To the Editor:
James Kirchick correctly portrays Louis Farrakhan as perhaps the most popular and dangerous anti-Semite in America (“The Rise of Black Anti-Semitism,” June). While neo-Nazis and white supremacists drummed up a few hundred people at their “national” rally in Charlottesville, Farrakhan’s recent rant in Chicago excited an adoring crowd more than three times that size.
Unlike what happens at alt-right rallies, no toughs will ever shut down a Farrakhan event. And unlike other anti-Semites, Farrakhan has open sympathizers in positions of power—especially inside the black community and on the left. What Louis Farrakhan says about Jews will only reach more and more people.
It may seem difficult for Jews to press liberal and black activists to renounce the Nation of Islam leader given the widely held belief that, his offensive views aside, Farrakhan is a legitimate leader of an oppressed people who gives voice to black liberation and black pride.
That is why it is important to understand precisely how this is untrue: Farrakhan has covered up and sought to deny the enslavement of Africans by Arabs and Muslims. He has been and continues to be an obstacle to their liberation.
Two decades ago, he was caught lying about black slaves in Sudan and Mauritania. Today, as media and human-rights reports document the further enslavement of blacks by Arabs and Muslims in Libya, Nigeria, and Algeria, Farrakhan’s credibility as a champion of blacks could be even more at risk.
A short recounting of the original episode is instructive. On July 13, 1994, I co-wrote a New York Times op-ed (“Bought and Sold”) with Mohamed Athié, a Mauritanian African Muslim refugee, that brought national attention to the plight of black chattel slaves in North Africa. In Sudan, for decades, as part of a war waged by the Arab north against the black, mostly Christian south, militias armed by Khartoum stormed African villages, killed the men, and captured the women and children. These served their masters as goat-herds, domestics, and sex slaves. In Mauritania, Arab Berbers who had conquered the area centuries before had always kept African slaves—even though these were Muslims.
When Athié and I appeared on PBS’s national black news show, Tony Brown’s Journal, the Nation of Islam demanded equal time and sent out its spokesman, Akbar Muhammed, who claimed that reports of slavery were a “big lie” and part of a “Jewish conspiracy” against Farrakhan. He was particularly upset about our mention of black bondage in Libya. Akbar, it turned out, was Farrakhan’s emissary to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi who, according to Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, had loaned Farrakhan $5 million in 1984. Page suggested that this was what kept Farrakhan mute on African slavery. President Clinton later blocked a billion-dollar gift from Gaddafi to Farrakhan to foment a Muslim revolt in America.
On the heels of the Tony Brown debates, there were fireworks in New York’s black press. Eventually, in March of 1996, Farrakhan was asked about the slaves of Sudan. The New York Times reported that an emotional Farrakhan shot back: “Where is the proof? If slavery exists, why don’t you go as a member of the press, and you look inside Sudan, and if you find it, then you come back and tell the American people what you found?”
The Baltimore Sun took up the challenge and dispatched reporters to Sudan, where they redeemed for cash two young African slave boys from an Arab middleman. Their report was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
We later learned that leaders of the south Sudanese Peoples’ Struggle for Liberation asked Farrakhan for his help. He promised he would help them but he betrayed them instead.
Today, there could still be as many as 35,000 Africans in bondage to Arab masters in Sudan. Mauritanian blacks continue to serve as slaves to Arab/Berber masters in Mauritania. In addition, the (black) Muslim soldiers of Boko Haram in Nigeria enslave black Christians; Libyans can be seen on CNN video-auctioning off black men; and in Algeria, Africans seeking a passageway to Europe are just now being caught and enslaved.
A much-needed movement to free African slaves is in the making. Minister Farrakhan will soon—again—get a request for his help. Stay tuned.
Charles Jacobs, President of the American Anti-Slavery Group
Francis Bok, an escaped slave from Sudan