August 2, 2013
RESPONDING TO BIGOTRY
The attached op/ed will appear in the Daily News this Sunday. It is in response to a series of events in the Lancaster community over the past several weeks. As you will see, a leader of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam unburdened himself of anti-gay and anti-Semitic remarks. The response of the mayor of Lancaster was disappointing, to say the least.
Most adults love magic but know, despite all appearances, that they are being fooled. Sleights of hand and distraction can be amazingly effective in allowing us to delude ourselves into believing that logic defying forces are at work.
Recent events in Lancaster, California, our high desert neighbor, bear a certain resemblance to believing in magic---abracadabra, what really happened is different than logic and common sense would dictate.
Stan Muhammad, a city commissioner in Lancaster and leader of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, recently spoke at a Community Prayer and Call to Action rally sponsored by the Antelope Youth Ambassador Program relating to Trayvon Martin. It was a diverse multi-religious, multi-ethnic gathering.
Whatever positive aims the Coalition might have had were torpedoed by Muhammad. In the space of a few short minutes he succeeded in infuriating both the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities, the Jewish community and people of good will. He referred to gays as “faggots” and Jews as “the synagogue of Satan.”
The most disturbing thing about the Muhammad incident is not that the head of the Nation of Islam in Lancaster would unburden himself of homophobic and anti-Semitic epithets--that’s par for the course. Rather, that the mayor of Lancaster, R. Rex Parris, would be surprised and respond to the outrageous comments by calling for “sensitivity training” because Lancaster residents “don’t know about each other” rather than demand Muhammad’s dismissal as a governmental official.
The mayor seems to believe that after a few magical choruses of kumbaya Muhammad’s hate will disappear, much like the rabbit in a hat. But in reality the problem is not that Lancaster residents don’t know about each other, it’s that Mayor Parris doesn’t know about his appointee.
A two minute Google search of Louis Farrakhan’s (the leader of the Nation of Islam) remarks about the LGBT community is all it takes to realize Muhammad didn’t “misspeak” or that his remarks were not accidental; he meant to refer to LGBT members as “faggots” because the NOI views the LGBT community with utter contempt.
Farrakhan has decades of homophobic comments: “if you’re (the gay community) not on the right side, you will receive a terrible chastisement. You’re not a beast…..no liar, no adulterer, no effeminate will get in the Kingdom……but I have the duty to lift that gay person up to the standard to ask if they want to live the life that God wants them to or live the lifestyle that they want to live.”
Farrakhan didn’t use the term “faggot”, but then he didn’t have to, his disdain for LGBT folks is palpable. His record of anti-Semitism and his hatred of the “synagogue of Satan” is so well documented and known that no itemization here is necessary (for the details click here).
It is magical thinking that would allow an elected official to believe that sitting in a “diversity” training session would somehow cleanse a hateful ideology and teach a bigot how to appreciate the “other.” That’s not how extremism works; it is, invariably, a deeply embedded ideology.
It is also magical thinking to believe that Muhammad’s eventual “apology” was anything more than window dressing and beyond believable. After all, days after the incident he averred that he had “no clue the term (“faggot”) was offensive. I would say that a lot of our community is unaware.” There are few fifteen year olds in America who don’t know that that term is offensive---one doesn’t need “sensitivity training” to figure that out.
His disingenuousness is betrayed by the fact that before he made the odious comments he warned his listeners, “I can’t speak the way I want to speak because sisters is here.” Further evidence of his duplicity was revealed the day of his initial remarks when he was offered the opportunity to apologize but chose to double down on offensiveness, “I have a background in entertainment, and I’ve been exposed to those who have sold their soul to the devil. The likes of Jay-Z, the likes of Lil Wayne…..and they have made a deal with the synagogue of Satan….when I mentioned faggot, it didn’t have any direct impact on the gay community.” Parenthetically, he has offered no apology to the Jewish community for his repeated references to the “synagogue of Satan.”
Sensitivity training won’t make a difference, Muhammad is echoing the extremism and bigotry of his religious leader. He won’t change the substance of his hate because it is an essential tenet of the Nation of Islam’s theology, though he might package it a bit more felicitously.
It is the obligation of leaders and elected officials to reject bigots like Muhammad out of hand and not play their game. Winking at their hate or pretending that the magical thinking of “diversity training” will alter an insidious world view sends a sorry message that bigotry and prejudice are tolerable.