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The Man Who Didn’t Shoot Malcolm X

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Malcolm X’s take on the mother plane can be found in his voluminous FBI file (in which he is referred to as Malcolm Little). As for bureau director J. Edgar Hoover’s reaction to the following report, one can only guess:

LITTLE told the group that there is a space ship 40 miles up which was built by the wise men of the East and in this space ship there are a number of smaller space ships and each one is loaded with bombs. LITTLE stated that when ELIJAH MOHAMMED [sic] of Chicago, Illinois, gives the word these ships will descend on the United States, bomb it and destroy all the “white devils.” According to LITTLE these bombs will destroy all the “devils” in the United States and that all the Muslims in good standing will be spared.

This interstellar revenge scenario has had remarkable reverb in black popular culture. You can trace the NOI–“brothers in space” trope from the Arkestra of jazzman Sun Ra—who, born Herman Poole Blount, liked to say (in addition to that he’d been born on Saturn) that he was a relative of Elijah Poole/Muhammad—onward to the Mothership Connection of George Clinton’s P-Funk. The line continues to Clinton’s acolytes in the hip-hop world, notably the adage-rich Wu-Tang Clan, whose florid self-conception includes fancying themselves “5 percenters,” a Fardian concept postulating that if 85 percent of people are dupes and 10 percent the deceitful ruling class that controls them, that left 5 percent as righteous individuals who really knew what was up.

“The mother plane,” Khalil moans. “It was supposed to take us away. To exactly where, that part was never discussed.”

“Everyone’s got their destiny. He had his, I had mine. We both suffered.”

Nonetheless, this was the mind-set that accompanied Khalil as he headed to Sing Sing in 1966 to begin his sentence. “They had two cop cars in front, two behind, a helicopter flying overhead. I don’t know what they thought was going to happen.”

Shuttled between Green Haven, Wallkill, Attica, Auburn, and Clinton (this last being “a real plantation, with inbred guards who’d make you crawl on your knees across broken glass for kicks”), Khalil soon reached “a spiritual impasse.” He thought he’d use his time to become “a better Muslim.” But after memorizing all the lessons from the NOI “problem book,” he realized “there was nowhere to go. Islam was what Elijah Muhammad and Fard Muhammad said it was. Nothing more. We weren’t supposed to question it. I’d reached the end of the road, and I still had another twenty years in jail.”

He began reading the Koran. “We never did in the Nation. We didn’t even pray right. But once I started with the Book, I never stopped. I can’t stay out of it, even for an hour. So I knew that Allah was invisible, that there was no way he would have appeared as a human being the way I was taught Fard Muhammad did.”

“One day, I ran into this mathematician in the prison yard. I was working on an equation handed down by Fard Muhammad about cracking the atom—this was supposed to make it possible to weigh the entire city of Detroit.” The mathematician looked at my figures and laughed. It amused him, me trying to solve this unsolvable problem. I almost punched the guy out. Who was he to insult Fard Muhammad, put down my religion? But it kept happening. We believed Ramadan came in December, around Christmas. In jail, I met some regular Muslims. They knew Ramadan was different every year, according to the phases of the moon. They thought I was a fool.”

Malcolm X described a similar process, freeing himself of NOI fantasies during his Mecca pilgrimage. “Yeah,” Khalil says. “Malcolm found out in Saudi Arabia. I got the message in Attica.”

Khalil professes no animosity at being taken in by Elijah Muhammad’s “bootleg Islam.” He says, “I had to start somewhere, so when I left the Nation’s teaching behind, I didn’t feel betrayed. I felt I was making progress—that I wasn’t one of the dupes anymore.” This is how Khalil looks at it: Education is an endless evolutionary struggle against “natural gullibility and stupidity,” a constant process of “pulling the covers off” falsehoods. It is a process most critical for American blacks, Khalil says, “because most everything you hear is some kind of lie.” In this way, he offers Elijah partial absolution, since “the way black people have been treated has been so outrageous that you needed a story just as outrageous to go up against it.”

As Elijah Muhammad said, the world is full of “tricknology,” and Khalil Islam has been tricknologized against more than most. His main response to his imprisonment has been not to get bitter. “What good would that do, in solitary confinement? I know they’d like to see me crying in the corner, sucking on a bottle of Thorazine. Well, that wasn’t going to happen. With all the violence around the Nation, being in the joint probably saved my life. But it did more than that. It made my life.”


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