Evans & Novak
Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan
Aired November 29, 1997 – 5:30 p.m. ET
Rowland Evans, CNN host: I’m Rowland Evans. Robert Novak and I will question one of America’s most influential and most criticized black leaders on the eve of his mission to the Middle East.
Robert Novak, CNN host: He is Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam.
Minister Farrakhan was attacked nearly two years ago when, after his million man march, he visited the Middle East and met with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi. This was his response then to criticism that he ought to be registered as a foreign agent.
Louis Farrakhan, Leader, Nation of Islam: I am not an agent of Lybia or any foreign government. And there is no need for me ever to follow that law that I should register.
On Monday with war drums rolling in the mid east, Minister Farrakhan leaves for a three month journey that will include Cuba, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, and maybe Libya. Once again, his travel plans drew fire. This time from Tommy P. Baer, International President of B’nai Brith, who said quote “he obviously didn’t hear the American outrage, after his last visit. Maybe he will here it now.”
Novak: Minister Farrakhan what do you hope to accomplish on your trip, mainly to the Middle East?
Farrakhan: Well, I hope to be a voice for peace. That is the most troubled area in the world, that could lead the world into that great cataclysmic war which is called in scripture, Armageddon. And I really do not think the political leaders are acting in their best manner for peace. And therefore, I would hope that the religious leaders of Israel, the religious leaders of the Muslim world, will awaken to the tremendous responsibility that is their as the children of Abraham to lead that part of the world toward peace.
Novak: As a Muslim, what is your message to the Muslim leaders of the Middle East?
Farrakhan: I would hope first that we would see the reconciliation of differences between Muslims who have been combatants in serious wars in the past, that have take the lives of millions of young muslims.
Second, I would hope that the idea of terrorism, the idea of the slaughter of innocent human life might be replaced by the kind of spiritual dialogue that leads to sane policies. For every time an innocent life is lost, the media will say Muslim terrorist, and this leads to growing hatred, dislike for the religion of Islam.
Novak: So you would advise the leaders of Hamas for example, to discontinue their campaign of terror against Israel?
Farrakhan: I would also advise Israel to discontinue the bathing of these settlements in east Jerusalem and sit down over the question of what is justice for Israel. What is justice for Palestinians.
Novak: But you will also advise the Hamas to…
Farrakhan: I think the leader of Hamas have already said, they will forswear violence and terrorism for the dialogue toward peace.
Evans: Mr. Farrakhan, you will be going to Iraq, will you not?
Farrakhan: Yes I will.
Evans: Will you be seeing Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq?
Farrakhan: I don’t know, but I hope to.
Evans: And if you do sir, will you tell him to open up all of his possible places, of refuge for weapons of mass destruction, which the United States and the United Nations now claim he has kept concealed?
Farrakhan: You know, the claims that to me and to thinking people are absolute fabrications to justify wicked intentions against Iraq. What have these weapons inspectors being doing in Iraq for nearly seven years? This is the only country that I know, that a war has ended. Yet 1.4 million Iraqis, including 680,000 children have died, since the war is over. That war is continuing, and that war must end.
Novak: Sir, should the U.S. bomb Iraq, if the inspectors — the UN inspectors are not permitted into all the places were the UN says he may be concealing weapons of mass destruction?
Farrakhan: American has enormous military power. She could bomb Iraq without losing much life or planes. But is that the wise approach for the leader of the world? Is that the best approach? I think not.
Novak: So you’re saying the answer to that is no? We should not.
Novak: What would be the impact in the Islamic world if the United States decided it was necessary to punish Saddam Hussein on this question of weapons inspections?
Farrakhan: Everyday that American misuses her great power and influence, she loses not only the friendship of the Muslim world, but she begins to lose the friendship of her own allies. This is not a wise policy, and I believe that the foreign policy advisors, who advise American administration on a policy toward the Middle East, need to have some new advisors, some fresh information because, I think American can do this better than what she’s doing.
Novak: Sir, I want to ask you a controversial question. Do you equate the possible damage to the world — President Clinton or the Secretary of Defense here has said, that Saddam Hussein biological weapons to kill every human being — do you equate that in anyway with Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons?
Farrakhan: Well, nobody is asking Israel to destroy some of her weapons of war. But is seems to be a part of America’s foreign policy to weaken every nation in the Middle East who could in effect be considered a threat, not just to their Arab neighbors, but a threat to Israel. This is not an even-handed policy. It is not wise, and it will backfire as it is.
Evans: Are you going to visit Israel on this trip?
Farrakhan: I would hope that the Israeli government will allow me into Israel so that I might speak to Israeli political and religious leaders, and Palestinian political and religious leader and hopefully see what the dialogue could produce.
Evans: Have you asked to be granted permission to enter?
Farrakhan: I will.
Evans: What is your expectation?
Farrakhan: I don’t know. I have such a terrible image in Israel. I don’t know whether they would let me in, but if they are as I think they should be, they would let me in.
Evans: Well, maybe I can help you improve the image. Every time anyone says anything, even moderately favorable toward you, a lot of your critics come up with a quotation like touches the Weekly Standard, and this quotation is sometime ago, where you addressing the Jewish people about Israel saying, quote “she will never have peace, because there can be no peace structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your gutter religion under his holy and righteous name.” End quote. Sir, we all say things sometimes, that we regret. Once and for all would you like to take back those words?
Farrakhan: Israel has not had any peace in 40 years. She doesn’t have peace now. Peace can only be structured on the principles of justice and fair dealing. And if the leaders in Israel, and the leaders of the Palestinians are willing to sit down and negotiate a proper settlement for peace for the sake of the children of Israel and the children of the Palestinians, I think that, that would be the wise step. I can’t take back what I believe is truth.
Evans: What about the gutter religion?
Farrakhan: Oh, I never, never referred to Judaism as a gutter religion.
Novak: Sir when you…
Farrakhan: Our actions.
Novak: Sir, when you see President Qaddafi of Libya, will you use your good offices to really make the point hard with him, that he should permit two Libyans, who are being held on the suspicion of being involved in the Pan Am 103 downing in Lockerbie, Scotland, to go to trial?
Farrakhan: Sir, with all due respect. You know, in America jurist prudence a person is presumed innocent until proved guilt. Charges do not necessarily mean that the person is actually in fact guilty. America charged somebody else with that first, then several years later they charged the Libyans.
The Libyans under international law do not have to surrender their nationals to be tried in Britain or in America, but America use her terrific influence to impose sanctions on an entire people over an incident that they have not conclusively proved that their charges is correct. What Muammar Qaddafi is saying is, I will surrender my nationals to a third, or neutral country to be tried by Scottish jurists. I think we ought to go to trial somewhere to find out where the truth lies.
Evans: Mr. Farrakhan, we’ve got to take a break for messages. When we come back, we’re going to ask Minister Farrakhan what did Mayor Daily of Chicago tell him the other day. In a moment.
Evans: Well Bob, I couldn’t have gone into Balto-latin (ph). Do you think you could?
Novak: No I don’t believe so. We’re not in that class.
Mr. Farrakhan, you met in Chicago with Mayor Daley, this last week. He came under a withering attack from Jewish groups, and then he said he had lectured you to be more careful in your comments. Is that true? Did he tell you that?
Farrakhan: Well, I think his honor was very forthright. We talked about working with the city to decrease crime and violence in the black community. Increase economic opportunity, and also we talked about easing racial tensions and religious tensions. This was my offer to his honor. And the mayor was very frank. He said well, you know you can’t just have a partnership with this city administration. The partnership has to be with all the people of the city, including, of course, the Jewish community.
And certainly I had no problem with that. We live in the city, and so I said certainly we should have such a partnership. And I would hope that he would use his good office to try and promote that kind of dialogue that would lead to that. And my chief of staff suggested that it might be best if it came through the Civil Rights Commission, headed up by a black man by the name of Mr. Woods. And he thought that, that was a good suggestion.
And of course, the mayor has come under withering attack, which is unfortunate. Because there will be a backlash. You know there are many people who do not like the fact, that when a mayor is voted on by the public, and he has — he’s the mayor of the whole city.
And I represent considerable influence, I believe in that city, that the mayor should not even speak with me, should not get to know who Farrakhan is, and what Farrakhan is about. And then for him to have this withering attack by members of the Jewish community. How will the Irish feel? How do the Italians feel? How do others feel who are non Jewish.
Evans: Mr. Farrakhan, has President Clinton asked your advice about his call for a national dialogue on race issues?
Farrakhan: No he has not.
Evans: He has not.
Farrakhan: No. I am sure that he would be just like Mayor Daley, he would come under a withering attack for daring to ask me such a question.
Evans: Well, let me ask you this sir. Has Professor John Hope Franklin, his Chairman of the commission or the committee that is doing this work for… Have you had any contact with him?
Farrakhan: No sir, I have not.
Evans: How — how do you explain that sir? I mean you are, whether one likes or dislikes, loves or hates Minister Farrakhan, you are a leader. You got a million or close to a million black here two years ago. How do you explain that sir?
Farrakhan: Well, I think that in truth, honesty will dictate that persons who are in positions of power or who seek upward mobility in a system like this would not like to include somebody in a panel that might cause criticism or pain to come to them. And so most black leaders will meet me behind the door and tell me how much they appreciate Farrakhan, but publicly, they cannot embrace me for fear that they would lose some of the support that they get from Jewish philanthropy, and corporate America.
Novak: Sir. On October 16th you called for African Americans to stay home, not to go to work. By all measurements, not many blacks in America heeded your words. Was that a mistake on your part to make that call?
Farrakhan: Oh, no. The day of atonement is a serious call. And it, like many what you would call holy days or holidays, have to pick up momentum. I think that for the first year that we asked our people to stay at home during the million man march, they did that. And the first anniversary of the million man march, at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning in New York city, nearly 150,000 people gathered to observe the day of atonement with only two weeks of advertisement.
Now we are calling on our people to stay at home, to stay from work, to fast, to pray to reconcile differences. I believe like all holidays, it will pick up momentum as people see the value of such a day.
Novak: Earlier this year in Philadelphia, working with Mayor Ed Rendell, you made a speech in regard to the racial tension in the Grays Ferry area and you called on blacks not to demonstrate because it would be considered provocative and confrontational. Does that represent a major change in your outlook toward strategy and tactics?
Farrakhan: Not at all. You know, when we say we are a people of peace, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad striped us of all weapons — no Muslim carries a weapon at all. We have no weapons in our homes. We mean that we are a people of peace. And to walk into Grays Ferry in the heat of that, with 4,000 to 5,000 angry men, could be considered provocative. And if violence broke out as a result of that, we’re not the kind of person that turns the other cheek. So if violence broke out, we would fight. So knowing that, we thought it would not be the wise thing to do.
Evans: Mr. Farrakhan, we only have a second before we go take a break. You supported Jesse Jackson for president in 1984. Do you regret that?
Farrakhan: No. Not at all.
Evans: If he runs again sir, in 2000 and ask for our support, will you campaign with him?
Farrakhan: That I would have to wait and see. I don’t want to see symbolic running. I want to see a candidate that can win, and a candidate that will use the black vote to leverage something more than a job for a few well placed blacks. But if we’re going to vote in the election, what will come out of it for the masses of our people? That we’d be looking for.
Evans: We’ve got to take a break Minister Farrakhan. When we come back with the Minister in a moment after these messages, we’ll have the big question.
Evans: The big question for Minister Farrakhan. Sir, last year you knocked on the Republican door. Has anyone answered?
Farrakhan: It must have been a silent knock, but in truth, I would like to see black people more evenly distributed between the Republican and the Democratic parties. I really don’t think all blacks should be concentrated in the Democratic party. I believe that blacks should be balanced in the Republican party and we should leverage our votes to see what we can get for the masses of our people.
Novak: Has any Republican, knowing that is your message, said we’d like to talk to you about that Minister Farrakhan — we’d like to sit down and talk to you?
Farrakhan: Well, I’m almost afraid to say because of the withering heat that that person might get from segments of the community might not be good for that person politically. But yes, there are those who would sit and who would talk with me and who would dialogue with me. But I do not wish to subject them to that, no.
Novak: I understand what you’re saying. Minister Farrakhan, thank you very much. Safe journey on your trip to the Middle East.
Farrakhan: Thank you.
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