of a white conspiracy? Because he happens to say some inspiring things about black empowerment when he’s not foaming at the mouth about Israel? I can perfectly understand why black people throughout the Americas would be sensitive about the way their ancestors were treated. I sympathise with them, and I’d feel the same way too if I were them. But that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) excuse anyone from saying that AIDS is the fault of the US government or that Jews were behind the slave trade. And the apologist for murder minister and his equally vocal religious friends state (at least they used to state, these days they’re subtle enough to imply) this kind of nonsense every time they get on a podium.
All of which raises the ultimate question of why any country would invite this loud-mouthed bigot in, or allow him to come. Perhaps the religious leaders of Belize saw a heady combination of enthusiastic zeal and humble piety in him that they found attractive, and thought that he could bring some of their lost sheep back to the flock. Perhaps the politicians thought (as many people do) that, as a self-made black man living in a predominantly white society (and living through some very racist times), he’s a respectable role model for young black men (and with family breakdown, low education, poverty, gang membership, and crime much more common in the Creole community, they may well have a point about young black Belizean men needing role models). And to give Farrakhan some credit for a moment, he’s supposed to have toned down his inflammatory rhetoric in recent years, and his Belizean speeches were mainly focused on concepts like self-respect, family values, education, and general responsibility (although the racism and the conspiracy theories were never too far away).
So is this man, for whom the cause of every problem that’s ever befallen black people is a conspiracy of white people and Jews, and for whom the only solution is a total separation of races, really the best person to be inspiring the inhabitants of multicultural, multiracial Belize? I guess Belize doesn’t have the political clout or the money to have truly inspiring black figures like Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu come over, and I did note with some relief that most of the people interviewed on TV had never heard of Farrakhan, or had heard of him in only the vaguest way. Perhaps if the minister’s audiences can remember his positive thoughts without ever finding out what he really stands for (and what he’s said and done in the past), maybe then his visit won’t have been a wasted exercise.