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Gardell, Mattias

GARDELL, Mattias

PERSONAL:

Male. Education: Earned Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Office—CEIFO, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER:

University of Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden, associate professor of religious history.

WRITINGS:

In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1996.

Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 2003.

Vad ar Rasism?, Natur och Kultur (Stockholm, Sweden), 2005.

Globalisering och Politisk Islam, Leopard Forlag (Stockholm, Sweden), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Mattias Gardell is a University of Stockholm professor who specializes in the history of religions. While working on his doctorate, he wrote his dissertation on the Nation of Islam (NOI) and its leader Louis Farrakhan. This later developed into Gardell's first book, In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. The book is an in-depth discussion of the origins of the NOI in America, the rise to leadership by Farrakhan, and the unique belief system and contradictory elements of the NOI that led Political Studies contributor Richard H. King to comment that the NOI "stands to orthodox Islam in somewhat the same manner as the Mormon Church stands to orthodox Christianity." In fact, Bill Maxwell noted in the St. Petersburg Times that "one of the book's best features is its examination of the Nation in relationship to mainstream Islam."

Gardell traces this unique form of Islam to its origins in 1930s America, speculating that, as Dennis Walker reported in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, "some kind of Druze from Syria-Lebanon-Palestine—perhaps the second-generation scion of an immigrant family?—was the founder." The original leaders of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad and his son, then combined this belief system with others in a way that made it more relevant to the difficult urban poverty that many African Americans were experiencing during the Great Depression, which began with the collapse of the U.S. stock market in 1929. Walker related, "Gardell balances analysis of sources as heterogeneous as the Qur'an, esoteric Sufism, Shi'ite sects and, in regard to North American sources, Christian, theosophical and Freemasonic writings that had been articulating a sense that humans are fallen gods before Wali Fard Muhammad and Elijah in their turn reinvented such American anthropomorphism in the early 1930s." The author then discusses Farrakhan's rise to leadership. Farrakhan, whose name was originally Louis Eugene Walker and whose original career was as a musician under the stage name Calypso Gene, was a favorite of Elijah Muhammad, and he became a leader in the NOI after Muhammad's death in 1975. The NOI then split, as Farrakhan took his followers in one direction and Elijah's son took other believers in a direction that was closer to Sunni Muslim orthodoxy. Farrakhan's teachings, in comparison, were very unorthodox. He preached a vision of Armageddon, in which all the trappings of white society, which he associated with the devil, would be destroyed to give rise to a new civilization dominated by blacks.

Even more odd, according to Gardell, is Farrakhan's assertion that God is watching Earth from an artificial "Mother Ship" and that he sends observers to the planet which are perceived as UFOs. "In one such encounter," related Malise Ruthven in the Times Literary Supplement, "Farrakhan meets the Honourable Elijah Muhammad, the occulted Messiah, who confirms his authority as Leader. A scroll containing the sacred scriptures has been placed in the back of Farrakhan's brain to be revealed in its entirety in the fullness of time. While awaiting deliverance, the faithful must purify themselves, eschewing meat, junk food, alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity—all devil's weapons aimed specifically at enslaving African Americans." The result of this belief system is a unique vision that blends both constructive and destructive ideals. On the one hand, the NOI feels that white society must eventually be destroyed, and one disturbing trait of this belief system is its anti-Semitism; on the other, Farrakhan's followers have worked fervently to eliminate crime, poverty, and ignorance within their communities, thus offering a ray of hope to many inner-city neighborhoods.

Gardell relied on interviews with Farrakhan and members of the NOI for much of the research in his book, but some reviewers of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad found that this and the author's strict objectivity is, in some ways, detrimental to the book. "So closely does Gardell stick to elucidating rather than judging the NOI perspective that at times he seems to identify with it," observed King in Political Studies. However, King praised Gardell's book for revealing the NOI as an anti-democratic religion advocating black supremacy and anti-Semitism. Also praising Gardell for his research and thoroughness, other critics found the author's first book to be very valuable. Walker, for one, called it "the best-researched and most comprehensive survey published thus far of the evolution of protest Islam among Black Americans, albeit as viewed from that post-1977 period of the movement shaped under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan Muhammad." And Ruthven in Times Literary Supplement declared it a "masterful study" that is the "first comprehensive scholarly treatment of Farrakhan and the NOI."

Beginning in 1996, Gardell became fascinated by the infusion of Nordic pagan beliefs into the radical white separatist movement in North America and Europe. Again conducting extensive research and interviews on the subject, he completed Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism in 2003. Followers of this movement, who believe in white supremacy and racial purity, have been increasingly attracted to beliefs in the Old Norse gods, and they are therefore sometimes called "Odinists" after the god Odin. "Gardell mainly focuses on neo-Vikingism, but other pagan traditions have proved attractive," commented Books & Culture reviewer Philip Jenkins, who added that Gardell is not criticizing the neo-pagan movement, most of whose adherents are in no way racist extremists. The author's thesis is actually aimed at explaining the rise of this neo-Nazi pagan movement. Gardell "argues cogently that the rise of racist paganism is a reaction to globalism," stated Daniel Levitas in History: Review of New Books, "which white supremacists fear will destroy their presumed racial integrity through genetic and cultural homogenization." Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the academic tone of Gods of the Blood sometimes makes for dry reading, the critic asserted that this "well-researched book offers never-before-seen glimpses of the visions and goals of racist pagans."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Studies, fall, 1997, Julius E. Thompson, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, p. 160.

Books & Culture, November-December, 2003, Philip Jenkins, "The Other Terrorists," p. 8.

Canadian Journal of Political Science, September, 1997, Martha Lee, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, p. 581.

History: Review of New Books, fall, 2003, Daniel Levitas, review of Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, p. 4.

Journal of American History, June, 1997, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, p. 299.

Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, October, 1998, Dennis Walker, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad.

Journal of the American Academy of Religion, winter, 1997, C. S'thembile West, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, p. 889; fall, 1997, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, pp. 889-892.

New York Review of Books, September 19, 1996, Gary Wills, "A Tale of Three Leaders," pp. 61-74.

Political Studies, June, 1995, Richard H. King, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, pp. 369-370; June, 1998, King, "Book Reviews," p. 369.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1996, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, p. 66; May 12, 2003, review of Gods of the Blood.

St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL), November 17, 1996, Bill Maxwell, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad, p. D5.

Times Higher Education Supplement, March 21, 1997, Paul Gilroy, "Nothing but Good Faith," p. 25.

Times Literary Supplement, May 30, 1997, Malise Ruthven, review of In the Name of Elijah Muhammad.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1997, "Notes on Current Books: National and International Affairs."

ONLINE

Duke University Press,http://www.dukeupress.edu/ (October 28, 2003).

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