A "Jew's-eye-view" of the Nation of Islam convention and its leader.
admit I was expecting
unity of all Islamic people was
well received, as was his predic-
tion that "Allah is going to get
Attending the Saviors'
those people" for what they are
Day convention of the Nation
doing to the Palestinians and
of Islam (NOI) at Cobo
Hall and Minister Louis
in Iraq. But when he told of his
NOI roots and how "some of the
Farrakhan's speech at Ford
Field in Detroit, I went in with
greatest followers of Islam" came
from NOI, his prediction of unity
my Jewish antenna up. I'm
Don C ohen
was met with silence. It seemed
no stranger to the NOI. I've
the assembled realized the love
attended previous Farrakhan
events, read their publications
they were getting came with a bit
of a slap in the face.
and even been threatened with violence
by NOI members — and that's before I
At the next session, President Omar
al-Bashir of Sudan filled the role held in
worked for the Anti-Defamation League,
which keeps a sharp eye on their activities. previous years by Muammar Qaddafi of
Libya and Sani Abacha of Nigeria as a sig-
What I found last weekend was a leaner
group that seems to be struggling to keep
nificant human rights abuser whitewashed
(pardon the expression) by NOI.
itself alive and relevant. Mainstream
Sunni Islam is trying to reach out to the
Al-Bashir appeared on several screens
set up in a massive room with thousands
NOI, hoping to bring its members into the
fold, while the Nation is trying to bring
of empty seats. Many of the 500 who did
attend were shooed in from the lobby
Christians its way. Israel and Jews are
so the audience wouldn't look so paltry
largely irrelevant to these efforts, though
to those watching us simultaneously on
they still play a role.
I had never attended a Saviors' Day
The Sudanese president was introduced
before, but the guys hawking copies of
the Final Call newspaper, the men in their
as a black African leader under siege
suits and bowties and the women dressed
by the West and who was getting a bad
rap from the news media. The audience
in white, and the security-minded "Fruits
seemed largely unaware that human rights
of Islam" are standard at NOI gatherings.
While some might have wondered what I
groups like the Save Darfur Coalition esti-
mate that 400,000 people have been killed
was doing there, no one treated me any-
thing but kindly. The color of my skin and
and 2 million made homeless by militias
my association with the Detroit Jewish
aligned with al-Bashir.
The organizers said, "It's a shame that
News didn't noticeably raise eyebrows.
we rely on the New York Times" for news
My first stop Friday was afternoon
prayers led by Imam Siraj Wahhaj. I got
there early and walked the gauntlet of
For his part, Al-Bashar said no more
than 5,000 people had been killed and that
about 20 men on each side who patted me
high and low as I walked into the room.
his government "protects all freedoms and
liberations and all political formations."
Women came in another entrance, with
similar security, and sat separately start-
He blamed the media, the U.S, Britain and
ing at about the 20th row.
Israel for his troubles, saying he would
continue to defy U.N. Resolution 1706 that
Imam Wahhaj, a controversial and
often fiery speaker, heads a new Sunni
called for a robust peacekeeping force to
be sent to Sudan.
organization, the Muslim Alliance in
North America (MANA). He has called
Egged on by sympathetic questioners
who wanted him to be more forthright
for imposing Islamic law on the United
about who was against him, he said the
States, said the "real terrorists" are the FBI
and CIA, and is an alleged co-conspirator
United States was planning to invade his
country as they had Iraq "to fulfill the
in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
and colonialist interests."
Center in New York City.
Following his talk, people seemed to
Having a Sunni lead the NOI in prayer
was a move to strengthen the connec-
head for hundreds of vendors tables in
another large hall instead of to other ses-
tion between the two groups, and Imam
sions. The vendors were an eclectic bunch
Wahhaj made the most of it. His call for
The front of the Nation of Islam newspaper promotes Farrakhan's Detroit speech.
selling food, posters, books, clothes, insur-
ance, DVDs, CDs, tapes and more.
On "Writers Row',' the book Synagogue
of Satan, written by a NOI member, was
featured prominently. The ADL charges
that the "book trades heavily in Jewish
conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial."
I was surprised more anti-white and
anti-Semitic materials weren't openly
available. There was hardly a mention
of Israel or Palestinians, and no collec-
tion of anti-Zionist materials, just a few
scattered books. I couldn't even find a
copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
which has been a NOI mainstay. Nor was
there the NOI report blaming Jews for the
transatlantic slave trade — The Secret
Relationship Between Blacks and Jews
— which Farrakhan in his speech recom-
mended as important reading.
Farrakhan on page 14
Imam Siraj Wahhaj of the Muslim
Alliance in North America speaks before
delivering the Jumu'ah prayer at the
Saviours' Day convention.
March 1. 2007