The truth is hiding where no one is looking; and in order to find it, just follow the money.
Louis Farrakhan, the 78-year-old leader of the Nation of Islam, has publicly defended embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi since the Libyan uprisings began earlier this year. The two leaders developed a strong relationship beginning in the 1980s, and the intersection of Farrakhan’s black liberation theology and Colonel Gadhafi’s pan-African vision, provided common ground for their political alliance.
At a Nation of Islam convention in February, Farrakhan defended the Libyan dictator and called for the United States to stay out of Libyan affairs. The now infamous NATO coalition, which President Obama has supported with a commitment of U.S. military resources — but no U.S. troops on the ground — appears to have achieved a successful end.
WATCH ‘TODAY SHOW’ COVERAGE OF GADHAFI’S FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL:
Media reports reveal that Gadhafi’s compound, the seat of his political power, has fallen into the hands of Libyan revolutionaries. The Arab spring has given birth to a new fall: the voices of the people rejoice and a wave of freedom which began with the toppling of Mubarak’s Egypt has now come to another North African nation.
Generally speaking, this is good news and a positive shift toward democracy. But it seems for the Nation of Islam, and Farrakhan’s position as a spokesman for black Muslims in particular, the events unfolding are a watershed moment with unintended consequences.
“It is a terrible thing for me to hear my brother called all these ugly and filthy names when I can’t recognize him as that,” Farrakhan said of Gadhafi at Mosque Maryam in Chicago earlier this year. “Even though the current tide is moving against him…how can I refuse to raise my voice in his defense? Why would I back down from those who have given so much?”
Farrakhan spoke not just of his political alliance with the Libyan leader, but of the financial arrangement from which he has benefitted for three decades. Beginning in 1971 Gadhafi loaned $3 million to the Nation of Islam, then lead by Elijah Muhammad, in order to buy and renovate a Greek Orthodox Church that became the Chicago-based headquarters of the organization.
Gadhafi’s support continued once Minister Farrakhan took the reins, with a $5 million gift intended for economic development programs aimed to benefit ailing black communities. Although at first these gifts were considered loans, Louis Farrakhan has since explained that Gadhafi never asked for a return or repayment of his investments.The wealthy alliance continued to benefit Farrakhan individually, as Gadhafi provided financial backing for the minister to hold conferences, travel internationally and even promote the Million Man March in 1996 which has become Farrakhan’s seminal achievement.
Farrakhan has largely avoided criticism that by accepting financial support from Gadhafi, he was a complicit front man for what many in the international community see as a global terrorist.
As Farrakhan has consistently charged the U.S. government and European nations for their racist, biased policies and imperialist pasts, he has remained silent when it comes to the murderous regimes of African dictators like Muammar Gadhafi. In fact, Farrakhan’s silence is most notable for the fact that he hardly ever remains silent. But Gadhafi, Mubarak and other African and Arab dictators have been spared his harsh criticisms, and the money may well explain why.
Farrakhan is on record for saying that if Gadhafi is persecuted for crimes against humanity, the same should apply to former President George W. Bush for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As fellow Grio contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson explained in his piece in June, Farrakhan has branded Gadhafi “the second coming of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and Gamel Nasser.”
These are men Farrakhan sees as authentic freedom fighters who derided the evils of colonialism and imperialist rule. As Farrakhan visited Colonel Gadhafi in Libya a few years ago, it raised concerns for the United States government; fearing potential radical theology taking root in the African-American and Arab-American Muslim communities. The Million Man March had already served as evidence of Farrakhan’s power and influence, but their fears were largely unfounded. African-American Muslims, though politically engaged, never really embraced radical terrorist philosophies.
Now the Nation of Islam is struggling. Reports reveal that membership has fallen by as much as half from its estimated peak of 100,000 in 1995. The ministry and message seems to have lost appeal even among African-American Muslims, who have largely chosen to embrace traditional sects led by Arab and South Asian immigrants. And nearly 35 percent of the American Muslim population of six million to seven million are black Americans, according to a 2010 Gallup poll.
To a core group of supporters, however, especially those in urban areas, Farrakhan still resonates. The message of freedom, equality and a separate nation for blacks finds a welcome audience for those who still feel outside the mainstream of society. Since the civil rights era, when celebrity converts like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali raised the Nation of Islam’s profile, the organization has remained a strong and relevant voice in the African-American community.
But the question facing them now is whether Farrakhan has laid adequate plans for succession, and whether the organization can survive without the financial support of friends like Gadhafi — with deep pockets and mutually beneficial interests. So far Farrakhan has mandated that in the event of his death or departure the Council of Leaders would take the reigns of the organization, but there is certainly no single individual who can match the charisma and appeal that Farrakhan has garnered, let alone build international alliances that are financially lucrative.
And perhaps that is a good thing.
In an age where absolute power corrupts absolutely, Gadhafi’s dictatorship crumbles in the face of Mubarak’s criminal trial. Unholy alliances have met destructive ends. And though Farrakhan has been a relevant voice for three decades, it is now time to hold leaders accountable, uncover the truth and give the power back to the people.