The date: September 17, 1985. The place: Tepoztlan, Mexico. Louis Farrakhan, controversial leader of the Nation Of Islam–NOI, better known as “the Black Muslims”–is abducted into a UFO.
Or is he?
The issue may be one of nomenclature. For Farrakhan the experience wasn’t an abduction but a summoning, and the “Wheel” into which he was beamed up was far from “unidentified.” On the contrary, it was the “Mother Wheel” of NOI belief–the same wheel that “Ezekiel saw … way up in the middle of the air,” according to the old spiritual–and the black people of America and the world are intimately bound to it.
Almost, one might say, by an umbilical cord.
In my last post, I began to tell you about religious-studies scholar Stephen C. Finley’s research into the “Wheel”–“what you call an unidentified flying object,” as Farrakhan puts it–in Farrakhan’s thought and that of the NOI. Stephen set forth his thoughts in an article, “The Meaning of Mother in Louis Farrakhan’s ‘Mother Wheel’: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Cosmology of the Nation of Islam’s UFO,” published in a 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
What is that “meaning”?
Actually, Stephen identifies four “meanings.” No need to choose among them. In the psychoanalytic thought that Stephen uses as his guide, a symbol is “overdetermined” when it coalesces several meanings, bringing them together in order to shed light on each other. The more “overdetermined” an image is, the more powerfully symbolic it is. The process is familiar to all of us, whether we know it or not. We do it every night in our dreams.
First, “Mother” is an abstract ideal of perfection, sort of like the “Lady Liberty” who stands in New York Harbor, her disk-like roundness reinforcing her sense of completion and totality. (Of course Stephen’s thinking of the Jungian mandala.)
Second, “Mother” is a superlative term, emphasizing the unmatched and unmatchable superiority of the Wheel over all other human technology–specifically the white man’s. Notice I say, all other human technology. In sharp contrast to white-American UFOlogy, the NOI doctrine of the “Wheels” sees them not as extraterrestrial craft piloted by space aliens, but as the creation of the “Original People,” namely, black human beings.
The pioneering NOI leader Elijah Muhammad, who died in 1975 and whose successor Farrakhan claimed to be, “taught that the Wheel was a human built planet that was one-half mile by one-half mile … and this enormity is exactly what Farrakhan was able to confirm. He has seen the Wheel just as Muhammad described it, and it was indeed ‘the mother of all Wheels,’ the technology of all technologies.”
I’m quoting Stephen; and as I write these words, I can’t help thinking of Saddam Hussein’s apocalyptic “mother of all battles” that was supposed to climax the First Gulf War of 1991. Of course that “mother of all battles” turned into a rout for Saddam. But we were scared there for a bit, weren’t we?
Stephen goes on to quote Farrakhan:
“These planes [the smaller UFO wheels] are flown by the Original People, a people whose wisdom is far superior to all the scientists of this world. We had a wisdom before the White man was a thought and that was superior to his wisdom. He is just a little baby and that [Mother] plane is a sign of that greater wisdom. They can’t touch it. They can’t knock it down. There is no rocket that they have that can reach it.” (Bracketed insertions are Stephen’s.)
(Do those last few sentences remind you of something? They ought to. I’ll come back to it in a minute.)
Third, the femininity of that “Mother” Wheel defends Farrakhan against the homoerotic implications of his longing for its male occupant Elijah Muhammad, the “teacher and mentor” who had died ten years before Farrakhan had his experience. But fourth, and most powerfully, it’s the maternal womb to which Farrakhan envisions himself returning, and “being (re)born as someone profoundly significant” (Stephen’s words).
Did you know that Farrakhan’s mother tried to abort him? That’s what Stephen tells us, basing himself on the research of Mattias Gardell; and it’s no wonder at all that a man who carried such a wound inside him should experience or remember a hallucination–for so I’ll insist on calling it–of a higher, better, kinder Mother, “a technological angel … through whose love he is able to be benevolent toward others because of who he is.”
“This seems to be a recurrent theme of the African-American UFO tradition,” I wrote one year ago: “the UFO as something maternal, ‘Mother Ship’ or ‘Mother Wheel’ or ‘Mother Plane.’ I can’t think of examples of this from white-American UFOlogy, though no doubt my readers will be able to suggest some. It feels like it has a different root in the group unconscious from that of the white-American UFO, partly merging with it yet keeping its own distinct properties.” I now think that I considerably understated the prominence of the “mother ship” in what we think of as the “standard” UFO tradition, formulated and transmitted by white people here and abroad. But does the white UFO tradition ever mention the logical complement of the “mother ship,” namely the “baby ships”? The African-American tradition does.
The Mother Wheel, says Stephen, “carries within it 1500 of what Farrakhan refers to as ‘little wheel-like planes’ … following Muhammad’s teachings on the matter. What is more curious is that Muhammad referred to these little wheels, in fact, as ‘baby wheels’ and in accordance with him, Farrakhan calls them ‘baby wheels’ and ‘baby planes.'”
Which brings me back to my question: what do these “Mother” and “baby wheels,” impervious to attack by the white man’s rockets, remind you of?
Me, they remind of the alien invaders in the 1996 blockbuster “Independence Day.”
I’m not the first to make this connection. Right when the movie came out, NOI spokesman Jabril Muhammad published a piece on the Web called “Independence Day: The Movie, the Reality,” which I printed out for myself–which was fortunate, because the post is apparently no longer available. In it, Jabril Muhammad wrote:
“The movie opened with a view of what seemed to be of the underside of this ‘mothership.’ What appeared to be motors seemed to be emphasized. The word ‘mother’ was used more than once with reference to this huge ship.
“Briefly, the storyline is: some kind of lifeform, from some part of the universe abruptly appears and stops about the distance of the moon from the earth. The American president, his staff, and others around the globe, do not know how to handle it. Mistakes are made as there is a misreading of the intentions of the ‘aliens.’
“However, a Jewish genius [played by Jeff Goldblum–DH] sees right into the motive of the invaders and tries to warn the government.
“The huge mothership then moves towards the earth and sends forth giant planes. Several 15 mile-wide giant planes set over4 many major cities of the earth, and after a certain time blow them away. Then the much smaller ‘baby’ planes began mopping up. As the movie precedes [sic], a Jewish man [Goldblum] and a cocky Black pilot [Will Smith] are among those who take center stage. The Jewish genius comes up with the exact solution to the destruction of the invaders. Near the end of the movie, the Jew, the Black pilot, with the heroic efforts of certain others, destroys [sic] the mothership, her humongous babies, and the many more smaller ones, which were about the size of conventional jets.
“Note: the movie makes repeated references to his Jewishness in various ways, so as to emphasize it.”
It’s been some years since I’ve seen the film, but to my recollection this summary is accurate. What’s crucial to the plot, and what Jabril Muhammad might have more emphasized, is that the alien ships are impervious to human weapons because they’re encased in force fields that deflect any missiles fired at them. The Goldblum and Smith characters save the world by flying up to the mothership and implanting a computer virus which disables the force field.
What’s not crucial to the plot, and what Jabril Muhammad properly emphasizes, is the movie’s strong Jewish overtones. When Goldblum and Smith embark on their perilous mission, the Goldblum character’s father, played by Judd Hirsch, gathers a minyan (Jewish prayer quorum) to say prayers in their support. The Secretary of Defense, invited to join, protests: “But I’m not Jewish!” Hirsch: “Nobody’s perfect.”
It’s a good comic moment, and I suspect also a nod to the ending of “Some Like It Hot,” which makes it even funnier. But I can’t deny that it conveys a message. There’s also a message in a scene near the end of the film in which the armies of Earth’s nations are gathered to fight off the aliens, and the Israeli Star-of-David flag is right next to the la ilaha ill’ Allah (“there is no god but God,” the Islamic credo) flag of Saudi Arabia.
That moment almost brought me to tears.
Jabril Muhammad suggests that the filmmakers must have been aware of NOI teachings about the “Mother Wheel,” and given the strong parallels this seems very plausible. It’s tempting to understand the movie as a Jewish retort to “Mother Wheel” triumphalism: racially and ethnically inclusive, with the “Wheel” degraded from nurturing Mother to an interstellar parasite that loots and destroys every inhabited planet in its path. Against this menace American blacks and American Jews, Israeli Jews and Arab Muslims, stand shoulder to shoulder (along with everybody else).
Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the producer and director who were also the screenwriters, have apparently given no hint of this in their account of how “Independence Day” took shape in their minds. Still, if Jabril Muhammad is right, it’s easy to see that they might not have wanted to talk about it.
In any case, the film is open in its allusions to the white-American UFO tradition, specifically Roswell and Area 51, the truth of which has been kept so secret that even the President of the United States doesn’t know it until the invasion. According to Wikipedia, the sequel to “Independence Day” is scheduled for release next year on June 24. If you don’t know the significance of that date, I suggest you Google “Kenneth Arnold” without delay.
And if Jabril Muhammad is wrong, and the idea popped into Devlin’s and Emmerich’s heads without their having heard of the “Mother Wheel”?
Then I think we have to reckon with parallel eruptions of the collective unconscious, or at least the cultural unconscious. Which, for me, is orders of magnitude more interesting.
by David Halperin
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