Magida, editorial director of Jewish Lights, has interviewed Louis Farrakhan often enough to have grounds to argue that the controversial Nation of Islam leader treats individual Jews with respect. But as he shows in this fair-minded study?more about the NOI than about Farrakhan himself?it is Farrakhan's public statements that matter. Magida first sketches Louis Gene Walcott's youth in Boston's Roxbury and his drifting into black nationalism and the Nation of Islam. He then delves into what he sees as the NOI's self-fabricated religion, arguing that its much-praised discipline was enforced by the paramilitary Fruit of Islam's strong-arm tactics. Magida contends that Farrakhan has glossed over, rather than repudiated, the incendiary language that pointed to Malcolm X's death. When the NOI in 1976 was folded into orthodox Islam, Farrakhan resurrected its nationalist role. While Magida describes the mythologies behind Farrakhan's religion, he stints on analyzing its business efforts and its prominence on American college campuses, and he does not capture the drama of Farrakhan's public appearances. Still, he solidly deconstructs Farrakhan's headline-grabbing rhetoric about Jews and even hints that the initial Jewish "defensive reflex" hindered rapprochement. It is black America's grievances that Farrakhan draws on, and his organizing of the Million Man March gave him new, if still tenuous, stature, the author shows. Magida concludes that Farrakhan's subsequent trip to embrace Middle Eastern dictators squandered much of his momentum.


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