Ducking politics, leader talks business. INTERVIEW WITH LOUIS FARRAKHAN
The outspoken and always controversial Louis Farrakhan is back. But this time he is attempting to keep a lower political profile. ``I plan to take no part in the 1988 presidential campaign,'' he said in a recent Boston interview. Mr. Farrakhan was back from visits to Africa, Europe, and the Mideast.
Most people identify Farrakhan with the tumultuous days of the 1984 presidential race, when he was a supporter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the latter's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Farrakhan stirred the ire of Jews then with remarks about their religion and about New York City and his praise of Hitler.
``The media often take my remarks out of context,'' he complains. ``Sure I called Hitler a great man, but I added that he was a wicked man.'' About Jews he says, ``To me Judaism is a rose, but Zionism is the weed choking the life out of the rose.''
``In 1988, I'll be perceived as heavy baggage for any campaign I might support. ... My ideal candidate is a strong person of principle who can turn this country around. Jackson is a prophetic voice, but he can't turn this nation around with politics. At this point I can see no candidate who has the qualities needed.''
Farrakhan's latest foray across America has proved to be an ongoing feud with public officials in various cities who have sought to ban his appearances. Recent targets of his wrath have been Los Angeles, where the City Council, presided over by Mayor Tom Bradley, canceled an August date to speak at the Convention Center, and New York City, where an Oct. 25 date was canceled. He eventually spoke in Los Angeles on Sept. 28 without incident, before 12,000 people. There was one protest, by local members of the Jewish Defense League. He has sued for the right to speak at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.
The topic of his current tour is ``politics without economics is symbol without substance.'' Black economic development, he says, is the key to black progress. ``Black people can take care of themselves if they establish their own businesses and produce their own products in their own communities,'' he says. ``We can create our jobs and plan for taking care of our own.''
His Nation of Islam, an offshoot of the Black Muslims, opened its own factory earlier this year, producing Clean n Fresh, a brand name for six products for hair grooming and skin care. Farrakhan says that Jewish interests had thwarted earlier attempts to establish the business.
Neither the American Jewish Committee nor the American Jewish Congress, two of the nation's most influential Jewish organizations, would comment on Farrakhan's claims that Jewish influences complicated his efforts to get his firm started. Spokesmen for both groups said they were not involved in any action for or against a Farrakhan enterprise.
``A black bank was advised not to accept our $5 million deposit [an interest-free loan from Libya's Muammar Qaddafi],'' Farrakhan says.
So POWER, the economic arm of the the Nation of Islam, is manufacturing the products and developing a sales force to market them, he says. ``Our big goal is to hire 100 distributors and 1,000 salesmen. Avon and Amway are not in the stores, but they are known. We can do the same.''
Farrakhan speaks out against apartheid in South Africa and advocates a socially conscious US. ``The future portends bloody racial warfare in all of Africa if South Africa is allowed to continue apartheid without censure,'' he says. ``If the United States, Great Britain, and Israel continue in their present course, there will be a violent racial outbreak in [South Africa]. President Reagan is moving slowly, but he is not doing enough.''
Farrakhan has always been a controversial character in America's black community. To his followers he is Minister Louis Farrakhan, a spokesman for the late Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Black Muslim movement. To those who know him only through news media, he is an agitator who is anti-white, anti-Semitic, and pro-black.
In 1977, he split with the Black Muslims when it opened to white members.
Farrakhan says: ``My aim is not to be racist but to stand up for the black man in the United States, in South Africa - wherever he is unjustly treated. Apartheid cannot be permitted to thrive anywhere.''
Many older Bostonians remember a young Farrakhan who was active with a local Episcopal church and was a pop singer. An aspiring high school graduate and track star, he left home for Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University on a scholarship. He quit college after becoming a prot'eg'e of Malcolm X.
Malcolm X was the most outspoken black leader of the 1960s. He often criticized Martin Luther King Jr. and other rights leaders of that day. He was suspended from the Muslim movement for his comments after the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy: He said, ``At last, the chickens have come home to roost.'' Malcolm X then formed his own organization. He was assassinated in Harlem in the late 1960s. Farrakhan succeeded Malcolm X as spokesman for the old Nation of Islam, when the latter was ousted.
Farrakhan says America can set an example for the world if it refuses to bow down to racism. He says he will fight against broken homes, teen parenthood, poor education, poverty, drugs, pandering, and sexual immorality in the US.
``Let's put America back to work,'' he says. ``Look at me! My suit is made in Italy. My shoes are made in Italy. My socks and shirts are made in England. My tie is made in Taiwan. ... I'm the only thing I got on that's made in America.''