Despite criticism from some gay activists, Gov. Rod Blagojevich does not plan to remove an adviser to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan from the state's Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes.
Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad ( also known as Claudette Marie Johnson ) , minister of protocol for the Nation of Islam, was appointed to the panel in August because she shares the commission's goals of eliminating hate crimes and discrimination, according to a spokeswoman. Muhammad's place on the panel became an issue after she invited other members to attend a Farrakhan speech on Feb. 26 at the Nation of Islam's Saviour's Day conference in the United Center.
Rick Garcia, political director of Equality Illinois, told WCT that Farrakhan's three-hour speech was a mixed bag. 'At one point, although Farrakhan said that the Koran [ as well as ] Hebrew and Christian scriptures do not accept homosexuality, he also said that gays, lesbians, and transgenders should not be the victims of violence and should be respected,' Garcia stated. Ultimately, according to the gay-rights activist, Farrakhan 'is a little better than he used to be; he's certainly not as bad as Pat Robertson. What else is there to expect? It's vintage Farrakhan.'
However, Garcia stressed that the real story centered not around Farrakhan, but around Muhammad. 'The bottom line is if it's acceptable for Sister Muhammad to sit on the commission—especially when the ADL [ Anti-Defamation League ] lists the Nation of Islam as a hate group,' he contended. [ On its Web site, the ADL lists quotes that Farrakhan has uttered, including, 'Listen, Jewish people don't have no hands that are free of the blood of us. They owned slave ships, they bought and sold us,' which the site contends was uttered during the 2005 Saviour's Day speech. ]
And what is Garcia's assessment of Muhammad? 'So far, she has been nothing but the embodiment of what the committee should be about,' said Garcia, who has known her for a few months and who also sits on the commission. She talks about Muslims; Hebrews; and gays and lesbians as well as the need to work together. She's a very good commissioner.'
He added that she 'shouldn't sit if she demonstrated anti-gay or anti-Semitic behavior while on this commission.' Garcia stated 'if she should sit there as a member of the Nation of Islam [ because Farrakhan is its leader ] , then I, as a Roman Catholic, should not sit there either,' alluding to the words and actions of Pope Benedict XVI.
As an example of what Muhammad has done, Garcia pointed to a proclamation involving Blagojevich and a huge, upcoming event: 'She initiated the governor's proclamation welcoming Gay Games participants to Illinois.'
On the other side of the fence are individuals such as Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the ADL and, like Garcia, a member of the hate-crimes commission. 'It's a great cause for concern when a representative from such a group is put on a commission meant to eradicate hate,' he told Windy City Times. Although he, like all the other commissioners, were invited to attend Farrakhan's speech, he declined. ( However, he has procured a tape of the speech and said that he is 'insulted' by some of the things he heard. ) He called the invitation 'inappropriate' and did not think it was right to be invited to hear someone 'put down my people.' When asked about considering Muhammad as her own person ( separate from Farrakhan ) , Nasatir responded that 'she could be the nicest person in the world, but there is guilt by association.'
However, as far as he is concerned, Garcia believes that people should give Muhammad a chance. 'Farrakhan is simply saying what he believes,' Garcia said. 'Don't blame Sister Muhammad for what he says.'