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On Tuesday, 9/11, two days after we posted our essay on America vs. Islam, an angry mob attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing J. Christopher Stevens, Washington's ambassador to Libya, as well as three other Americans at the compound. The violence erupted out of mass protests in Libya, Egypt, and other Muslim nations over a little-seen, straight-to-YouTube anti-Islam film called “Innocence of Muslims,” which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and pedophile. The “film,” which is actually just a sub-amateur video posted to YouTube by what appear to be extremely ignorant self-professed “Christians” (whose shameful acts demonstrate they are not Christians at all) was further promoted by Terry Jones, the hate-mongering ignorant, Quran-burning pastor of less than fifty ignorant folk in Gainesville Florida, at what he called his “Judge Muhammad Day,” a “Christian” hate event. That a relative nobody could post a stupid, home-made “video” to YouTube and another relative nobody could promote it, inciting global violence which led to murder, and neither “Christian” express even the slightest regret or remorse only further underscores my point about the scourge of religious bigotry, ignorance and extremism in this country.

One of the steepest prices we pay for liberty and freedom is our having to put up with ignorant hate-speech. Freedom means precisely that, that each of us is entitled to our own voice, no matter how hateful that voice may be. A major problem with the so-called Arab Spring is that oppressed people, yearning for freedom, usually do not fully understand what freedom actually means or the price they all must pay for that freedom. The protestors and rioters, having only recently won their own freedom from oppression, are demanding only free speech they agree with or free speech which does not offend them (or, in this case, blaspheme God). There is no freedom if you pass a law banning speech you disagree with. In the hands of those who have only known cruelty and totalitarianism, freedom is a much more fragile, much more complex, and far more costly thing than many of them understand.

The Muslim Experience

In 38 years of ministry, I have never once heard any teaching on Islam (general) or even The Nation of Islam offered from a black pulpit. These days, when a white person hears the word “Muslim,” they think of bin Laden or Muqtada al-Sadr. I imagine the overwhelming majority of white Americans, when they hear “Muslim,” think “terrorist.” And, thus, Americans of Middle Eastern descent, of all faiths, routinely fall under the shadow of suspicion just by being who they are. This is a familiar story to Black America. Only, I’d imagine when most black Americans hear the word “Muslim,” we think “Farrakhan,” whom many of us see as a great black leader, whether we agree with him or not. Most black people I know associate the word “terrorist” with a specific person or behavior and do not slander an entire ethnic group. We certainly don’t blame Islam, a religion the black church in America has lived in peaceful cooperation with for half a century. The so-called “Black” Muslims of the United States are not known for acts of terrorism beyond political rhetoric and civil disobedience in defiance of social injustice, so my guess would be that Black America is having a much different Muslim experience than White America.

I have no quarrel with the Nation of Islam or its leader, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, though I must preface my embrace of my brothers and sisters with my conviction that our paths diverge at Hagar, Abraham’s concubine who bore him the son Ishmael and from whom the Islamic faith evolved. I am a Christian, whose path travels through Isaac and Judaism to the virgin birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Which should and must not make me an enemy of Islam any more than I am an enemy of, say, Republicans. As Rick Warren profoundly said, “We are all betting our lives on something. I’m betting that the Word of God is true.”

That preface notwithstanding, it is without question that Minister Farrakhan is the most prolific, demonstrably profound and effective voice in African American leadership today. Which is not to in any way impugn intellectuals such as The Reverend Dr. Michael Eric Dyson (whose voice I pitifully attempt to mimic in my own writing), Dr. Cornel West, or even The Reverend Jeremiah Wright. However, what separates Minister Farrakhan from the crowd is his unflinching willingness if not eagerness to wear the villain’s black hat. His is an uncompromised and undomesticated voice. Frankly, you never know what the minister is going to say next. He seems to have made peace with the uncontested fact of his being an outcast from mainstream society, and even politically feared by blacks as well. I have seen no evidence that the minister can be bought, coerced, compromised, intimidated, threatened, or mitigated in any way. I have not heard his comments on the now-infamous Reverend Wright sound bite, but my instinct suggests Minister Farrakhan’s biggest problem with the “God Damn America!” rant was that he himself didn’t think of it first.

We may not agree with everything the minister says, and, yes, this may be me hedging a little because, frankly, I have not listened to every single word ever spoken by him. But there is an undeniable quotient to the minister’s speech: he says things most of us are afraid to say. He says things virtually all black Americans have thought at one time or another but have choked down because of the society in which we live. Much like comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has made millions by drawing attention to everyday things we all see and observe, Farrakhan’s electric, watchable quality is he draws attention to the distressed humanity that comprises the black experience in America. And, we distance ourselves from him and hedge a little against him not out of some genuine disagreement with his positions but because of the very engine that powers his dynamism: the overwhelming power of whites in America and Black America’s forced acceptance of mainstream values. Hang all the posters of Rick Warren you like: a public embrace of Farrakhan can cost you your job.

This musing is not intended as a defense of Minister Farrakhan. Like Mark Antony, I come neither to praise nor bury Caesar but to jot down my observations on this phenomena of “Islamic Evil.”  CONTINUED

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