Louis Farrakhan at UC Berkeley: Worse than David Duke

David Duke or Louis Farrakhan?  Because I am such a fierce proponent of free speech, I would not any qualms with either individual being invited to give a lecture at a university.  For it is has always seemed to me that we should not just listen to people repeating beliefs that we already know and embrace.  David Duke thinks that blacks are socially and intellectually inferior to whites.  Farrakhan thinks that Jews played a major role in American Slavery and that Jews also control the American government.  Yet, for reasons that I shall present momentarily, I think that Farrakhan is far worse morally than David Duke.

Now, I also think that people who hold manifestly ridiculous view should have to listen to a sincere and poignant critique of their views.  So such a person would give here or his lecture; and then that lecture would be followed by a 15 minute assessment before questions from the audience would be entertained.  It is not enough to believe that Duke or Farrakhan is wrong—after all, people can believe just about anything.  Rather, one should have defensible reasons for so believing that either of these two people are wrong. 

So on my view, free speech could indeed be a very powerful educational tool.

As for the intellectual ability of blacks, let us concede for the sake of argument that no black has ever shown the genius of an Einstein or a Da Vinci.  What hardly follows from that assumption is that blacks are dumber than all whites.  It hardly follows that all blacks are intellectually inferior to even most whites.  After all, exactly how many whites have displayed the genius of an Einstein or a Da Vinci?  Probably not even enough to form a good lynch-mob! 

As for Jews and the slave trade: the issue is not whether some owned black slaves.  That is indeed true.  It is also true that some blacks owned blacks slaves.  After all, slavery was practiced in Africa by blacks against blacks.  What makes Farrakhan’s claim about Jews playing one of the key roles in the bringing about of American Slavery so very disturbing is that he does not produce a scintilla of evidence to back up that claim.  Indeed, he does not even tell an elaborate story that would give the claim an ounce of credibility.  And given the existence in the past of deep and venomous antisemitism among whites, the very idea of American whites, or whites throughout the world, relying upon Jews for the slave trade is absolutely incredulous.  Notice that not even Hitler gives Jews any credit for treating blacks as inferior.  

This brings me to my claim that Louis Farrakahn is morally worse than David Duke.  Duke is clear that he is committed to the white race.  By contrast, Farrakahn claims to be committed to justice and righteousness.  And there is the rub.  Every since I learnt about him in the late 80s he has been making absolutely untenable and vicious claims about Jews.  It is now 2012, and he is still making those claims.  He made precisely those venomous claims about Jews running the slave trade in his recent address to the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference at UC-Berkeley. 

The very man who claims to be fighting against injustices against blacks, and thus standing up to injustice against blacks is the very same person who expresses some of the most vitriolic antisemitism ever to be expressed.  What I ask is the moral difference between him and the venomous mouth Martin Luther, 1483-1546, who wrote the horrendously antisemitic pamphlet “Jews and Their Lies”?  The answer is very simple: little, if any difference.  Most poignantly, this raises the question of why he was invited by the Afrikan Black Coalition.  The claim is that he was invited for his positive message; and one student claimed that what he got out of Farrakhan’s lecture is that “. . . we as black students can take our education and utilize it to build the black community back up.”  No sane person on this planet—certainly no such person with or in the course of getting an education—could ever convince me that but for Farrakhan that thought would never have occurred to her or him.  

If any group were to invite David Duke to speak at UC-Berkeley, black students would be up in arms on the grounds that he is a racist and thus inviting him to speak constitutes a form of racism.  Well, is it not the case that with Louis Farrakhan all that we have is none other than a racist with a different shade of skin?  And to excuse Farrakhan’s racism on the untenable grounds that he is offering new insight regarding the struggle for black equality is woefully and sadly ever so disingenuous—a fact that is not excused on account of being black.

 © 2012 Laurence Thomas

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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