Farrakhan stirs crowd in talk via satellite

Associated Press/March 1, 2004
By Jay Tokasz

Holding the Koran, Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, addresses a Chicago audience during a talk that also aired for an audience in Buffalo's True Bethel Baptist Church.

Minister Louis Farrakhan, delivering his talk via satellite from Chicago, couldn't see or hear how people in Buffalo were reacting. The distance didn't stop members of the audience in True Bethel Baptist Church, who paid $10 to watch Farrakhan on three large projection screens, from frequently hollering in agreement with the controversial Nation of Islam leader.

"Come on, leader," and "Get up into it" were common refrains, as Farrakhan spoke for nearly three hours.

He centered his speech on the theme "Reparations: What Does America and Europe Owe? And What Does Allah Promise?" but also touched on topics such as the war in Iraq and the controversy around Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

The sanctuary of True Bethel church was filled to its capacity of about 800 for the event, celebrating the Nation of Islam's Saviour's Day.

Farrakhan urged Americans "to consider what was done" when the subject of reparations for slavery comes up, rather than turning their heads and saying, "We didn't do it."

Slaves were ripped from Africa and stuck for months at a time in the bowels of ships filled with diseases like dysentery and smallpox, he said. In America, slave babies were taken from their mothers and sold to the highest bidder; slaves were branded like cattle, said Farrakhan. Some were burned alive, others tortured with floggings followed by a dose of salt or turpentine in the wounds, he said.

"How many of you saw the terrible beating that was given to Jesus?" he said, referring to Gibson's film depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. "They did nothing to Jesus that has not been done to us - and then some."

Farrakhan also said the successful economies of the United States and many European countries were built on the backs of slave labor and banks still in existence became institutional powerhouses, thanks to the profitable slave trade.

"White folk do not know what happened to us, and they do not know why they're in the privileged position they are based on what happened to us," he said. "If white people . . . are willing to look at the problem, just look at it, you will see something that will give you a different thought about what is justice and why black people are calling for justice."

Farrakhan described race relations in this country as "go along to get along" and said the individual successes of people like Oprah Winfrey and famous black athletes shouldn't delude African-Americans into thinking they've been collectively delivered from the impacts of enslavement.

"Nothing that we have achieved has healed us as a people," he said.

Farrakhan, who has been accused by Jewish groups of fomenting anti-Semitism, rejected the charge, saying he "was not now, nor have I ever been, a hater of the Jewish people."

But he did not shy away from asserting that Jews persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition ended up becoming plantation owners in the Caribbean and South America or that the Talmud, a collection of ancient Rabbinic writings upon which Judaism is based, includes a "curse" that casts black people as inferior.

Saviour's Day commemorates the birthday in 1877 of Master Wallace Fard Muhammad, believed in the Nation of Islam to be the second coming of a Messiah.

Farrakhan's address was simulcast in 113 sites across the country, as well as in Europe and the Caribbean.

In addition to local members of the Nation of Islam, the speech drew Christians and Muslims.

Jimmie Rayford of Niagara Falls said he doesn't always agree with Farrakhan but appreciates that he speaks openly about issues that are often difficult to discuss.

"He speaks about issues that normally we don't hear in today's church," said Rayford. "In my church, they don't discuss my everyday life and things I go through as a black man."

Minnie Bester, who also described herself as a Christian, called Farrakhan a brilliant and inspirational man who has been unfairly labeled as divisive.

"There's only one God," she said. "We all have to come together."

Farrakhan has been scheduled to visit Buffalo in May as the keynote speaker for a black-tie fund-raiser for the Muhammad School of Music. The event is scheduled for May 29 in the grand ballroom of the Buffalo Convention Center.

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