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As a kind of corollary to the drama over Michael Jackson’s alleged conversion to Islam, there have long been rumors that Jacko was somehow affiliated with the Nation of Islam, led by controversial firebrand Louis Farrakhan. The NOI connection was just raised again after Jackson’s death because apparently some of his security detail and private entourage were NOI members or had vague, unspecified “ties” to Farrakhan. As a bonus, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, who converted to Islam in 1989, invoked Allah at the family press conference, causing a minor media stir. However, there’s quite a big difference between Jackson being exploited or influenced by people who are NOI members, and being exploited or influenced by the NOI as an organization itself.

This is old news, really – back in December 2003, during the controversy over the child molestation charges against Jackson, his chief spokesman had resigned over “strategic differences” with Jackson’s other advisers. According to various sources at the time, these other advisers included Leonard Muhammad, Farrakhan’s son-in-law. A few months later in spring 2004, Jackson abruptly cleaned house by firing his lead attorneys, and also got rid of Leonard who by then was a “business manager” for Jackson’s affairs. This was all orchestrated by his brother Randy, who apparently had big ideas for Jackson’s future. The picture overall is a mess, but it boils down to Jackson being passed from one group of exploitative manipulators to another, all eager to leverage his fame and money for themselves. The bottom line here is that the Nation of Islam as a whole was never involved in any of these machinations, only individuals who used whatever access to Jackson they had.

The NOI is a juicy target for conspiracy theorists and of course the paranoid rants of the Islamophobia industry harpies. After all, they are militant African Americans AND muslims both – sort of a racisal and prejudicial douuble-whammy. But there’s absolutely nothing to support the accusation that the NOI or even Farrakhan himself had interfered with Jackson’s life, or had a role in his death. The knee-jerk hysteria about the NOI and Jackson was perfectly punctured by a column by Roland Martin for Black America Today magazine back then, in Dec 2003:

Why is this an issue? Because it’s an effort to use the racially divisive history of an organization for the spin of all those involved in this sordid game.

This linkage has been seen before.

A few years ago, several members of Congress sent angry letters to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, demanding that they revoke security contracts from firms run by the NOI. It seems that many public housing complexes in Washington, D.C. and Chicago saw crime drop because of

the involvement of these security companies, but that didn’t matter to the members of Congress. All they were concerned with was not awarding “taxpayer” dollars to an organization they called a hate group.

The problem with all of this is that the Nation didn’t own any of these security firms. Members of the Nation – a religious group – owned the security firms. Does that mean that since I am a member of a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, if I owned a security firm and was hired to police public housing units or Jackson’s Neverland ranch, the Southern Baptists are now “brainwashing” Jackson and taking over his life?

Anyone who has followed American politics and the thorny issue of race over the last 20 years could easily conclude that Farrakhan is a

polarizing figure. He has been called by white America a Jew hater and a man who considers whites to be devils. In black America, some consider him a wretched figure, while many others see him as being one black man who is unwilling to bow down the white racial supremacy. Like it or not, the Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and any black member of Congress could not have pulled off the Million Man March in 1995.

But in this case, I just refuse to take the bait. This guilt by association is often used to smear individuals and drive public perception on an issue. Everyone involved knows full well that the mere mention of Jackson aligning himself with Farrakhan will force Americans to take sides.

If Jackson has hired individuals who belong to the Nation of Islam to handle some of his affairs, he has every right to do so. But please, let’s get the facts straight before we begin another race war like those that emanated from the O.J. Simpson case. God knows we don’t have to re-live that nightmare again.

Those words ring just as true today. In fact more so, because the paranoia about muslims in particular, and the double standard that muslim organizations are uniquely culpable for all actions of their private individual members, has become so pervasive.

It should be noted that Michael Jackson discussed his childhood, faith, and the freedom of the Sabbath, in an essay at Beliefnet in 2000.

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