Imagine being 6 years old and living in hell.
Picture a man who's fighting to evict you from your home, harassing you with round-the-clock threatening phone calls, and sending goons to lurk outside your windows and menace you with shotguns whenever you venture forth. Visualize henchmen forcing your allies' cars off the road, firebombing your home (while you, your father, your pregnant mother, and your three small sisters sleep), colluding with the police and FBI to position assassins wherever you appear, inciting your father's murder (which you and your family witness), then taking his place in the organization that your martyred father has put on the map.
Now imagine that 35 years later, the man who is at least partially responsible for the ruination of your childhood has grown elderly and become rich from the profits of the empire wrested from your father over his dead body. Would a general "statement of regret" that denied direct involvement in your father's murder and that began, "As I may have been complicit in words that I spoke" suffice? Would it even come close?
Those are the questions that Attallah Shabazz, the oldest daughter of Malcolm X, and her five sisters are faced with in the wake of the "60 Minutes" interview that recently brought Shabazz and Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, together at his home in Arizona. Although Farrakhan delicately avoided specifics like the ones listed above, and probably remains safely hidden from the proof of any direct links, Farrakhan has long been suspected of much more than what press reports politely synopsize as "incendiary rhetoric" where Malcolm was concerned.
|What were Farrakhan's words but a fatwa of the type that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued against Salman Rushdie?|
Let us be blunt: Many people believe that Louis Farrakhan is an unindicted co-conspirator who zestfully helped engineer the death of Malcolm X in 1965. Out of jealousy, out of zealotry, out of ambition, out of politics, out of blindness. But definitely out of conscious intent. For those who believed in Malcolm X and the good he might have done, Minister Farrakhan's passive-voice not-quite-apologies simply won't do.
Karl Evanzz, a Washington Post researcher and the author of the exhaustively researched new biography "The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad," traces the events surrounding Malcolm's death nearly moment by moment. He recounts that in the year leading up to Malcolm's death, he had become estranged from both his former mentor, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and the Nation's teachings of race hatred and violence. Malcolm was appalled by Muhammad's mistreatment of his wife, his countless affairs, and his unsupported illegitimate children; all were direct contraventions of "the Messenger's" own teachings and the tenets of the Nation of Islam.
Enlightened by his experience at Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) and an embrace of orthodox Islam, Malcolm refused to tolerate the decadence he saw around him in the Nation, which among other things coerced "donations" from followers and from black businesses while its higher-ups lived like pashas. Marginalized and penalized for speaking up, Malcolm was forced to step out on his own, which he did both nationally and internationally with growing success.
Malcolm was moving away from the anti-intellectual nihilism of the 1960s Nation of Islam (which happily awaited the violent demise of the white man) and was maturing into a visionary statesman motivated by love and progress rather than by evening the score with oppressors. Most dangerously for him, he was taking black Muslims and the international Muslim world with him, and away from the Nation of Islam, in droves.
Jealousy, power hunger, and a desperation to keep the truth about the Nation's nefarious inner workings secret made it imperative that Malcolm be silenced. In hours-long Castro-esque harangues, he was denounced in every Nation of Islam mosque and meeting in America. Two months before his assassination, and on the anniversary of his suspension from the Nation, Farrakhan published the following words in Muhammad Speaks, the Nation's official newspaper: "Only those who wish to be led to hell, or to their doom, will follow Malcolm. The die is set, and Malcolm shall not escape.... Such a man as Malcolm is worthy of death."
In a religious environment that required followers to be prepared to use violence, what were such words but a fatwa of the type that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued against the writer Salman Rushdie? Yet all Minister Farrakhan will admit to is being misunderstood and feeling "regret that any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being."