Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Louis Farrakhan, Eminem and Some Thoughts About Politics and Music

I was collecting information on an article about Louis Farrakhan the other day and came across an odd video. It was a departure from the usual Farrakhan boilerplate that reminded me of my mother's stories about Father Coughlin. Father Coughlin was a radio preacher of the thirties whose political pronouncements sounded like America's home grown National Socialism. Like Farrakhan, he was not shy about blaming the Jews for America's social ills. And like Farrakhan, he dressed his politics in clerical garb.

The video I found was Farrakhan's answer to charges of anti Jewish prejudice on Mr. Farrakhan's part. I experienced the video on two levels. As a rebuttal to charges of Jew hatred, I found it laughable. As an artistic performance, I found it deeply moving. Farrakhan is in fact an accomplished musician. He started out in classical music and made a living for a while playing calypso. His way of answering his critics was to choose a piece by the composer Felix Mendelsohn, who was of Jewish ancestry. It seemed like a slightly more creative rendition of the "Some of my best friends" argument.

I have heard Farrakhan criticise secular Jews for their disproportionate presence in promoting decadent and violent entertatinment. Here he echoes some Jewish social critics. Until he started his speech about Jews being the backbone of the slave trade, he actually had my attention. I have heard Jews argue that even our secular contributions to popular culture should be reflective of Jewish values.

This raises some additional questions. Farrakhan has declared openly that Barack Obama is a messianic figure. He has joined a chorus of Obama supporters who include atheist communists and gay rights activists. Reverend Wright has put clerical garb on a radical political agenda and an amoral personal life .

In looking for a common denominator between Farrakhan and Wright, the only common denominator I can find is an antipathy to whites, Jews and America's role in the world that constitutes a recurring and often dominant theme in Farrakhan's preaching.

One recurring theme I find in Judaism that has universal relevance is the idea that political and economic liberation is merely a prelude to the protracted inner struggles of the individual and society. Much of the rabble rousing speeches of Farrakhan and his political allies does not even qualify as the preliminary struggle but as agitation for its own sake or in the words of Jerry Rubin "Revolution for the hell of it." It is hard for me to trust the motives of Obama's radical supporters when their common denominator is so low.

There is an additional redeeming factor in Farrakhan's violin performance. There are probably many African Americans who could make a fine contribution to the world of classical music, theatre and areas of cultural endeavour in which they are currently underrepresented. The entertainment industry has created boundaries for performers that need to be challenged. Chess clubs, Shakespearian drama troupes and recreations of music from many regions of Africa that are largely unknown in the U.S. are areas where there should be a lot more growth in minority communities.

I am presenting Louis Farrakhan's music video with one regret and that is that it is truncated. I would like to see a full length concert of his music.

I am also presenting a hip hop song by Eminem which deals in a moving way with the tragedy of divorce. I do not play it when driving because it is not safe to play music that brings me to tears when driving.

The common denominator of both pieces is the challenge to racial boundaries in the entertainment world. There is an additional lesson that hip hop and rap can be used for noble purposes as can almost any type of music. What is most troubling is the thought that the finest music can leave the wilder reaches of the human soul raging and untamed. This is a lesson that could be applied to Farrakhan and to ourselves

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