The state of the nation

Last month, the Nation of Islam's 'Million Man March' descended on Washington. The same day, 1,000 British followers gathered at London's Broadwater Farm estate. Angela Lewis found herself being recruited
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
tottenham Mp Bernie Grant was in bouyant, bolshie from the the biggest ever British Nation of Islam rally last

Monday on Broadwater Farm. "I've had phone calls from newspapers I didn't knew existed, along with television and radio interest - 32 messages in all, " he told the hundreds gathered.

"They said I should not share a platform with the Nation of Islam. Well, I'm here. I'm with the fiercest fighters in Britain today," he thundered, to bellowed applause. Like Lina Bellos, ex-leader of Lambeth Council, his presence there had a whiff of kudos collecting about it. But then, the Nation of Islam needs their names just as much as they need to be seen as on the cutting edge of black miltancy on the day of the hugely successful Million Men March in Washington.

While Bernie's eulogies for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan tumbled from his mouth that night, it's actually the dapper NO1, 20 and 30 something foot soldiers who are Farrakhan's messengers. The radical black Moslem movement's attempt to recruit from the ranks of the young and black in London on a day to day basis. If you reside in, say Brixton or Hackney, the cropped head, earnest chaps have been hard to miss recently at rap gigs, tube stations and demonstrations.

The August night I found myself becoming a potential recruit is etched on my mind. It was the shoes, you see. At nearly 12 midnight in Highbury And Islington tube station I sat staring blankly at my scruffy treads, when two men sit next to me. The one closest wears similar shoes to mine, but his postively gleamed. I compare badly. As he hands me a leaftlet and with quaint politeness asks whether I think much about politics, I do not look up. I mumble some pleasantry while I gawp at the leaflet. The two photos on it are of Louis Farrakhan and a beaming Minister Wayne X, and there's a Hackney address for a Sunday meeting.

Over next few weeks, Over two events firm my resolve to check them out. Police Commisioner Sir Paul Condon informs me, via a Tory, newspaper that, had I been born male, as a black person I would be a high risk crime suspect, potential guilty of innumerable crimes. Like, thanks a lot. The theme is the family of Steven Lawrence, willing to risk financial catastrophe to obtain justice for their murdered son. They acted when the Department of Public Prosecutions earlier washed their hands of the the Saturday nights mid September meeting at the Brixton Recreation Centre

is titled 'The Black Nation Held Hostage'. The clutch of bow-tied NOI soldiers' guarding the door carry walkie-talkies. Name taken and relieved of pounds 4 entrance fee, I'm subject now.to a search. Oh boy. Now I encounter the women of the movement. Two address me as 'sister' while my pockets and bag contents are cheerfully examined. I spot several confiscated tape recorders nearby. Like the men, the women are in their 20s and early 30s. They dress in Moslem garb from top to bottom . In shimmering white satin, they have the poise and elusive quality of radical nuns. The overall surreal atmosphere is intimidating.

But these people are smart. The crisp personal appearance and self reliance doctine pushes them close to the Tories, ironically. I could imagine Norman Tebbit shaking their hands at the Conservative Party Conference, pleased that so many industrious, God fearing, educated blacks had joined the young right vanguard.

The shuddering polemic of the meeting teacoia you about the Nation Of

Islam very quickly. They believe the founder Elijah Muhammad

is Allah's messynger on earth, and second only to him is Minister Louis Farrakhan. Followers believe the 61 year old is divinely guided , a black saviour and thoroughly wondrous in every way. Alternatively the white man is little better then a tireless, devious agent for the devil.

Most people here seem quietly impressed, while the NO I shout approval there must be over 150 people in here, and about half are women, some with children. My backside goes numb while listening to two hours of firebrand speeches. Andrew X, Minister Hilary and Maxine X take their turn to stand under the red banner and speak. Hot talk blows past in a blur of brain scrambling, political and religious monologues. The believable and the dubious are jumbled together.

Key speaker Hilary X divulges his first encounter with the NOI. He had some weed and was going to buy more. While in a car, a friend put a tape on. Farrankhan spoke and Hilary felt fear; Farrakhan's words touched him the way his father could not reach him. later on in his speech, Hilary raves about the consumption of pork, which was what the slave masters fed black people, apparently. My earlier hamburger now churns horribly in my stomach.

After the meeting, I recall why Farrakhan was refused entry into the United Kingdom in 1986. Branded an anti-Semitic, the Home Office said his presence would "Not be conducive to the public good". The last major row involving him here was when a Farrakhan satellite link to the Wembley Conference Centre, to a rally organised by the Islamic People's Trusto wa5 stopped by Wembley's owners. Nothing anti Jewish was uttered at the Brixton event.The credo is anti-white however, deeply critical of Arabs and vociferously anti Catholic.

It becomes clear that the movement is essentially concerned about control over black communities. White money and blue eyed politics have it, and they want it.

They crave, for instance, influence over folk in the ugly concrete sprawl that is the Angel Town estate in Brixton, where NOI 'Learn The Truth' talks are held Sundays. In America, Nation Of Islam security men have hit the headlines for their notorious behaviour on similar New York projects. They do not hand over drug dealers to the police, which would mean more blacks collecting criminal records and prison sentences. Nope, they administer vigilante style proper thrashings to any hoodlums they catch. Many in the communities are grateful. 0 J Simpson's top lawyer employs NOI bodyguards. Even more incredibly, a British NOI security firm guarded the Radio One FM rap stage at the Notting Hill Carnival.

But here on the Angel Estate, few locals seem terribly interested. Only

a couple of dozen non members turn up. After talking, Hilary X takes questions from the floor. A rasta with his mixed race youngster puts a hand up. "I heard that the Neil Armstrong led trip to the moon probably never happened and might have been a US politcal conspiracy. Is this true?" Two thoughts cross my mind. One is that the men is completely bonkers, two he doesn't realise

that the NOI is a black separatist movement. They want to prohibit marriage between different races. "The white man is the devil in all his ways," Hilary had muttered an hour earlier. "Some of you don't like that," he laughs. "I love white people, but I aint exhausted my love for the black man yet. How can I be giving love to the caucasians after all that's been done to us, and not love the black man first?

"Working for the white man is devil's work really. I don't mean that y6u should give up your job tomorrow but you should be working every day towards building something of your own."

There's three London Nation Of Islam groups.The Northern branch is in Hackney, in a discreet road near Dalston Kingsland train station.When I visit am kind of used to the frisks. "We find knives, tape recorders, drugs, guns - you name it," sighs one of today's searchers."We all get checked as well." By this stage, I am pretty sure that the Nation Of Islam is not for me. Ideological obedience was never my thing. Judging character by skin tone was somehing beyond comprehension.The good thing was that people involved are genuinely friendly, clued up and assertive. Many members are married to each other, which adds to the close spirit of things. But the Koran teachings are higgley piggledy and prone to their own interpretations. It was no surprise that they are not a sect recognised by orthadox Islam. And one wonders how they can win over young black people to separatism when inter-pacial relationships are part of the cosmopolitan norm in urban London.

But there are some people who believe the militancy and political and racial exclusivity has added to their lives. Tourain is an east Londoner who has attended meetings for a year. She visited Hackney's branch after the Leystone group folded four months ago. "You must open yourself to what's being said, you won't get it after three meetings," she urges. "It's not about hate - the Nation could not exist on hate. Not all white people are bad, but most of the ones who are not aren't in positions of power in the world." Tourain neither drinks or smokes and before she came, she also used to cover her hair, so felt comfortable with the look. "Some black groups hold meetings and they say they are going to do this and that, but these people put it into practise. 'The brothers are very respectfull and they have to account for every penny they collect."

Glen is a NOI member who recently was awarded his X. He said he had to earn it, and one of the stipulations was being able to recite lines from the Koran. He began going to Nation meetings in January. "I was a community worker," he explains. "Straight away I knew this was the truth. I began to see that black people were not the problem, it was white supremacy in the power structures and their organisations. " How many people arc in the NOI? "Two million - all black people," he replies emphatically. Unlike sections of Christianity where they: say this and this is likely to happen, we say it is all happening now, in the present."

The October 16 Million Man March proves a publicity godsend to the London organisation. the Broadwater Farm turn out ranges from 700 (BBC television) to 1,200 (the Evening Standard). For the first time. The NOI members do not speak to repoprters adding to the air of mystery. Two white women - one a working class women with her pre-teen son, wander in uninhibited. The event succeeded in making the NOI look like the sexiest political group in Britain for that day, and the likelihood is more blacks are likely to want to find out more.

The most fascinating and important aspect of the March was that black people were seen to seize the agendas to pull it off. The powers that be hated it, which was a bonus. It served as a wake up call not only the black people, but to the pundits and people in power who believed the dislike of Farrakhan would mean the event would be a flop. In truth, most black people know he isn't who they want. (presently there are probably only around 300 hardcore

NOI devotees in London. But someone at the Farm said ultra significant at the meeting "five people who are disciplined are better than 5000 who are not." In general, the present mobilisation of energies is essential. It could help those in political charge listen to those at the bottom of society again. It's been a long time coming.

Comments