Louis Farrakhan Speaks

  • Share
  • Read Later

A decade ago, Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan led the Million Man March on Washington, D.C., and seemed poised to become a mainstream African-American political leader. But in the ensuing years conditions for many African-Americans have worsened, and Farrakhan himself disappeared from the political stage while fighting cancer. This week he will try to resuscitate his influence by leading the Millions More Movement, a rally billed as being open to women, gays, Latinos and other ethnic minorities excluded from the first march. Farrakhan spoke to TIME's David E. Thigpen about the rise of the Christian Right, what really happened in New Orleans, and the lasting effects of his near-death experience.

TIME: In 1999 you came near death from complications of prostate cancer. You have said you were "180 seconds away from death." What happened in those three minutes and did it change you?

Farrakhan: I had lost so much blood from an ulcer. They put several units of blood into me and brought me back. So when I was blessed with life I knew that although my own people's suffering is paramount in my heart and mind, all human suffering now is a cause for me and what I represent.

TIME: The Million Man March was inspirational but critics said it didn't create any lasting change. How will the Millions More Movement differ?

Farrakhan: The economic condition of the black community has worsened. We don't feel we need another march, but we need to create a movement that ties the talented tenth that W.E.B. Dubois spoke of to the mass poor. Only in alliances between Hispanic and Native Americans and the poor will we have enough power to leverage our needs to the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

TIME: Mexico president Vicente Fox said that Mexicans take jobs in the U.S. "that not even blacks want." Al Sharpton called this insulting but you said Fox was correct. Can you explain?

Farrakhan: Fox sees blacks as a permanent underclass. We see our people as struggling. If you look in some of the factories you have Mexicans there because they will work for less than what the black brother will work for. They're being used to break unions. Corporate America is delighted because that increases the bottom line. It's not the fault of the Mexicans but the greed of corporate America and the need of Mexicans and Latinos to find work.

TIME: Did race or class issues play into the slow U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina?

Farrakhan: I was not there, but the feeling is that race played a part. There are some I heard on TV saying that levee was purposely busted so that the water would come in on that side. They haven't verified the truth of that but some people think that, and that perception is real until truth either verifies it or dispels it.

TIME: In the aftermath of Katrina the rap artist Kanye West accused President Bush of not caring about black people. Was that a fair statement?

Farrakhan: It was a long time before the President met with the Congressional Black caucus, and he's never appeared before the NAACP. Even though he has put black people into high positions, that has not made black people feel that he is closer to us at all.

TIME: Bill Cosby has been attacked for criticizing inner-city black youth and blaming their parents for bad parenting. Do you agree with him?

Farrakhan: The sad thing about what Bill Cosby said is that it was taken out of context. Cosby was chiding a black audience about accepting responsibility. We have to accept the responsibility to change our condition, whether white folks did it or government did it.

TIME: But do you agree or not: Are parents doing their job?

Farrakhan: We are not rearing our children; television is. The whole culture has ripped away parental authority. So the children today are undisciplined, out of control. This is a real weight on parents when their authority is eroded and the influence on their children 24-7 is violence, decadence and filth.

TIME: Does the rising political influence of the Christian right worry you?

Farrakhan: Many of the lynchings that took place in this country took place on Sunday after church. The Christian Right are tied directly to the present administration.

TIME: Is it the role of Muslim leaders to take a stand against terrorism?

Farrakhan: It is the role of Christian leaders to take a strong stand against Christians who deviate from the path of Jesus Christ? And is it the duty of Muslims to stand up against that which deviates from the teachings of the Koran and the teachings of prophet Muhammad? Yes, it is our duty.

TIME: You've made statements regarding Judaism that many found polarizing. What are your thoughts on that now?

Farrakhan: No matter what I have said to refute that, I have never been allowed the privilege to allow my reputation to recover. Even when I've explained what I said and what I meant. I'm not afraid to stand up to what I say. And I know what I said and I did not say what they accuse me of saying.

TIME: Who would be your pick for a presidential candidate in '08?

Farrakhan: It doesn't make any difference who we get. FDR once said, "I can't do what you ask me to do even though I know its right. Until you develop the leverage to make me do it, it won't get done." If we form a movement we will have the leverage to make the President do what is right by the mass of American people.