A few quick facts about Louis Farrakhan who, if the newspaper report I saw is correct, is due here today, and scheduled to speak at the UWI. First: in 2008, he attempted to endorse Barack Oba-ma's presidential bid. Obama quickly repudiated the endorsement, and distanced himself from Farrakhan because of Farrakhan's long track record of incendiary racial rhetoric, particularly his anti-Semitism.
Second: in 2009 in an interview on the US CBS News, Farrakhan admitted in a mealy-mouthed way that his words might have contributed to the murder of Malcolm X. Atallah Shabazz, Malcolm's daughter, thanked him and wished him peace, but did not accept the apology. (See www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-194051.html.)
Third: Farrakhan had ties to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, and Gaddafi himself, and several times criticised the Obama administration's support to the uprising that eventually killed Gaddafi. He has also expressed admiration for African tyrants like Robert Mugabe. Fourth: Farrakhan's Nation of Islam's beliefs have very little to do with orthodox Islam. The NOI's theology counts among its founding narratives the story of Yakub, a scientist who created the white race as a failed experiment, and that white people are demons.
Farrakhan also believes in spaceships. This is all mentioned (inter alia) in a 1996 interview with Henry Louis Gates Jr in the New Yorker and republished in Gates' 1997 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man. Gates also notes in that book that Farrakhan's followers had previously "shared a fervent hope for my death" after he had criticised Farrakhan in previous articles.
And I won't repeat anything he's said about Jews, mainly because many people here have no idea what anti-Semitism is, and probably wouldn't believe it if it were explained to them. (To many of our less fortunate citizens "rac-ism" is only when people do anything but patronise black people.) So Louis Farrakhan could reasonably be called a "dangerous demagogue."
For a sample of what I'm talking about, readers could listen to one of Farrakhan's followers, David Muhammad, who has a radio show (The Black Agenda) on one of the more vile radio stations. I didn't listen very long, because I'd heard it all before, and I understood its appeal to its audience-mainly the black underclass. The NOI/Farrakhan style creates an elaborate mythology (aka "conspiracy theory") about their (black people's) oppression, and blames it all on the whites, Jews, and in Trinidad, the reliable Indians.
But Farrakhan's appeal is not just to the poor and the incarcerated-the NOI has an enormous following in US prisons. Many of those who attended his famed Million Man March in 1995 were middle-class African-Americans. According to Gates, Farrakhan inspires an unhealthy response in even successful African Americans because of "feelings of guilt ... anxieties of having been false to our people, or sinned against our most innermost identity."
Incidentally, the MM march accomplished very little politically; it only increased Farrakhan's profile. And he's canny in his use of this heightened attention. His speeches twine racial paranoia and black self-reliance. Gates pointed out these contradictory sides of the man. Though 11 years after Gates's interview, the NY Times reported (February 26, 2007, article by Neil MacFarquhar) that the NOI was a dwindling organisation, out of step with and not taken seriously by other Islamic leaders and orthodoxy.
So why is Farrakhan being asked to speak at UWI? Why is he being asked to speak in Trinidad? By whom? The "by whom" is equally important as the fact that it's happening. Of the event per se, I can anticipate some of the arguments: freedom of speech; the virtue of "hearing all points of view"; that academic freedom isn't just for things we like; Farrakhan was recently invited to speak at Berkeley (and I encourage readers to google the clip from that address, where Farrakhan talks about the Chinese).
The intellectual-freedom argument is a good one, and usually the correct one. But not in this instance: this is one of those times when freedom of speech is being used against itself; that is, used to accomplish ends inimical to freedom. It's like creationists using intellectual-freedom arguments to force schools to teach that creationism and evolution are alternative ideas, rather than one being an absurd children's fantasy, and the other being based on replicable science.
And there's the little point that, as far as UWI (like the press) goes, the intellectual-freedom dodge is used only when their intellectual vacuity and incompetence are challenged-if they stir themselves to answer at all. The freedom they sweatily cling to is the freedom from consequences, not the freedom to ask probing questions, conduct relevant research, or find people who can do these things. And apparently they (and they know who "they" are) are getting away with it.
It would be interesting to see whether or how closely the PNM or any of its agents, overt or covert, is involved in this because I don't think the timing of Farrakhan's visit to Trinidad is coincidental. His last visit (c1996) was in the early part of the UNC's regime. It cannot be accidental that with the PNM flagging, its base shaky, its leadership a joke, and the only viable weapon left in its arsenal the old, reliable race hatred, a global icon of black racial militancy and separatism is invited to speak.
Farrakhan, incidentally, was once a calypsonian called "Charmer" (he is of West Indian parentage), which occupation, as we've seen in the last half-century, is not incompatible with dangerous demagoguery. I have no intention of going and listening to Farrakhan-I've seen and heard enough over the years. I would, however, be interested in seeing who and how many do go.