Ideology

Listening to Louis

March 09, 2011

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Listening to Louis

Churchgoing New Englanders in the early settlements normally heard two sermons every Sunday—one in the morning and another in the afternoon, each at least two hours long. There was no heat in these buildings. They were bitterly cold in winter. It was a point of honor for the minister never to shorten a service merely because his audience was frozen.

That’s how things went in old New England, according to David Hackett Fischer in Albion’s Seed. I can relate, having just watched Louis Farrakhan’s address to the Nation of Islam Saviours’ Day conference on February 27. Farrakhan was speaking to an audience of 18,000 followers in Rosemont, Illinois. The full video of the speech is here. (WARNING: It runs 4h 11m 22s. I can’t find a full transcript, though there are edited highlights here.)

I’d caught some news clips of the event and wanted to see for myself how incendiary Farrakhan’s speech was. I also have a soft spot for black church oratory. I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but taken simply as an art form, this stuff can be quite striking. Al Sharpton, for example, who is an ignorant buffoon in all matters that actually engage my powers of reasoning, is a terrific preacher, with musical cadences and rhythms. I could listen to him for…well, not hours, but a lot of minutes.

Farrakhan isn’t that good, and four hours is much too long for anyone to speak, though I had the advantage over those New Englanders of sitting in a warm room with a pot of tea and some peanuts. (I have found from experience that the general rule for an address is 40-45 minutes max. Any more than that, you lose them.) He was in good voice on the 27th, though. Indeed, he looked remarkably well for a man of nearly 78. The NOI is quite strict about diet, smoking, and drinking; I suppose that helps.

The striking thing about the address was the almost total absence of anything Islamic in it. Most of the themes and references were in fact Christian. The first few quotes I logged to any scriptures at all were to Isaiah, Nehemiah, Isaiah, Isaiah, Matthew, Habakkuk, Isaiah, Malachi, Matthew, Joel, Joel, Isaiah, and only then, at 42 minutes in, a passing reference to the Koran. The whole middle part of the speech, from 1h 44m to 2h 8m, was an exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount. Much of the next hour was organized around a visit Farrakhan had paid to the Church of Scientology, which he seems to have found congenial. Not until 3h 12m did we get any Arabic, and then only some brief snatches. (NOI mosques use an English translation of the Koran.)

We got a lot of NOI theology, about which Farrakhan seems quite sincere. It’s wacky stuff, though I suppose no wackier than Young Earth Creationism or Scientology. Yakub the mad scientist shows up—the guy who created white people by eugenics. There were also eschatological warnings of the great fire coming.

The anti-white and anti-Semitic material was in plain sight, though Farrakhan mostly remembered to trim his rhetoric to allow for the possibility that there are some good white people and even some good Jews. There were actually a few white people in the audience, picked out by the cameras in reaction shots (though I didn’t spot Tim Wise).

“Some part of the anti-Semitism shtick is Holocaust envy—resentment that any other people should claim to have endured suffering comparable to the black man’s.”

Farrakhan’s self-pity is strong: “Our 450-year suffering…The resurrection of our people…To treat a people like this [i.e., sending blacks to prison for breaking the law] is shameful….”

Perhaps, but so are fantasies of violence against the white oppressor: After a spirited rendering of Isaiah 63:3 (“I will tread them in mine anger and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments…”), Farrakhan smacked his lips and added with a sneer, to loud approval: “Yeah, that’s the one I represent.”

Some part of the anti-Semitism shtick is Holocaust envy—resentment that any other people should claim to have endured suffering comparable to the black man’s. In Ireland the Republican movement’s whinier section is scoffed at as “the MOPE faction,” where MOPE stands for “Most Oppressed People Ever.” Nobody in the Rosemont stadium—certainly not Farrakhan—nursed any doubt that black Americans are the MOPE.

Another component of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism is an inheritance of the old-fashioned Christian complaint that “they killed Our Lord.” Farrakhan himself has a bit of a Christ complex and drops heavy hints that he expects the Jews to murder him: “Don’t you think that I know that there’s a price that I gotta pay? That’s why you all stay the hell away from me….” NOI is in fact just Christianity with a thin coat of Islamic paint. Saviours’ Day celebrates the movement’s founder, Fard Muhammad, who was born on February 26, and whom Farrakhan quite clearly referred to as the savior.

And then there’s the separatism business. Farrakhan plays this differently for different audiences. At Rosemont he was in full separatist mode: “Section off a part of this country; help us to become an independent people.”


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