It has long been known that Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour is a proud supporter of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Earlier this month, it emerged that her colleague Tamika Mallory was present at the organization’s annual “Saviour’s Day” event in February, where Farrakhan condemned “Satanic Jews” for being “the mother and father of apartheid,” alleged they control the FBI, and blamed them for chemically inducing homosexuality in black men through the distribution of marijuana. What more is there to say?
Except, there is more. Given repeated opportunities to condemn these remarks and disassociate herself from Farrakhan, with whom she has had a friendly relationship spanning several years, Mallory has repeatedly demurred, at one point tweeting that “If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader!” a comment that will not help to persuade her critics that she stands foursquare against anti-Semitism. Mallory’s refusal to condemn Farrakhan unconditionally brings to mind a certain political leader who could not help but point out to the world that there were “some very fine people” among the neo-Nazis, skinheads, Klansmen, and other assorted lowlifes who disgraced the city of Charlottesville last year.
Donald Trump was universally denounced for that remark, and rightly so. For refusing to denounce Louis Farrakhan, Tamika Mallory has found far more sympathy, not least from Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “Now you work with people all the time with whom you disagree,” Jarrett said when asked about the kerfuffle on The View. “Goodness knows I met with the Koch brothers when we were working on criminal justice or Rupert Murdoch when we were working on immigration reform.” Conservative critics rounded on this comment for the moral equivalency it ostensibly drew between Farrakhan and a trio of right-wing stalwarts. But Jarrett’s subtle intention was not so much to besmirch the latter as it was to legitimize the former. And unlike Jarrett with Murdoch, the leaders of the Women’s March respect and admire Farrakhan and do not understand why anyone would blanch at their associating with him.
Farrakhan’s chumminess with the leaders of America’s largest social movement and a half dozen or more African-American members of Congress is not the only indication of how America’s leading anti-semitic conspiracy theorist is being—to use a term favored by the so-called Resistance—“normalized.” When a photograph surfaced in January of a smiling Obama and Farrakhan at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus function, few people wanted to ask uncomfortable questions. It was obvious why the photographer, an employee of Farrakhan’s Final Call, “gave up the picture at the time and basically swore secrecy.”
But what was the future president doing there? Moreover, why would the CBC even allow Farrakhan into its event? To this day, Donald Trump, rightly, cannot escape his reluctance to forthrightly disavow the endorsement of David Duke, a man he has never met, let alone posed with for a grip-and-grin. If Trump’s long-distance political footsie with Duke was cause for concern, and it was, then how does one explain the up-close-and-personal embrace of a vile bigot by members of the Congressional Black Caucus?
Later, it would emerge that Democratic Congressmen Andre Carson held a secret meeting in 2015 with Farrakhan at the latter’s hotel suite in Washington. Farrakhan claims that Congressman Keith Ellison, a former organizer for the Nation of Islam and currently deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, was also present at the meeting. Ellison denies it. Yet his word in such matters is not to be taken at face value, as Washington Post “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler recently awarded him “Four Pinocchios” for years of evasions and outright lies about his association with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Finally, Danny Davis, Farrakhan’s congressman, chimed in, stating, “The world is so much bigger than Farrakhan and the Jewish question and his position on that and so forth. For those heavy into it, that’s their thing, but it ain’t my thing.” Good to know.
Sadly, such minimization and prevarication has defined a great deal of the progressive response to the Farrakhan imbroglio. “We acknowledge that much of the demand to ‘condemn’ or ‘renounce’ Louis Farrakhan is not itself a call to work for justice on behalf of marginalized communities, but is merely performative,” reads a victim-blaming statement from March Forward Massachusetts, a Women’s March affiliate, insinuating that those concerned about the Nation of Islam’s virulent anti-Semitism (not to mention homophobia and misogyny) are insincere. In a blog post, Ellison said that questions about his association with the Nation of Islam constitute “a smear by factions on the right who want to pit the Jewish community and the Black community against each other,” and invoked Texas Republican hatchet man Lee Atwater, dead since 1991, for good measure—as if those who object to Farrakhan’s lunacy are the real bigots.
Illustrative of the selective blindness adopted by some liberal Jews was an op-ed by New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman titled “Anti-Semitism Is Rising. Why Aren’t American Jews Speaking Up?” which avoided a single mention of the Farrakhan controversy (or any incidents of anti-Semitism on the left). “The same photos that people have pulled up on the internet that showed my relationship with the Nation of Islam have been there for years,” Tamika Mallory complained to Adam Serwer of The Atlantic, before whipping out the word that has become a talisman for progressive activists. “And yet I was still able to build an intersectional movement that brought 5 million people together, and the work that I have done for over 20 years, and it’s very clear that I have worked across the lines with very different people.”
Whatever value it might have originally possessed as a feminist theoretical concept when law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw Williams devised it three decades ago, “intersectionality,” as practiced today, is a racket, a con job, a pseudo-intellectual mask for bigotry—and nothing has exposed its pretensions better than the furor over Farrakhan. For by “centering” sectarian agendas just because they happen to be espoused by ostensibly “marginalized” communities (rejectionist Palestinian Islamists, black Muslim nationalists), intersectionality all but guarantees that any movement guided by its precepts will be inevitably contaminated by anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and anti-white racism. “While we do not share the views held by Louis Farrakhan, we acknowledge the challenges of intersectional movement building,” reads the statement from March Forward Massachusetts, which managed to use “intersectional” five times throughout, like a magic talisman whose invocation by name is agreed to be powerful enough to ward off any number of demons.
But contrary to intersectional gobbledygook and victim-blaming, there is nothing incongruous about defending the civil rights of Jews, blacks, gays, women, Latinas, or any of the other types of people who make up our diverse tapestry of a nation. The old Democratic Party coalition, after all, was predicated upon a politics of shared interests. What makes it “challenging,” nay, impossible to hold such a movement together is when bigots like Farrakhan enter the picture and find apologists like Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour to demand that their bigotry be indulged—and passive observers like Jonathan Weisman to pretend they don’t exist. Intersectionality is not liberationist. It’s mutually exclusive and oppressive, ironically mandating the dominance of certain groups over others.
And it’s not just Jews who are being asked to check their supposed “privilege” at the progressive door. Part of what’s amazing about this entire mess is that leaders of an outfit called “The Women’s March” are standing beside a man who yells at women for “knowing how to shake your behind but not how to rattle some eggs in a pan.” Gays and transgender people, duly name-checked by any good intersectional feminist, must take a back seat in order to make room for a guy who rails against “turning men into women and women into men” (a crime against nature perpetrated by, you guessed it, the Jews). Neither of these absurdities approach the most ridiculous part of this entire spectacle, however, which is that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Farrakhan praised, and nearly endorsed, the very man upon whom resistance to which the entire Women’s March is predicated: Donald J. Trump.
There is no meaningful moral difference between Louis Farrakhan and Richard Spencer. Both are racist, anti-Semitic troglodytes claiming to represent the downtrodden of their respective race. You would not know it from the disproportionate press coverage afforded each man, however, but Farrakhan commands a much larger following and has actual political influence; no Republican congressman—never mind a future president—would be caught dead in the same room as Richard Spencer. Nor would any respectable journalist or politician or social movement leader make excuses and dissemble about Spencer in the Atlantic or The New York Times.
That there is even a debate to be had about Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam demonstrates the soft bigotry of low expectations many liberals continue to harbor with regard to their black countrymen. In reality, there is no debate. That the Nation of Islam may help keep order in some poor black neighborhoods is as good an argument for equivocating on Farrakhan as the crime-free streets of Little Italy justified Italian American pride in John Gotti. The late Meir Kahane indisputably defended Jews from violence and attracted legitimately devoted followers through his uncompromising stand for Jewish pride. He was also a racist vigilante — not a single mainstream Jewish public figure would appear alongside him — and his political party was banned in Israel. Louis Farrakhan should be similarly ostracized, and no one calling herself a “liberal” or “progressive” should ask for anything less.
This is the first in a Tablet series about Louis Farrakhan, anti-Semitism, and race relations. Read the other articles as they appear this week here.