The appearance of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan at the University of California at Berkeley on Saturday, March 10, has created no shortage of controversy.
Jewish students at the university have criticized Farrakhan’s recent appearance at the opening of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference, saying that he holds anti-Semitic views. The event was organized by the Black Student Union.
However, University of California President Mark G. Yudof issued a statement defending Farrakhan's right to speak.
“Louis Farrakhan is a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech,” Yudof said, in a statement.
“It was distressing in the extreme that a student organization invited him to speak on the UC Berkeley campus,” he said. “But, as I have said before, we cannot, as a society or as a university community, be provoked by hurtful speech to retreat from the cherished value of free speech.”
About 350 students signed an online petition against Farrakhan’s appearance, but the Nation of Islam leader spoke to a packed auditorium of nearly 700 people.
Farrakhan’s speech centered on the topic of Black empowerment. He urged Black students to create jobs for themselves and to work more diligently at learning African-American history.
At one point, according to the student newspaper, he made some derogatory comments about Jews and used an Asian accent while speaking about the Chinese.
Brian D. Carmichael, a senior at the university majoring in public health, said that Farrakhan’s speech was “quite interesting.”
In an interview with BET.com, Carmichael said, “I’ve heard so many different stories about him and his views. Yes, he can be controversial, but he was also very passionate. The important thing is that we’re in a college environment, and we should be able to hear various people speak. Our role is to listen and to develop our own views."
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(Photo: Swoan Parker/Reuters)