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Politics

KCBS Cover Story: Farrakhan UC Berkeley Appearance Stirs Debate, Protests

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Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, speaks at a press conference near United Nations headquarters on June 15, 2011 in New York City. Farrakhan expressed support for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and condemned the NATO-led military strikes in Libya. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, speaks at a press conference near United Nations headquarters on June 15, 2011 in New York City. Farrakhan expressed support for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and condemned the NATO-led military strikes in Libya. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan was slated to visit the University of California, Berkeley this weekend, as part of a conference organized by the university’s Black Students Union.

He will address an estimated 600 African-American student leaders attending the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference as representatives from their respective UC and California State University campuses.

It’s an appearance that has spurred vigorous debate among students, well ahead of his arrival.

KCBS Covery Story: Margie Shafer reports:

Hundreds have signed a petition protesting Farrakhan’s visit. Students from the Jewish community oppose his visit over what they claim is Farrakhan’s frequently-espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Opponents say Farrakhan has a history of making anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and other controversial statements.

Last month, Farrakhan addressed attendees at the Nation of Islam’s Savior’s Day celebration in Chicago with a four-hour speech laced with claims of Jewish control of the media. “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m just telling the truth,” Farrakhan said, according to the Washington Post. “In 100 years, [the Jews] control movies, television, recording, publishing, commerce, radio, they own it all.”

The Anti-Defamation League characterized the address, in which he also criticized President Obama and accused “Zionists” of trying to push America into war with Iran, as “dripping with anti-Semitism and hatred.”

Farrakhan and his supporters maintain that his image is shaped by mainstream media often using soundbite snippets taken out of context.

Salih Muhammad, president of the BSU, wrote an op-ed in the campus Daily Californian in response to the uproar over the visit:
“Freedom of speech does not imply that anyone completely agrees with what the speaker says; however, it does dictate the right for one to speak. The history of the Free Speech Movement seems to have been lost,” he wrote. “Who determines which speakers are “politically correct” enough to speak at our “diverse” campus? History tells us that there has always been a character assassination of high profile black leadership, ranging from Frederick Douglass to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to President Barack Obama. So why is it unacceptable for one of the most successful black leaders to be invited to speak to young black students from across the state of California?”

While the Nation of Islam calls its followers Muslims, mainstream Muslims reject many of its teachings and racist overtones.

The Afrikan Black Coalition Conference was scheduled Friday through Sunday, March 11th.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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