By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A Palestinian, Said Arafat, attacked Zionism as "a cancer" and called for "the total liberation of Palestine." Russell Means, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement, gave a predictable address about an Indian taking his tomahawk to an insulting white man. Then a golem popped out of his bandana: "When we were in Los Angeles the Jews did a number on Mr. Farrakhan." He concluded by saying, "I want you all to remember that Hollywood has denigrated and debased every race of people, but there are no plays or movies denigrating the Jewish people." (Half right, half wrong. As J. Hoberman points out, many movies with Jewish stereotypes were made during the silent era, but the moguls backed off when sound came in, yielding to community pressure. And though Hollywood's contribution to "negative images" of ethnic groups is unarguable, it is also true that revisionist westerns such as the classic Fort Apachestarted appearing long before AIM was founded.)
All the speeches were short and made their points. Then the featured attraction was introduced. The audience rose to its feet and burst forth with a heroic sound, filling the Garden with a gigantic chord of collected voices. Very soon, Farrakhan proved his shrewdness, highhandedly using the rhetoric of social movements he would have opposed 25 years ago. When the applause ended, Farrakhan called attention to the female bodyguards who surrounded him and claimed that Elijah Muhammad was the first black leader to liberate the woman. Point of fact, the Muslims used to say, "The black woman is the field in which the black man sows his nation." But after all, the past is Silly Putty to men like Farrakhan, who used the subject of women as the first of many themes he would pass through or over. "The world is in the condition it is," he said, "because it doesn't respect women." Growing bolder, Farrakhan attacked the separation of the sexes in traditional Islam, saying women should be allowed into the mosque. That will no doubt be quite a revelation in the Middle East, when Farrakhan goes on his promised third world tour.
Farrakhan went on to be consistently incoherent for three hours, embodying the phrase "Didn't he ramble?" HE circled many topics, always ending on his favorite subject: Louis Farrakhan. He talked about how good he looked, how he should be compared to Jesus, how the Jews were after him, how he was on a divine mission, how he would go to the southwest and die with the Indians if necessary, how "examples" should be made of black leaders who criticized men like him, how black people needn't worry if they were called upon to go to war with America, since Allah would do for them what he did for David when the boy fought Goliath. He piled his points in Dagwood sandwiches of contradiction, moving from the "fact" that whites were invented devils to the observation that if America is hell, then those who run it must be devils; then obliquely referring to the Annacalyptus, an occult history, with the remark that we have never seen races evolve from light to dark, further proof that the "Asiatic black man" must be the father of all races. To finish off that run, Farrakhan dug out the anthropological findings in East Africa, which suggest that man originated there. Rounding the bases of absurdity, metaphor, and the occult, he hook slid into science.
When Farrakhan wasn't talking about himself, he most frequently baited Jews. When he does that. Farrakhan plumbs the battles that have gone on between black people and Jews for almost 20 years. He speaks to (though not for) those who have fought with Jews over affirmative action, or have felt locked out of discussions about Middle East policy by Jews as willing to bully and deflect criticism with the term "anti-Semite" as black people were with "racist" 20 years ago. I'm sure he scores points with those who argue that Jewish media executives are biased in favor of Israel, who say that films like Exodus, TV movies about Entebbe, Golda Meir, Sadat, the stream of documentaries, docudramas, and miniseries given over to "the final solution" are all part of a justification for Zionism; who were angry when Hollywood saluted Israel's 30th anniversary with a television special, and cynically wondered if "those Hollywood Jew" would salute any other country's birth.
I don't know of any other country Hollywood has saluted, but a propaganda ploy by a few executives does not a conspiracy of six million Jewish Americans make. (You can hear them whispering into the phone at your nearest deli, "Hey, Murray, I just got word we'll have another special coming up; spread the word in your block. But make sure no goyim are listening." If such a conspiracy exists, how has it allowed South Africa, Israel's ally, to get such an overwhelming amount of bad press?
Of course, Israel's relationship to South African complicates the question. For all its moral proclamations, the Israelis supply arms to Botha's gang and refuse to cooperate with sanctions. This convinces certain quarters that Israel and its sympathizers support racial injustice and antidemocratic regimes, angering those who had a sense of international black struggle hammered into their minds by Malcolm X and his emulators. That sense of collective black effort was a sort of political evangelism, bent on saving the third world from white savagery and exploitation, a racial variation on international revolutionary Marxism. (It was this sense of foreign destiny that inspired the back-to-African movements, which eventually led to the founding Liberia, Israel's true forerunnera country begun for free ex-slaves to the resentment of the 60 local tribes. One wonders how much Herzl and associates knew about Liberia and whether or not they were inspired by its example.) At present, however, it seems to put more emphasis on the interests of a foreign country than on the conditions of black Americans, a tendency I doubt we would see in the Jewish community if it had the same degree of social, educational, and economic problems that burden millions of Negroes.