Meant as appreciation to the state that hosted him since his acquittal of molestation charges in June.
By NATHAN BURSTEIN
His ex-wife says his children are Jewish, his legal opponents allege he invented a drink called Jesus Juice, and now some Middle East media outlets are reporting that pop star Michael Jackson is building a mosque.
According to a front page story in Friday's Bahrain Tribune, the famed singer and "moonwalker" has pledged an undisclosed sum to build a "state of the art" mosque, which will stand as an expression of gratitude to the small Gulf state that has served as Jackson's home since his acquittal in June on child molestation charges in a California courtroom.
The donation marked the end of a characteristically outrageous week for the Thriller singer, whose anti-Semitic message on a former adviser's voicemail system was broadcast on the news program Good Morning America. In the message, the former child star called Jews "leeches" and suggested he was the victim of a Jewish "conspiracy" targeting him because of his status as "the most popular person in the world." "The Jews do it on purpose," Jackson said in the message, which was released to the ABC news department by Dieter Wiesner, a former adviser now suing the singer for $64 million.
Neither Jackson nor his representatives could be reached Sunday for comment about the new mosque, though a spokesman was quoted in the Bahrain Tribune as saying the structure was intended as "a token of appreciation to the Bahraini people, who welcomed [Jackson] and treated him as if he was one of the citizens of their country."
Rumors about Jackson's plans in Bahrain have swirled since the singer arrived in the small Persian Gulf state five months ago as the guest of the royal family. The extended visit followed Jackson's highly publicized trial on 10 counts of child molestation - the second time the In the Closet singer faced such charges. Jackson's teenage accuser told jurors that the pop icon had encouraged him to drink a beverage he called "Jesus Juice" - red wine the singer allegedly served in cans of Coca Cola.
The musician's decision to build the mosque, which was also reported in Iran, wouldn't be the first time the singer has explored religions outside of his Christian upbringing. Jermaine Jackson, Michael's older brother, converted to Islam following a 1989 trip to Saudi Arabia and is said to have introduced his younger sibling to the Nation of Islam following the disappointing commercial response to Invincible, the 2001 album which proved anything but on the sales charts. Though Invincible went double-platinum in the US and sold six million copies worldwide, its sales paled in comparison to the 29 million copies sold to date of Thriller, Jackson's landmark 1982 release.
The tepid commercial response was rumored to be behind the singer's infamous New York City bus tour the following summer, during which the self-proclaimed King of Pop called Sony Records chief Tommy Mottola a "racist" and a "devil." The record label, which Jackson accused of inadequately supporting the album, invested a reported $35m. in Invincible's production and promotion.
Reports of growing ties between Jackson and the Nation of Islam led to an official denial by the organization the following year, which released a statement saying it had "no official business or professional relationship" with the singer, though the group added that it "join[ed] thousands of other people in wishing him well."
The Nation of Islam rumors also appeared to displease Debbie Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife and the mother of Prince and Paris, the singer's older two children. Reported ties between Jackson and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan - who once referred to Judaism as a "gutter religion" - prompted the reclusive Rowe to publicize her own Jewish background and desire that her children not become involved with the group.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a former friend and adviser to the singer, wrote at the time that Jackson was "an outstanding candidate to come back to God because he [had been] very pious and devoted" in his youth, and that "if he has any chance of arresting the downward freefall that is his life, it will have to be by grabbing onto the life preserver called the church." The celebrity rabbi, who hosts a syndicated radio program and writes for the opinion pages of The Jerusalem Post, introduced Jackson to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during Sharon's 2001 visit to New York. Another former Jackson friend, Israeli psychic and entertainer Uri Geller, said that Jackson had referred to Jews as "the chosen ones" upon meeting the prime minister.
Estranged from Jackson for the past four years, Boteach called Jackson's recent anti-Jewish comments "disgusting and vulgar," while Geller said he would be "appalled, shocked and saddened" if the leaked voicemail message was indeed authentic.
Jackson and his representatives have yet to respond to the live airing of his comments, which were slammed by the Anti-Defamation League as evidence of the singer's "anti-Semitic streak." "Every time he has a problem in his life, he blames it on Jews," ADL director Abraham Foxman said in a statement released Thursday.
Jackson had previously gotten in trouble for lyrics to a song on his 1995 album, Blood on the Dance Floor. In "They Don't Care About US," Jackson sang lyrics including the phrases, "Jew me, sue me" and "kick me, kike me," which he later said were intended to demonstrate harmful racist thinking. The song was subsequently re-released without the offending lyrics.
"Michael says silly things, irrational things," Geller told the Post Thursday. "I even have some crazy messages on my answering machines, but nothing anti-Semitic."