Keep Discussion Open: Allen Iverson Edition

Allen Iverson is under fire for saying positive things about Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, and repeating some anti-Semitic statements.

Minister Farrakhan has earned the label anti-Semite, and has been officially labeled so by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Shame on you, Minister Farrakhan, and shame on you Allen Iverson. I condemn your anti-Semitism.

Allen Iverson should have to answer criticism of his statements on the merits, like anyone else. Or, he can silence himself and exit the public stage. But don’t dis-invite, don’t fire, don’t cancel. Instead, debate Iverson based on the substance of what he said, not who he associates with. Confront him with facts and make him clarify his own position; don’t silence him or misrepresent his position.

In general, if we discuss topics on the merits, error could be refuted, and learning could occur.

Rant over, now some ravings on the Nation of Islam

Why discuss the Nation of Islam now, when we have protests for police reform? Allen Iverson joins former professional athletes like Stephen Jackson, politicians like the late Marion Barry, and other prominent people who find their relationship with Minister Farrakhan scrutinized when crime or criminal justice reform takes center stage. Kareen Abdul Jabaar, former athlete, adherent of Islam, and social activist expresses dismay at the recurring connections between Black athletes/celebrities and anti-Semitism.

The Nation of Islam provides religious services and engages in a wide range of social services intended to help poor and marginalized people, in addition to helping spread Minister Farrakhan’s hateful rhetoric. It should come as no surprise that Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam gain renewed attention during large protests demanding reform to police practices and broader social reforms; these topics are of special interest to the Nation of Islam.

The Nation of Islam offers genuine prison services, not just recruiting. The Nation of Islam’s prison ministries reportedly qualified for federal government payments as a service provider. Much to the consternation of Peter King, chair of the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, the Bureau of Prisons reportedly paid the Nation of Islam $364,000 since 2008.

Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are hateful. Rather than provide illustrative quotes, doubters are directed to the ADL website which has gathered specific examples. These examples are not just archaeological debates about who resided in the Jordan River valley 4,000 years ago; Farrakhan makes gross generalizations and openly bigoted assertions about international conspiracies, sexual depravities, and clandestine control.

So what would police reform activists and Farrakhan have in common? The Nation of Islam agrees with activists who frame police and community issues in terms of white supremacy. Related national security concerns were raised in Congress after the Ferguson police brutality protests. Consider this excerpt from Raheel Raza’s July 27, 2017 testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

[Islamicists hijacking U.S. discourse on crime, police and race] manifests itself in the attempt to “racialize” the struggle against radical Islam and draw a connection between issues of policing and community relations and the war on terror, painting both issues as part of the same broader problem of “white supremacy.” Groups like the Nation of Islam peddle this rhetoric, conflating the issue of race in America with Islamist ideology. In the Ferguson riots ISIS tweeted support for the rioters, urging people of color in America to fight the police and convert to Islam in exchange for soldiers from ISIS who would come to wage war on their behalf against police officers.

What is to be done? How do we maintain an open society in the presence of hate? What do we do when self-described foreign enemies can exploit our flaws in order to recruit terrorists? Shouldn’t we restrict the range of public discourse until our flaws cannot be exploited?

No. We will never have zero flaws to be exploited. We might overcome some of our current flaws, but we would just develop others. Humans have flaws – always and everywhere.

An open society more easily identifies, deliberates, and corrects its flaws. We must maintain an open society because of our flaws, not despite our flaws. Don’t cancel Allen Iverson, Stephen Jackson for who they associate with or what others say. Make them clarify their own position, and give them the opportunity to do so. Similarly, don’t smear Black Lives Matter just because Farrakhan also frames community issues in terms of white supremacy. Allow everyone to clarify their own position.

And tomorrow, another flawed person will say something offensive. Don’t evade the substance of the issue. Don’t assume guilt by association. Don’t put words in their mouth. Don’t close society. Don’t dis-invite, don’t fire, don’t cancel. Make the person clarify. Engage them on the merits. Maybe learning can occur. And maybe, just maybe, sometimes we ourselves are partially wrong about something.

ADL on Farrakhan –

SPLC on Farrakhan –

Stephen Jackson controversy –

Farrakhan speaking at Marion Barry’s funeral –

Kareen Abdul Jabaar rejecting anti-Semitism among sports figures and celebrities –

Nation of Islam Prison Reform Ministries –

Nation of Islam prison ministries reportedly paid by federal government –

Raheel Raza Testimony –

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