Farrakhan and the Lunatic Fringe

By Norm R. Allen Jr.

The Nation of Islam (NOI) has had its fair share of alliances with shady characters, White supremacists, violent theocrats, dictators, and others. It therefore might not come as a surprise to those that have closely examined the group to learn that the bizarre religious sect has now come under the sway of the Church of Scientology (COS).

Many have long regarded the COS as a dangerous religious cult. The group’s founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard, was deemed by many to be extremely racist against Black people. Many of its former members have complained of harassment and blackmail from COS leaders.

Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Nation’s leader, had been rumored to have been attracted to the COS for at least the past six years. On February 27, 2011, Farrakhan addressed a crowd of thousands at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois during the Nation’s Saviour’s Day celebration. The title of the speech was “God Will Send Saviours.”

The COS has a belief in “suppressive personalities” in which individuals can become sociopaths. Farrakhan told the audience, “I am looking at the Caucasian personality as that of a ‘sociopath.’” He said of White people, “You have manifested a personality that is against the laws of a genuine society.” (The speech went on for four hours. Much of it can be found at http://www.suppressivepersons.org/sp/archives/1752).

According to the May 31, 2011 issue of The Final Call, the Nation’s newspaper, about 700 NOI ministers are being trained as COS “auditors” or Dianetics teachers. According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, Dianetics is “a nonscientific theory of personality explaining behavior in terms of an individual’s experiences prior to birth.” (Can anyone say crackpot?)

This is not the first time the COS has tried to market itself to Black people in a major way. The COS established an impressive church in Harlem, New York not many years ago. The late “Sibanye,” founder of the Center for Inquiry Harlem Discussion Group, made it a major topic of discussion. Surprisingly, many of the discussion group members had no problem with the establishment of the COS in Harlem, and still have no problem with it. Many from the Harlem Discussion Group asserted that perhaps the COS could aid the Black community in economic development and in other ways.

However, is the COS a harmless organization? In the May 16, 1991 issue of Time, Richard Behar made one of the most scathing and devastating critiques of the COS to ever make its way into print. According to Behar:

“Hubbard wrote one of Scientology’s sacred texts, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, in 1950. In it he introduced a crude psychotherapeutic technique called “auditing.” He also created a simplified lie detector (called an “E-meter”) that was designed to measure electrical changes in the skin while subjects discussed intimate details of their past.” (p. 50)

Behar went on to write that Hubbard claimed that the E-meter could cure blindness. Adding to bogus medical claims, Hubbard asserted that people are composed of spirits called thetans who were driven from the Earth 75,000,000 years ago by a vicious extraterrestrial despot called Xenu.

Behar wrote: “A federal court ruled in 1971 that Hubbard’s medical claims were bogus and that E-meter auditing could no longer be called a scientific treatment.” (ibid) (To see the entire article online, go to http://www.cs.cmu/~dst/Fishman/time-behar.html)

Many of Scientology’s outlandish beliefs seem to be no less strange than those of Screwy Louie Farrakhan and the NOI. After all, in the aforementioned Saviour’s Day speech, the sinister minister reverted to the old-school NOI teaching about the Black scientist Yacub (a.k.a. Yakub), the evil creator of the White race 6,600 years ago. Farrakhan also reiterated his claim that in 1985 he boarded “a wheel that you call a UFO,” on which he had a vision and heard the late Elijah Muhammad, the NOI’s former leader, speak.

All of this insanity raises the question: Could religious fanatics ever lead Black people to freedom, justice, and equality? The answer is a resounding “no.” Religious individuals, leaders, and organizations—especially progressive ones—could do so. However, religious fanaticism is by its nature reactionary, authoritarian and theocratic. Religious fanatics could bring forth some positive changes, such as pride, sobriety, improved eating habits, lower crime rates, etc. However, after all is said and done, religious fanatics simply want to replace one form of oppression for one rooted in their own theocratic politics. This is something Black people must always keep in mind when confronted with proposed solutions from leaders such as Farrakhan.

Farrakhan and the Lunatic Fringe

The West and the Rest of Us: Atheism & Sexism 101

By Sikivu Hutchinson

At a youth media literacy conference I organized recently, I was fortunate enough to experience the performance of an extremely gifted youth band whose co-lead singer is an Asian American female guitarist. At one point during the concert she tentatively introduced a song she had written about sexism by saying that it “kind of does still exist today.” I was struck by her qualified intro to the song. She is one of the few young women of color musicians fronting a rock band in a hyper-masculine industry in which rampant sexual harassment, gender-based wage discrimination and racism ensure that women of color are only visible as sex objects, hangers-on and so-called video hos. Nonetheless, she was uneasy about embracing the term sexism.

Women’s reluctance to name their experiences is symptomatic of the insidiousness of post-feminism, which has been normalized and relentlessly propagandized by mainstream media. It fits neatly into the exceptionalist narrative that the U.S. and the West are bastions of equal opportunity and enlightenment. Because people of color and white women have seemingly unlimited access to public space and public institutions the U.S. has evolved far beyond the “dark age” of the pre-civil rights era. Because women and girls now have the “option” to be just as video ho “nasty as they wanna be” the West is the universal standard for gender equity. This kind of totalizing thinking underscores a lack of critical consciousness about how institutional sexism, heterosexism, and racism—as the basis for individual acts of prejudice and discrimination—actually work. It is especially acute when it comes to the selective “West and the rest of us” mentality that some in the New Atheist movement exhibit about sexism, imperialism and women’s rights.

An example of this was recently on display in the Rebecca Watson-Richard Dawkins blogosphere throw down. Watson is the founder of the popular blog Skepchick, and frequently writes about gender politics. As has been widely discussed, Dawkins blasted Watson after she criticized a clueless slobbery male for propositioning her at 4 a.m. when she was alone in an elevator after a conference talk on sexism. Dismissing Watson as a whiny American feminist, Dawkins trotted out the victim Olympics plight of an oppressed Muslim female genital mutilation recipient from central casting. After a firestorm of criticism from feminist bloggers like Jen McCreight, Dawkins attempted to revise his position. Still, the phenomenon of white Westerners trotting out the cultural other as the ultimate barometer of oppression is a standard rite of passage. When powerful Western white men opportunistically evoke the lived experiences of Muslim women as a space of projection for what they deem to be “authentic” sexist oppression, they deflect from their own privilege and entitlement. It’s akin to white elites descending on Africa in search of the most hardcore safari experience. The exoticism and abject primitivism of the Other ultimately confirms the rationalism and universal subject status of “me” and “my” culture. Small wonder then that it is often far easier for a celebrated intellectual of the rationalist first world to see the authoritarian misogyny of Islam than the institutional sexism, heterosexism, and racism that he and other privileged males have benefited from at every step of the way; in the academy, in the publishing world, in the Western media, and in garden variety elevators. Predictably, Dawkins did not say that Middle Eastern and African Muslim women have an abysmally low standard of living because of the imperialist invasions and geopolitical exploitation of “secular” Western powers like Britain and the U.S., or that they are more likely to be dispossessed from their homes due to these incursions or to be sexually assaulted by occupying armies. These realities are far too inconvenient when it comes to parsing the global complexities of institutional sexism in the predominantly Muslim, Western-occupied nations of the Middle East.

This episode is more than just an example of individual prejudice/ignorance. First, it highlights the arrogance of Western paternalism, disguised as liberal humanism. Second, it speaks to the delusion of pretending atheist discourse automatically translates into a liberatory politics. Lacking a social justice compass steeped in the legacies of global liberation struggle (both within and outside the West), atheism or a Eurocentric humanism are a political dead-end for radical freethought communities. As I’ve argued many times before, the New Atheist focus on science and separation of church and state, without insight into the racial and gendered histories of these traditions, is especially bankrupt for people of color. For those unclear about the concept of institutional sexism here are a few guidelines:

I. What Sexism Does:

a. Gives visibility and worth to maleness and “male issues” as the invisible universal norm
b. Devalues the lives of women and normalizes or naturalizes violence against women
c. Constructs all women and girls as objects, property and territory for male control
d. Sexualizes women and girls
e. Dehumanizes women of color
f. Reinforces a hierarchy of men and women based on white supremacy, racism and heterosexism

II. How and Where is Sexism Manifested?
• Social, Political, Cultural, Economic and Religious Institutions
• Everyday Life
• Language

The West and the Rest of Us: Atheism & Sexism 101

Born Atheist

By Sergio Ortega-Rodriguez

I was born an atheist, and so were you. It is our natural right as I claim in my unpublished book with the tentative title Born Atheist. In it I also describe the development of religious influence in people’s lives and how people can choose not to live under such influence. I do so by combining biographical as well as social observations. My parents, for instance, made every effort to instill in me the belief in god, but could not answer my questions because their religion did not encourage, much less allow it. Thus, I soon realized all supernatural beliefs religions promote are false, and most children see this. We have millions of children telling us religions are not wearing any clothes, but most adults see religious views as a “need” they were been born with when they were not, nor were their children or anyone else.

I grew up in Mexico, a country where 99% percent of the population was Catholic (now it is about 85% due to Evangelist missions from the U.S.). People saw me as an anomaly to be tolerated and people simply assumed I would believe in god when I grew up. But years later, while attending high school, a professor gave us a final where he asked, “Do you believe god exists? Why or why not.” It was exciting to be able to express my convictions and I was the only one who explained how god could not exist. And, when I did an oral presentation, no one had questions. It was then that I decided I would embrace these feelings and thoughts since I did not want to join the herd mentality I had just witnessed. Besides, I am completely convinced gods do not exist, but religious people are never completely convinced of god’s existence.
Most religious people do not see religion as optional because they are never given this choice. If true religious freedom existed, we all would have the option to opt out of it, but we do not. If we were free to choose, we would find families of, say five people, who would follow different spiritual paths, but we do not. If people were free to choose, they would encourage everyone to learn about all gods since believing in a god would be the most important of all life decisions; but they are not. And, since practically no religious person promotes the choice to leave a religion, or not to follow a religion, the concept of complete freedom of—and from— religion is impossible to implement. Thus, lacking choices makes religions extremely oppressive.

In my book I explain these developments in people’s lives. I write about religious people I interacted with as well as about how religious leaders influence people’s choices. The fact that most people seek counsel for any reason with them is mind-blowing to me. And, when public officials do this, such religious leaders sound more credible and people believe them because they see them as the “experts” they are not. I also talk about “sacred” books where I propose the following: when given a sacred book to read from an unknown religion, do we think of it as fact or fiction after reading it? Invariably, the answer is always fiction. And these books are where all religious leaders get their tyrannical ideas from, not from the god or gods they always use as a wild card.

Lastly, I explain the benefits of being—or becoming—an atheist. Religious people need information on how they can escape from superstitious beliefs; on how such beliefs have always divided people of good moral character, and on how people are misguided by religious institutions. A chapter in my book expands on how missionaries accost people all the time, and how not even other religious people accept missionaries from other religions. (Imagine how people would react if missionary atheists visiting them.) My book, however, gives more decent approaches to promote atheist views rationally. I also ponder as to why atheism is not more prevalent and relevant to all of us since, without exception, we are born without a belief in the supernatural.

Sergio Ortega-Rodriguez migrated from Mexico City over twenty years ago. After learning English in the U.S. he received an A.A. at Santa Monica College and a B.A. in Sociology at UCLA.

Born Atheist