'Nightline' Exclusive: Farrakhan Doesn't Regret 'Speaking the Truth'


Minister Louis Farrakhan, at age 73, doesn't know how many more sermons he has to preach.

The Nation of Islam's leader for the last 30 years is being treated for prostate and colon cancer. But he was in a conciliatory mood two weeks ago at the annual Savior's Day service that marks the birthday of the Nation of Islam's founder, Wallace Fard.

"Christians and Muslims, we have to break down these artificial divisions that divide us and come together as a family," he said that day.

It seems that Farrakhan has moderated with age -- even though he still refuses to recant some of his most inflammatory remarks.

"I can never, ever regret speaking the truth," he told "Nightline." "But the way I speak truth, the passion I have for the truth that I speak can sometimes get in the way of people hearing what I have to say. That's all part of my growth and development. So I'm not today what I was, but I'm hoping that the language that I use will get past yesterday's barriers, and that I will be more clear and understood." (Click here to read excerpts from Martin Bashir's interview with Louis Farrakhan.)

In a conversation at his home in Chicago, "Nightline" learned that Farrakhan believes Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., whom he likes "very much," may have a real shot at the presidency. But "Nightline" also learned the minister maintains some extremely controversial positions -- like a firm opposition to interracial marriage.

A Career Marked by Controversy

Farrakhan insists he wants to "get past yesterday's barriers," but some would say that he is responsible for erecting those same barriers many years ago.

The son of Caribbean immigrants, he was born Louis Eugene Walcott in 1933. After hearing Fard's successor, Elijah Mohammad, who led the Nation of Islam from 1934 to 1975, Farrakhan converted to this variant of Islam at the age of 22.

At the time, he was a calypso musician -- called the Charmer. Soon after his conversion, he gave up music to focus on drawing attention to the discord that he says exists between black and white America.

Farrakhan became leader of the Nation of Islam in 1977, and since then he's inflamed many -- accusing whites of being devils created by an evil scientist, describing Judaism as a dirty religion and referring to the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as "wickedly great."

Particularly with his comments about Hitler, he insists the outrage results from a simple semantic misunderstanding.

"I was not wrong: 'Great' is not synonymous with 'good' except in colloquial language. Babylon was great but wasn't good," he said. "I say the man was wicked, but he was so great that you're still talking about him 50 years later. If he didn't make an impact on Jewish people and an impact on the world, why are you still referring to him, why are you still making movies about him."

"Nightline" asked Farrakhan if he still holds to those beliefs. Though he stands by the statements themselves, he maintains that he has been gravely misunderstood.

"If we look at the behavior of white people in their relationship to the darker people of the world, we couldn't say they acted as angels. They acted quite the contrary," he said. "But we're in a time of enlightenment now."

And that, he said, is why he needs to clarify some of his positions.

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