Peter Noel, my impressively resourceful colleague, quotes Al Sharpton in the August 25 Voice as revealing that Khallid Abdul Muhammad’s hero is Malcolm X.
I knew Malcolm X from the time he was recognized around much of the world as a spokesman for Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. We spoke from time to time, disagreed from time to time, and became friends.
The last time I saw Malcolm was at radio station WBAI in New York. Louis Farrakhan, who had succeeded Malcolm as the tribune of the Nation of Islam, had been saying that a traitor to the Nation–that is, Malcolm–did not deserve to live. Malcolm, having exposed some of the Clinton-like sexual habits of Elijah Muhammad, had left the Nation in disgust.
I had never seen Malcolm show fear until that afternoon at the radio station. At first, we were joking about a writer we both knew who was masterful at getting bountiful advances from book publishers for manuscripts that were never heard from again.
But as we talked, Malcolm became solemn. His home in Queens had been firebombed. A few days before, he had checked into a hotel under an assumed name so that he could focus on writing an article with an immediate deadline. As soon as he came in the door, Malcolm told me, the phone rang, and a voice said, “Hello, Malcolm.”
As I left the radio station, Malcolm said that he did not expect to live much longer. He feared for his wife and children.
A while before, he had written me a postcard on the way back from his trip to Mecca–a journey every adult Muslim is expected to make at least once in his lifetime. He was very proud of that voyage. He said he was the first American-born black person to make the actual hajj (the pilgrimage).
Malcolm sent the message on the postcard to me and to other friends:
“In my recent travels into the African countries and others, I was impressed by the importance of having a working unity among all peoples, black as well as white.
“But the only way this is going to be brought about is that the black ones have to be in unity first.”
He didn’t have nearly enough time to work out specific organizing plans for the future before he was gunned down by black men whose own concept of unity required the termination of Malcolm.
After his death, a Voice reader told me about a lecture Malcolm had given at a college in New York State a year or so before he was killed. After the speech, the moderator was supposed to field the questions and then have Malcolm answer them.
A black student rose and attacked Jews–all Jews, from the beginning of time and those not yet born–with a viciousness that would have made Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a world-class anti-Semite, envious.
Malcolm X did not wait for the moderator to give him the floor. Malcolm jumped from his seat, grabbed the microphone, and with the icy anger his critics knew so well, said:
“What you’re doing is what has for so long been done to us. Bigotry doesn’t help anybody, including the bigot. Listen, I don’t judge a man because of the color of his skin. I don’t judge people because they’re white. I don’t judge you because you’re black. I judge you because of what you do and what you practice. I’m not against people because they’re Jews. I’m against racists.”
Khallid Abdul Muhammad has often described all Jews as “bloodsuckers.” And in July of this year, Khallid Abdul Muhammad charged that New York is a “Jewish-controlled city.”
Has Rudy Giuliani only been passing as Catholic all these years?
In her August 14 column in the Daily News, E. R. Shipp quoted a statement Malcolm made near the end of his life. His message is utterly alien to the Khallid Abdul Muhammad who claims Malcolm X as his hero:
“One of the first things I think young people should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent conclusion for yourself.
“If you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or go by what others think about someone–instead of searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself–you will be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you will be walking east when you think you’re going west.”
By contrast, there is Khallid Abdul Muhammad. On college campuses, he trumpets brutal stereotypes of Catholics, gays, lesbians, and, of course, “hooked-nose, so-called Jews with hairy hands” who dominate all the world, especially this country.
I have on tape a three-hour speech by Muhammad at Kean College, in New Jersey, that exceeds even Farrakhan in its incitement to hatred. His ferocious bigotry would be easy to parody except that it penetrates the minds and emotions of many black youngsters, on and off college campuses. Those verbal poisons are protected by the First Amendment, and they tell you a lot about the speaker.
What Khallid Abdul Muhammad stands for is utterly contemptuous of the kind of black unity that Malcolm X was trying to create at the time he was murdered at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. His body was destroyed, but not his spirit.
There is now a Manichean struggle between the liberating clarity of Malcolm X and the destructive teachings of Khallid Abdul Muhammad. In his August 25 Voice piece, Peter Noel quotes a black analyst who prefers not to be identified:
“Khallid Muhammad is a personality, and movements are also built around personalities… Since Farrakhan has been moving his Nation of Islam more mainstream, the nationalist movement has no rallying figure of its own.
“Khallid has a definable image… He’s star quality.”
When the character and content of Malcolm X’s life will still be reverberating, Khallid Muhammad’s “star” will have long since faded into the dust of demagoguery.