Trying to probe the senseless

9402475The Washington Post had a religion-related story the other day that just left me numb with shock. At least, I think it was a religion-related story. That's the point. I really couldn't tell.

So let's be clear that I am not saying there was a religion hole in this page-one story. It's an amazing story, filling in some of the gaps on a major story that was already making headlines -- the murder of African-American journalist Chauncey Bailey in broad daylight out in Oakland. The alleged killer is described as a "foot soldier" in the forces that surround the controversial local institution called Your Black Muslim Bakery.

The point of the story is that Your Black Muslim Bakery was part of Oakland's heritage of black activism, but that it also is hard to know the degree to which it was or is linked to the Nation of Islam. Reporter Karl Vick has included all kinds of details that, well, show that, uh. ... What do these details show? Here is a typical passage:

Your Black Muslim Bakery was an Oakland fixture of a different flavor. It was founded in 1968 by Yusuf Bey, a charismatic African American man who had been impressed by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam.

Bey's enterprise would eventually part ways with the Nation, but both preached a gospel grounded more in urban realities than in the Islam practiced by 1.2 billion people. ...

On the median outside the bakery storefront on busy San Pablo Avenue, young men in suits and bow ties sold copies of the Nation of Islam newspaper and the popular bean pies. The bakery opened one stand at the Oakland Coliseum and another at the airport.

"At one time, it was an institution that brought pride to the community," said the Rev. Bill Reed, a Baptist clergyman who grew up in Oakland and returned for Bailey's funeral. "They had a great mission. They were training people coming out of prison."

So far so good. But this is where things get really strange and, it seems, that they stayed strange.

Opinions differ on when things changed. A series in the East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, alleged that from the beginning, Bey used the patina of black empowerment to do as he wished. Oakland's establishment chose to ignore signs of trouble and elected leaders even channeled the project a $1.2 million federal loan, the weekly wrote. ...

In 2002, Alameda County prosecutors charged Bey with forcing a foster daughter to act as his underage mistress a quarter-century earlier. Bey died before the trial, triggering a succession crisis on the scale of the patriarch's profligacy: He reportedly fathered 43 children.

Months later, Bey's chosen successor turned up in a shallow grave. The son who then took over was killed in an attempted carjacking in 2005. New leader Yusuf Bey IV, then 19, was arrested that year for vandalizing two neighborhood liquor stores in a vigilante enforcement of Muslim prohibitions on alcohol. A year later, he was charged with trying to drive his BMW over bouncers outside a San Francisco strip club.

So some forms of Muslim tradition were still being enforced, kind of, as part of the bakery's unique brand of civic discipline. But then the story veers straight over to boorish behavior outside a strip club?

Religion? Islam? Nation of Islam? Faith? Violence? Intimidation?

We never really find out, although -- truth be told -- it really doesn't look like the authorities know what they are dealing with either.

What a story. What a strange mystery. Did I miss something?

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