Finding similarities between Chinese communism and the American religious organization the Nation of Islam may sound like a stretch but I am a witness — the two are more similar than you might think.
Through the seven years I have lived in the People’s Republic of China, I am often reminded of the realities my peers and I confronted growing up in the Nation of Islam. As is true for kids who grew up under Deng Xiao Ping, we were born during the 1980s and our generation was spared some of the harsh reprisals our parents endured in earlier decades. All the same, our liberties remained circumscribed as we were taught unquestioned reverence of our leaders. I remember snarling at a minister while attending a lecture in Cleveland, during that time I had begun to feel poisoned by the Nation’s bigoted rhetoric. The minister caught my gaze and said to a chorus of Amen’s, ‘To anyone who would seek to detract from the message of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, we’ve got eyes on you.’ The same need to stifle criticism is reflected in China’s civil surveillance practices, especially of the Internet, and the persistence of its “re-education” system.
China’s media and scholarly output are slanted to advance the Chinese Communism Party aims in a similar way that the NOI thrived on myths and blatant distortions of history. These served to frame “our people” as righteous victims and the West as “devils” (Interestingly, the very same pejorative, yangguizi, is used in Mandarin). Aside from its many other detriments, the dominance of victimization narratives blinded us to our faults, the NOI’s close ties to the slain Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi and the “rights” issue in China exemplify this moral A-symmetry.
Closer to home, the NOI maintained icy relations with the offshoot organization, The World Community of Al-Islam formed during the late 1970’s by Imam W.D. Muhammad, son of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Antipathies between the two groups have seemingly lessened over the years similar to the slow rapprochement between Mainland China and Taiwan.
Growing up in the NOI was not without its complicated joys. I remember feeling great solidarity in the cause of building up “the Nation.” We were taught that banding together, we would create our own Black utopia (just like the Chinese vision of an ethnically homogenous homeland) but here is where the comparison stops. Though Chinese markets have wobbled recently, the country manages to sustain relatively high economic performance, enabling the state to push its brand of reformed Marxism into the foreseeable future. Crippled by the modest success of its enterprises and a loss of stature in the broader Black community, the Nation of Islam has become a minor player on the American political stage. But the fortunes of social institutions can change; only time will tell.
– Jubilee Jones