Farrakhan the crime-fighter

The authorities fear the Nation of Islam leader's visit will heighten racial tension. Quite the reverse, says his man in Britain
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The Independent Online

A visit to Britain by Louis Farrakhan, the controversial American black Muslim leader, would help to reduce the "inordinate amount" of black-on-black crime in this country, says his UK spokesman.

After last week's High Court ruling overturning a 15-year Home Office ban on the Nation of Islam leader entering Britain, Mr Farrakhan's followers here hope he will come to the UK before the end of the year, said the spokesman, Hilary Muhammad.

The Government feared that the fiery preacher's anti-Semitic comments, praise of Hitler and talk of "settling the score" with whites, would worsen racial tensions, but Mr Muhammad said Mr Farrakhan had been misrepresented. "Many things have been taken out of context. This is why it is so important for Minister Farrakhan to come to the UK, so people here can judge for themselves. In the US he has been personally responsible for bringing down the level of crime in the black community. We hope his guidance will succeed in doing the same here."

Some aspects of the Nation of Islam are viewed as absurd by some observers: these include the mixture of Christian and Islamic theology, and Mr Farrakhan's claims to have conversed with the spiritual leader of the movement, Elijah Muhammad, on a flying saucer.

A more sinister side is manifested in the dress of male Nation of Islam members, known as the Fruits of Islam. They usually wear red bow ties, dark suits and cropped hair, which gives them a militaristic air. The British branch was formed in 1986, but most people were unaware of the Nation of Islam until about 20 bow-tied members were involved in a fracas with police at the public inquiry into the racist murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

The Nation of Islam has two centres in poor, racially mixed areas in London – Brixton and Stoke Newington – and a branch in Birmingham, but Mr Muhammad, who has a blue Mercedes with personalised number plates, chose to be interviewed at a hotel opposite Lambeth Palace, the London seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. An aide was on hand to video the entire meeting.

Mr Farrakhan's British representative for the past four years declined to give his exact age. He was in his early thirties, he said, and had joined the movement 14 years ago. Previously he had been a builder and clerical worker.

Mr Muhammad also avoided questions about the number of British members of the Nation of Islam, although 3,000 is considered a generous estimate. "It is a growing constituency," he said. "Many thousands have been exposed to the message. The movement began here with an audio tape from Minister Farrakhan, so imagine the impact his presence will have." Up to 100 children attend two schools and two pre-schools run by the movement.

For all the doubts about its exclusivity and racial beliefs, Nation of Islam is credited in the US with rehabilitating drug addicts and working with the poorest, notably those in jail. Mr Farrakhan, 68 and suffering from prostate cancer, drew close to a million black men to Washington in 1995 for a march aimed at denouncing violence and urging them to honour family responsibilities.

"Our methods may seem unorthodox," said Mr Muhammad, "but we believe that if the Prophet [Mohammed] came to the UK today, he would be found working, as we do, among the poorest people, a high proportion of whom are black."