The Nation of Islam has an antisemitism problem, and that’s about it

Currently, there is a mini-controversy of sorts related to antisemitism, Louis Farrakhan, and some organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. The main problem seems to be that these three co-chairs of the Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, and Tamika Mallory, are balking at denouncing their association with and tacit tolerance of Farrakhan. In particular, the focus is on Tamika Mallory.

Personally, histrionic demands of denunciation usually leave me cold.

But in this case, there are strong grounds. Louis Farrakhan and his small splinter sect, the Nation of Islam, have a long history of very extreme perspectives on Jews, and whites more generally. The racism isn’t a minor idiosyncrasy with the Nation of Islam. It’s a constitutive part of their ideology. The Nation of Islam believes that white people are a race of mutants designed by a malevolent black scientist. There are some similarities fundamentally with white nationalist Christian Identity, which dehumanizes non-whites in a literal manner. And, both the Nation of Islam and Christian Identity operationally share very similar and stereotypical views of Jews as evil puppet-masters.

In reaction to this much of the media has taken to writing long analyses. This piece in The Atlantic, The Women’s March Has a Farrakhan Problem, meanders over an enormous amount of territory. Frankly, it seemed a bit much.

First, the co-chairs of the Women’s March are not the marchers themselves. The marchers are to the Left of center, but many of them are quite moderate and mainstream and conventional. I know some personally who aren’t even very liberal and self-identify as centrists. And many are Jewish. The point is that leaders and organizers can have very different politics and associations from the movement they lead. Tamika Mallory has a problem. The Women’s March, not so much.

Second, there was a theme in The Atlantic piece about the fraught and cooperative relationship between blacks and Jews in the United States. Impressionistically there’s something to this, especially considering the Crown Heights riot. But part of me wonders if there really is such that much antisemitism among American blacks that’s out of the ordinary.

The GSS has a variable, “JEWTEMP”, which measures respond attitudes toward Jews on a scale of 0 to 100 (0 being cooler and 100 being warmer). I binned the results into quartiles. You can see that black Americans are less warm toward Jews than white Americans, but the difference is very marginal.

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are clearly antisemitic by any definition. But black Americans are not particularly antisemitic at all. Farrakhan is as representative of black American attitudes toward Jews as those on the “Alt-Right” who obsess over the “JQ”.

In fact, could it simply be that black Americans exhibit a demographic profile that is correlated with somewhat less positive feelings toward Jews, as opposed to something distinctive about black American culture? To check I played around with a multiple regression.

Changing variables around I found three traits that were robustly predictive of warmer feelings toward Jews:

1) The biggest effect was vocabulary score, which is correlated with general intelligence (r=0.7). If you don’t put this variable in, education matters. But once WORDSUM is in the equation the effect of education disappears.

2) Being a woman.

3) Being younger.

Being black as opposed to white is associated with being somewhat more antisemitic in many regressions, but it’s very weak as an association, and, it’s not statistically significant (this is probably due to sample size).

What’s the point of this post? Not to sound too much like Steven Pinker, but there isn’t a looming threat of antisemitism in the United States from any large demographic. Rather, there are small old groups like the Nation of Islam and white nationalists, which remain resolutely antisemitic. And, the Israel-Palestine issue does loom over campus politics in a way that blurs the line between being anti-Zionist and antisemitic. A small number of campus radicals and students from Muslim backgrounds do step pretty clearly from anti-Zionism to antisemitism in my opinion. In the latter case, it’s from personal knowledge, as when I was a graduate student a few kids approached me during controversies related to BDS from Islamic backgrounds expressing their strong reservations about Jews and taking courses from Jewish professors. These conversations were not welcome by me, but because of my physical appearance and name, they assumed I’d be sympathetic.

The problem here is simple, and it’s the indulgence that the black intelligentsia (that includes you President Obama) and some of the radical non-black Left, have given the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan for decades. Remember, he was on Arsenio Hall‘s show in 1995. The issue isn’t the Women’s March (whose politics I somewhat disagree with), nor is it antisemitism in the black community. And most of the public doesn’t even know what BDS stands for.

9 thoughts on “The Nation of Islam has an antisemitism problem, and that’s about it

  1. Speaking of syncretic doo-doo voodoos that are born during extreme diasporic circumstances: can you imagine what wild ‘faith/hate’ melanges will, all-too-soon, over the course of the next few human lifespans, emanate from various culture-littorals as Civilizational Collapse gathers steam. The fantastics of Mormonism and Rastafarianism will seem magisterial and coherent in comparison as psychic vapors begin issuing strobing next-gen recombinations in ever-shortening timeframes, until the Big Han Bang finally gathers the globe…what’s left of it…May the few remaining low-trophic foodstuffs then be rendered edible with good hot sauce, amen.

  2. Yes, good prompt: a la Jaynes, just as the dislocations of the Bronze-Age collapse caused such great social-cognitive turmoil that the ancient usual familiar ways of ‘thinking’ along authoritarian-hallucinatory pathways were then no longer reliable or sufficient sources of self-motivation, so may the near-future global tumults, in combination with, and as amplified by, the now-emergent third cameral space, (consisting of machinic interwebs with their constantly manipulable shape-shifting memetic imaging), form in certain then many individuals, a tricameral mind, and born out of such massive culture-languimage flows, replete with such overwhelming dynamic instertitial-referent forces, plus the strains involved in getting of calories, so will be necessitated a new Axial Age with attendant avatars resultant, to navigate the way through the newscapes.

    People be tripping so hard, they hardly be people no mo’.

    All as commonly presaged in science fiction writing.

    But with Jaynesian insight into future mechanics of self-“subject”.

  3. I’m of the opinion that the only thing this dust-up has accomplished has been to give Farrakhan free publicity, and to draw attention to the founders of the Women’s March, only one of whom I had actually heard of (Sarsour, because she has treaded along the line between anti-Israel activism and anti-Semitism in the past).

    The irony in the intersection between the Nation of Islam and the White Nationalists is that the former believe Jews are nefariously white, while the latter believe they are nefariously non-white.

    As for the relationship between Jews and Blacks in the USA, I think a lot of people in the older generation recall that many Jews were prominent in the American civil-rights struggles of the 1960s.

  4. I love to listen to Farrakhan (and Malcom X). The words just rhyme and flow together. Mesmerizing. Obama too, many words in a very beautiful soul searching manner that appeals to the heart. Unhappily mostly words and no action.

    South Asians too have this ability. SWR Dias Bandaranaike was called the silver tongued orator as Was Krishna Menon from Kerala. He (SWRD) could barely speak Sinhala when came back from Oxford In 1924 SWRDB was Secretary of Oxford Union. Since then Sri Lanka has some Oxford Union over representation relative to SL population till about the 70’s.

    Anyway back to the original issue

  5. Just a tinfoil aside but the speed at which the state clamped down on the black panthers and various ethnic liberation movements makes the persistence of NOI suspect, in my opinion. It just seems convenient that for a lot of these communities they were the alternative but didn’t actually do anything other than spout incoherent, conveniently hateful nonsense with a bullhorn. Is there any link between NOI and actual, violent anti-Semitic attacks? My guess is, not at the same rate as Christian identity (or similar WN) groups. Which is impressive given their respective geography relative to Jews.

    Anyhow, I guarantee 99% of women’s marchers have no idea of who ‘Tamika Mallory’ even is. Perhaps some on the right think that if wasn’t for the Women’s March people would have no problem with Trump. However, this well-coordinated campaign of criticism appears to be coming from traditional liberal and centrist outlets. The clear purpose is to smear Sarsour for not towing the democratic party line and by extension her positions on Israel.

  6. “However, this well-coordinated campaign of criticism appears to be coming from traditional liberal and centrist outlets.”

    But not conservative? That’s a bit weird.

    Of course in locales like the Bay Area et al. the centrists and liberals ARE effectively the conservatives.

  7. Did a brief Google dive about Obama and NOI and I got the 2005 photo, plus an unverified claim about Obama using NOI on his staff. Anything more meaningful than that, not produced by fevered imaginations?

    I disagree with guilt by association, for Obama, Razib, or Quinn Norton.

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