As we noted last week, Louis Farrakhan, the longtime head of the Nation of Islam and one of the most notorious white-haters and anti-Semites in America during the last few decades, began his career as a calypso musician. He quit music on orders from Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammed, but decades later he returned to it, reportedly after being encouraged to do so by yet another one of his high-placed and apparently shame-free friends – Sylvia Olden Lee, a vocal coach who was the first African-American employee of the Metropolitan Opera and who performed at the White House for the first inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Farrakan gave the first performance in his newly resumed career as part of a three-day Winston-Salem, North Carolina, event devoted to black musicians and classical music. It was reviewed in the New York Times on April 9, 1993, by Bernard Holland, who wrote:
Can Louis Farrakhan play the violin? God bless us, he can. He makes a lot of mistakes, not surprising for a man who had virtually abandoned the instrument for 40 years and has only owned one since 1974. Yet Mr. Farrakhan’s sound is that of the authentic player. It is wide, deep and full of the energy that makes the violin gleam. His thrusting sense of phrase has musical power to it….
“God bless us”? Holy cow.
That was only the beginning. In February 2002, in Cerritos, California, Farrakhan gave a violin recital entitled “A Night of Beethoven.” The years went by. Every now and then, when he wasn’t busy delivering venomous sermons or hanging out with the likes of Barack Obama and Keith Ellison, Farrakhan would return to the musical stage, apparently to the great enjoyment of many, who either shared his vile views or who were somehow willing to overlook them.
Now his career as a performing artist has reached a new chapter. On March 15, both Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward reported that he’d just dropped a new seven-CD set. Artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Barbra Streisand have had big hits with albums of duets on which they perform with other big-name stars. Farrakhan’s new release, Let’s Change the World, follows the same formula. Among the entertainers who appear with him on the set, which sells for $260 and “features 45 songs in a variety of genres, including classical, gospel, jazz, folk, opera, rap, reggae and calypso,” are Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Chaka Khan, Rick Ross, Damian Marley, Stephanie Mills, and Common. Snoop Dogg, as it happens, is not only a musical collaborator of Farrakhan’s but a sometime member of the Nation of Islam, which he joined in 2009.
Well, as they say, music is the universal language. It transcends place and time and culture. And, sometimes, simple moral decency.
On Tuesday we saw that Louis Farrakhan, the longtime head of the Nation of Islam, has, over the course of his career, has been a consistent hater of Jews and whites, an admirer of Hitler, and a friend of such admirable types as Muammar Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Farrakhan was chummy with somebody else too – Barack Obama. In 1995, Obama, along with Al Sharpton, Jeremiah Wright, and others, helped Farrakhan organize the so-called “Million Man March.”
The two men were all smiles in a snapshot that was taken at a 2005 meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, but that was kept out of the public eye until this year. (Upon finally releasing the picture, the photographer, Askia Muhammad, who at the time had been working for the Nation of Islam, explained that he had held it back for all these years because he realized that it could have seriously damaged Obama’s political career.)
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Farrakhan hailed Obama as “a herald of the messiah.” According to Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam donated money to Obama’s 1996 campaign for the Illinois Senate; a former Farrakhan aid later said that during Obama’s time in the state legislature, the two men were in frequent and direct touch.
Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a former Nation of Islam member (he once wrote under the Nation of Islam name “Keith X Ellison”) who has repeatedly defended Farrakhan’s anti-semitic and anti-white rhetoric.
Cut to February 2018. Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March, was spotted at a Farrakhan speech in which he spoke of “Satanic Jews,” said that “when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door,” declared that “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and predicted that “white folks are going down.” He even “gave Mallory a personal shoutout,” according to the ADL. The event drew attention to Mallory’s longtime support for Farrakhan. (She once posted on Instagram a picture of herself with him, captioned “GOAT” – short for Greatest of All Time.) Under pressure to disavow Farrakhan, she refused, tweeting: “I won’t go back, I won’t redraw the lines of division. I want a new way.”
As it happens, Mallory’s fellow Women’s March leaders, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour, also have ties to Farrakhan–and also refuse to cut him loose. In an official Women’s March statement, they said that they had chosen to remain silent about Farrakhan because they had been discussing the matter with “queer, trans, Jewish and Black” activists and were seeking to “break the cycles that pit our communities against each other.” When a black minister defended Farrakhan on Twitter, Sarsour wrote to him: “you are too blessed to be stressed. You are a man walking the path towards justice & standing up for the most marginalized. Stay strong and stay focused.”
You stay focused, too. Back on Tuesday with a few last words on Farrakhan.
We’ve devoted a lot of our attention on this website to famous Western entertainers – from Hilary Swank and Sharon Stone to Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – who’ve performed for various Asian or African dictators in exchange for hefty paychecks. Pretty sleazy stuff, of course, especially given that the entertainers in question were hardly strapped for cash. No, it’s called selling out.
There are, of course, other ways for celebrities to sell out.
Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1933, Louis Eugene Walcott began his career as a calypso singer and violinist, using the stage names “The Charmer” and “Calypso Gene.” But apparently music wasn’t doing it for him. He needed more. In 1955 he attended a Nation of Islam event at a mosque in Chicago. It changed his life. Not long after, he joined the Nation of Islam and became Louis X, the use of “X” in place of a last name being a Nation of Islam practice based on the premise that black Americans’ last names were slave names and that their original African names were unknown. Later, Elijah Muhammed, the Nation of Islam leader, gave Louis the Arabic last name of Farrakhan, which means “The Criterion.”
It was not long before Farrakhan was named a minister, serving first as the assistant to Malcolm X in Boston, then becoming head minister there. But Farrakhan proved himself to be a more loyal member of the cult than even Malcolm X. When the famous activist, who for most white Americans was the very face of the Nation of Islam, called out the cult’s leader, Elijah Muhammed, for sexually abusing teenage girls, Farrakhan publicly defended Elijah Muhammed to the hilt and declared Malcolm X to be “worthy of death.” A few weeks later, Malcolm X was murdered by three men with links to the Nation of Islam.
After Elijah Muhammed died, Farrakhan served as a Sunni imam under the late leader’s son, Warith Al-Deen Mohammed,who gave him the name Abdul-Haleem. Leaving Mohammed’s movement in 1978, Farrakhan established a new Nation of Islam. At its head, he routinely made headlines by calling caucasians “white devils,” calling Jews “bloodsuckers” and Judaism “a gutter religion,” and calling Hitler “very great.” Speaking of the Jews in a 1985 speech at Madison Square Garden, Farrakhan exclaimed: “Don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!” Repeatedly, Farrkahan proclaimed that God had decreed the death of America, which he described as the most evil nation in human history. He pinned 9/11 on “the Jews.”
He was friendly with Muammar Qaddafi, who donated a billion dollars to Farrakhan’s political work, and who, speaking at a Nation of Islam convention in Chicago, said that he hoped to fund a black revolution in America. Farrakhan, for his part, called Qaddafi his “friend” and “brother.” He also befriended the leaders of Iran, Iraq, and other countries listed by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism.
He exchanged letters of support with Saddam Hussein, whom he praised as a “visionary.” Years later, he met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A pretty appalling record. And yet it hasn’t kept a number of high-profile showbiz figures from gladly collaborating with him. More on Thursday.
For a long time, nobody thought of Robert De Niro as an American thinker, great or otherwise. For over a quarter century, however, he was unquestionably a great American artist – a remarkably versatile and extraordinarily compelling actor who created immortal characters in such films as The Godfather, Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, and Casino. He was nominated for several Oscars, and won two. In short, a cinematic treasure.
In recent years, however, De Niro has become what some uncharitable observers might describe as a sellout. You might have gotten a few laughs out of Analyze This and Analyze That, but nobody will ever confuse them with The Godfather, Part I and II. You can say one thing about those two comedies – they look like Preston Sturges masterpieces alongside Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Little Fockers. And the movies have just gotten worse and worse: The Intern, Dirty Grandpa, and The Comedian gave new meaning to the word lightweight. He’s obviously decided to stop going with the best scripts and instead grab at the biggest paychecks.
Of course, he’s entirely within his rights. What’s interesting to us is that while De Niro the artist has shriveled, another creature has risen up from the murk: De Niro the political commentator. In 2012, he spoke at an exclusive Obama campaign event in New York – attended by such left-wing showbiz luminaries as Harvey Weinstein and Whoopi Goldberg – at which he put race at the heart of the matter. “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney,” he said. “Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” It was obviously meant as a joke, but what’s the joke?
But that was nothing. In October 2016, a month or so before the presidential election, he made headlines by releasing a video in which he urged the electorate not to vote for Donald Trump. “He’s so blatantly stupid,” De Niro said, appearing to channel one of his gangster characters. “He’s a punk. He’s a dog. He’s a pig. He’s a con.” It went on – and got nastier from there. “He’s a national disaster. He’s an embarrassment to this country.” De Niro concluded by saying he’d like to punch Trump in the face.
The video was notable for its utter lack of anything resembling a serious argument. It didn’t so much as touch on a single real issue. It was pure name-calling. Days later, while in Dubai to promote investment in Antigua and Barbuda, where he was involved in a resort development (could it be that he and Trump have more in common than he realizes?), De Niro told an interviewer that Trump “does not have a clue about what goes on in the rest of the world.”
He was still at it this past January, when, standing at the lectern at the National Board of Review awards ceremony, he delivered what one news source accurately called “an expletive-filled rant” about Trump. “This f***ing idiot is the President,” De Niro said, and went on to call Trump a “f***ing fool” and “the jerkoff-in-chief.” Once again, he had nothing of substance to say about Trump. Once again, it was just name-calling – which he (quite mistakenly) appeared to consider amusing.
The other day, De Niro was back in Dubai, this time to attend the World Government Summit. He was there “to help combat climate change.” In a speech at the summit, he unfavorably compared the U.S., which he called “a backward country,” to the United Arab Emirates, which he described as “an example to the rest of the world.” Under Trump, he charged, Americans were suffering from “temporary insanity.”
Reading his remarks, one wondered who, exactly, was insane; who, exactly, was an embarrassment to his country; who, exactly, was clueless “about what goes on” in the world. There he was, praising as a role model a country that’s governed under sharia law – a country that denies its citizens many basic human rights, that carries out floggings and stonings, that restricts freedom of speech and of the press, that punishes apostasy, adultery, and homosexuality with death, that permits men to beat their wives, and that treats not rapists but rape victims as criminals.
Two pieces of advice for Robert De Niro. Go back to making good movies. And stick to the words in the script.
In July of last year, we spent a week covering the oeuvre of Ben Norton, who after only three years as a professional scribe had already compiled an extensive body of work – and made a name for himself as a high-profile fan of socialism and Islam and enemy of the U.S. and Israel.
To say he’s a fan of socialism, to be sure, is to soft-pedal his ideological allegiances. In fact he’s a full-throated defender of Communism, as witnessed by a piece he published at AlterNet on November 22. In it, he accused the Trump administration and others, including the WashingtonPost and WallStreetJournal, of marking the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution by “demoniz[ing] communism.”
Singling out a Post article in which Marc Thiessen pointed out that “Communist regimes killed some 100 million people — roughly four times the number killed by the Nazis — making communism the most murderous ideology in human history,” Norton called the piece a “diatribe” and denounced Thiessen for “whitewashing the Nazi regime’s uniquely murderous crimes.” Because, you see, if you dare to tell the whole truth about the destructive evil of Communism, and acknowledge that Communism, in its century-long history, has indeed claimed more lives than Nazism did during its decade or so in power, you must be a Nazi sympathizer.
In his screed, Norton played the same kind of numbers game in which Holocaust deniers like to indulge. Rejecting the claim that Communist regimes had killed 100 million people, he complained that that figure included Russians killed during the Nazi invasion of the USSR. He also criticized Thiessen and others for relying on statistics from The Black Book of Communism, a solid reference work that Norton dismissed as a “propagandistic tract” – “a collection of right-wing essays published in France in 1997” – and charged with “trivializing the Holocaust.”
Of course, it’s possible to tell the whole truth about Communism without being a fan of Nazism. Evil is evil. Totalitarianism is totalitarianism. Surely the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal don’t think Hitler was peachy keen. Norton’s whole line of argument here is disingenuous – in fact, he’s the one who greatly prefers one kind of totalitarianism to the other, and who is determined not to see them placed anywhere near on the same level. He claims that The Black Book of Communism had been used “to diminish the crimes of fascism and portray it as a lesser evil compared to communism.” That admirers of one brand of tyranny can use the facts about another brand of tyranny to suit their own purposes does not mean that those facts aren’t facts.
Norton goes further: borrowing from Noam Chomsky, he serves up the suggestion that the logic of The Black Book of Communism could be used to blame capitalism for the death of tens of millions of people in India alone. He also tries to sell the notion that, because “the Soviet Union’s meticulously kept archives” show that “799,455 people were executed under the rule of Joseph Stalin between 1921 and 1953,” this number should be accepted as the sum total of lives lost as a result of Communism during the Stalin era. Forget, then, the Gulag and the Holodomor.
Norton also tries to drastically slash the number of people who died as a consequence of Mao’s tyranny, arguing that millions of them were, rather, victims of famine, and pointing out that deadly famines have been a regular part of Chinese history for centuries. In short, in addition to dropping the Gulag and Holodomor down the memory hole, Norton also deep-sixes the depredations of the so-called Cultural Revolution.
But that’s not all. Norton implies that instead of demonizing Communism, we should celebrate it – after all, it was the Soviets who experienced most of the battlefront casualties in “the fight against fascism.” Fine – the problem is that, again, they were fighting one form of totalitarianism in the name of another form of totalitarianism. He describes the USSR as having “liberated Auschwitz and Berlin.” But how can you speak of “liberation” when the people “liberated” ended up living under a fiercely illiberal dictatorship?
Beyoncé! Her life has been an American Dream. In addition to every other glorious accomplishment in her career – her 22 Grammys, her two-time listing as one of the “100 most influential people” by Time Magazine, her serenading of Barack Obama at one of his 2009 inaugural balls, her lip-synching of the national anthem at his second inauguration, her #1 ranking in Forbes’ Celebrity 100 List, and her naming by Forbes this year as the most powerful woman in entertainment – she was the star of halftime at the Super Bowl in February 2016. At that event, America’s biggest TV event of the year, she repaid America’s bounteous gift to her by paying tribute. To whom? The Black Panthers.
As we wrote here a few days later, the show, which featured her new song “Formation,” was “an exercise in what one critic called ‘Black Panther chic.’” With its Black Power salutes and its slap at the police, the Guardian suggested it might be “the most radical political statement from the superstar in her 20-year career.” The audience held up “rainbow-colored placards” that read Believe in Love. “Does Beyoncé sincerely believe that the Black Panther movement has, or ever had, anything whatsoever to do with love?” we asked. “If she does, then she can only be described as a thoroughgoing historical ignoramus, and thus a useful stooge of the first order. For the fact is that the Black Panthers were, quite simply, hate set in system. They were racists, terrorists, homophobes, anti-Semites, proud disciples of the cruelest and most remorseless totalitarian despots of the twentieth century. Nothing could be more Orwellian than the notion that they were ever driven, in any sense of the word, by love.”
Perhaps Beyoncé was simply ignorant – perhaps she just didn’t know better. Born in 1981, she’s too young to have experience the evil heyday of the Black Panthers firsthand. But someone with so much power owes it to her public to educate herself. That wouldn’t have been too hard or time-consuming. All the information is out there, at her fingertips. One of her innumerable handlers and hangers-on could’ve done the research for her and handed her a file.
That, at least, is what we told ourselves after her Super Bowl fiasco. We were prepared to give Beyoncé the benefit of the doubt. But how can there be much doubt after what she did this past December 5?
The setting: the annual Sportsperson of the Year Award Show in New York. One of the awards presented that evening was Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. It is supposed to go to “individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.” The 2014 winner was longtime L.A. Laker Magic Johnson, one of the great basketball players ever – a three-time NBA MVP, a 12-time NBA All-Star, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and of the gold-winning 1992 U.S. Olympics team. He has also proven to be a terrific businessman, with an eponymous conglomerate worth $700 million, and has been a devoted AIDS activist.
In 2015, the winner was golfer Jack Nicklaus, of whom we could supply an equally impressive résumé. In 2016, the honor was shared by a trio of glittering names from athletic history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell. This year, the prize went to Colin Kaepernick, who spent five years as a middling player for the San Francisco 49ers. Most Americans had not heard of him until August 26 of last year, when he took a knee during the pre-game playing of National Anthem. This became a habit. And it grew infectious. It spread to other football teams, and other professional sports, and even to college and youth games.
Kaepernick’s explanation for the action, as we noted a year ago, was that Kaepernick, “whose biological father was black and biological mother white,” and who “was raised in Wisconsin by adoptive white parents,” was protesting the supposedly systematic mistreatment of blacks in America. We pointed out that Kaepernick, this self-styled victim of racial oppression, lives in a mansion, and that at the press conference at which he explained his knee-taking, he wore a t-shirt featuring pictures of Malcolm X with Fidel Castro.
Now, maybe in some sense Kaepernick is a perfect winner for an award named for Muhammad Ali, because the legendary heavyweight was also a fan – indeed, a friend – of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. But his selection was a slap in the face to athletes who are real role models, and Beyoncé’s involvement in the awards ceremony was yet more proof of her ignorance about the world and ingratitude for American freedom. Presenting the prize to Kaepernick, she said: “Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion, only hope to change the world for the better. To change the way we treat each other – especially people of color. We’re still waiting for the world to catch up. It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.”
On the contrary, study after study has shown that America is among the least racist of all countries. Young Americans nowadays are so ill-educated that many of them think America was the only nation ever to have slavery; in fact, its distinction is that it was the one major country that fought a civil war to free slaves. In any event, a question: in exactly which way has Kaepernick changed the world for the better? What has he done except to take the U.S. flag, a symbol of unity amid diversity – e pluribus unum – and turned it into an occasion for destructive dissension and unfounded accusation.
It is good to report that this handing over of a presumably important award by one fool to another did not go uncriticized. “They just turned Muhammad Ali’s Legacy Award into toilet paper,” said Kevin Jackson on Fox News. And another Fox News contributor, Tomi Lahren, tweeted: “Police-hating Beyoncé presents police and America-hating Kappy with a ‘legacy’ award. This is how far we’ve fallen.”
Linda Sarsour shot to fame on January 21 of this year, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. On that day, feminists marched down the major thoroughfares of several American cities; in Washington, at the main Women’s March, stars of film and TV and music and cable news and professional feminism (Gloria Steinem) took turns giving speeches. Madonna spoke of burning down the White House. Ashley Judd read a poem about being a “nasty woman.”
Joining these superstars on the list of speakers was an obscure woman in hijab. Linda Sarsour, head of the Arab American Association of New York, was one of the event’s organizers, and she used her moment in the sun to say that she would “respect the presidency,” but not Trump himself. She said that Trump had been elected “on the backs of Muslims.” And she said that American Muslims had been “suffering in silence for the past fifteen years.” She didn’t mention the suffering of the many non-Muslim Americans – and non-Muslims elsewhere around the world – who had experienced suffering as a result of suicide bombings, planes being piloted into buildings, gunmen opening fire at concerts and discos, and truck drivers mowing down pedestrians.
Sarsour was cheered. A star was born. Rachel Maddow had her on. Sarsour made outrageous claims about the supposed oppression of Muslims in the U.S., and Maddow didn’t question a thing she said. Nor did Maddow ask Sarsour how a woman who supports sharia law and openly praises Hamas, as Sarsour does, could call herself a progressive feminist.
There are real feminists with Arab or Muslim backgrounds. Among them are Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel. Sarsour has smeared both of them. She has said that they deserve as “ass-whipping.” It is well known that Hirsi Ali, as as girl, was subjected to the brutal practice known as female genital mutilation. This didn’t keep Sarsour from saying that she wished she could take away Hirsi Ali’s and Gabriel’s vaginas because “they don’t deserve to be women.”
Sarsour is not just a woman of words. She is a woman of action. When Brandeis University announced plans to award Hirsi Ali an honorary degree, Sarsour participated in a successful effort to get Brandeis to change its mind.
We wrote about all this in April. We devoted two days to Sarsour. We hoped that perhaps her fifteen minutes of fame would soon be over. Alas, no. Sarsour ended up being named to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list. Earlier this month, Glamour Magazine included her and the other Women’s March organizers on its list of women of the year. Publications around the country, ignoring Sarsour’s own ugly views, have portrayed her as the virtuous victim of irrational Islamophobic hatred.
In late October, Sarsour tweeted a photo of her new Democratic Socialists of America membership card. A few days later, after the Halloween terror attack in lower Manhattan, she was heavily quoted in an AOL News story headlined “Muslim New Yorkers Are Bracing for Hate Crimes after Terror Attack” – one of those absurd “backlash” articles that always follow jihadist attacks and that seek to distract attention from the real victims of actual Muslim atrocities to imaginary Muslim victims of non-existent infidel atrocities.
After the Halloween massacre, Sarsour complained on Twitter that such events are always being used to paint all Muslims with a broad brush. As it turned out, she had more than a passing connection to the jihadist of the day, Saypullo Saipov. As was discovered soon after his arrest, Saipov had attended a mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, that the NYPD’s Demographics Unit, under Mayor Bloomberg, had monitored closely. But the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, who is less worried about terrorism than about “Islamophobia,” listened to a certain individual who told him that monitoring mosques was an anti-Islamic act, and closed down the Demographics Unit. Who was that individual who got the mayor to stop the monitoring of mosques? Linda Sarsour. If not for her, in short, the New York police might have fingered Saipov as a potential terrorist and prevented eight deaths.