He's only 27, a grave man making his way through law school, wanting to take his place among young warriors, fingering the rhetorical mantle of a Stokely Carmichael, a Louis Farrakhan, and already he has been vilified in the national media and heard his heroes called purveyors of hate.

But that damnation doesn't worry Malik Zulu Shabazz, a second-year law student at Howard University who emerged a few weeks ago as a black patriot to some, as a student activist doing the wrong things for the right reasons to others, and, finally, as a hatemonger who orchestrated an antisemitic rally. Nationwide, Shabazz has become the new shorthand for reverse racism, rebuked by columnists and compared by at least one to a Nazi.

On the Howard campus, Shabazz is the centerpiece of a complicated and anxious debate about black leadership, free speech and bigotry. Reporters, combing the university for meaning, found that few students agreed with Shabazz's remarks but that the tenor of his leadership -- its nationalism and its unvarnished critique of white America -- was admired. Last week it became apparent that the school's equivocation may have a price.

Shabazz's contentions that Jews are largely responsible for the problems of blacks has unleashed a terrible genie that came back to plague the school in the form of an intensely unflattering report by CBS television.

Just yesterday, the university's president took to the microphones to denounce a story on r Thursday's edition of "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" that wondered if Howard were any different from a hypothetical Ku Klux Klan university. After the show, the school said, thousands of calls of criticism -- some attacking the broadcast, some attacking Howard -- poured in.

"To insinuate to a national television audience that Howard University ... is a breeding ground for a new generation of racists and antisemites is dishonest, unethical, immoral and irresponsible. It is a caricature, and it is also wrong," said President Franklyn Jenifer.

But he also was careful to distance the university from the man who started the controversy, calling Shabazz's remarks "hurtful, hateful and insensitive." In an earlier speech on Shabazz, Jenifer said: "All forms of ethnic bias, including antisemitism, violate the very principles on which this university was founded. They must be condemned." But the president said he would take no action to reprimand him because Howard tolerated unlimited free speech.

And what does Shabazz say to his critics? "In deepest humility, it pleases me to be attacked."

Though he has been involved in political activities for many years. Shabazz stepped into the midst of a national storm on the evening of Feb. 23. In front of an audience of 1,000, he introduced Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a much-criticized associate of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

"I don't care what the FBI thinks about it," said Shabazz, "what the ADL thinks about it, or any other cracker thinks about it, or any other handkerchief-head Negro thinks about it. I'm with Khalid Muhammad. What about you?"

Pumping the audience for a response, Shabazz launched into a litany of questions about Jewish Americans and American life. "Who caught Nat Turner and killed Nat Turner?" he asked, recycling a disputed accusation about the 19th-century case. A few voices from the audience shouted back, "Jews."

"Who was it that controls the Federal Reserve? Who?" Some loud and scattered cries of "Jews." After four more questions, the loudest response of "Jews" came when Shabazz asked, "Who is spying on black leaders and Martin Luther King and set up his death?"

After he finished and handed over the microphone to Muhammad, Shabazz stepped behind him. He never smiled, even as the orator slipped into an Eddie Murphy-like imitation of a white speaker. He kept gazing over the crowd, a pair of skeptical brown eyes searching for solidarity.

But is he finding it? And does it matter to him?

'Because I Had the Gall'

Meeting Shabazz is like encountering the young Stokely Carmichael, the young Huey Newton, the young Marion Barry, even Spike Lee.

Their primary tactic is to put listeners on notice that no one from the media can be trusted. "We don't expect fair treatment from the media" is a mantra. Newton would glare but be brief enough for you to make deadline. Carmichael would hold your hands so the tirade couldn't be written down. Barry would shout something like "Did your white editors send you to ask that question?" and none of your colleagues would say a word.

In these sessions, instruction was always an element. There was always a quote from an obscure pamphlet or something that sounded new but in truth had been said before by Marcus Garvey, James Baldwin or Malcolm X -- in the expressed hope that it would wash away the influence of the white media, which "we know has co-opted you, moving you away from the best interests of your community." And the talk would go on and on, framed in black nationalist thought, scientific socialism, plenty of ego, some arrogance and occasional brilliance.

Offstage, Shabazz is the reluctant conversationalist. And that puts him in the tradition of Rap Brown and others -- fiery in debate, distrustful of the media. Sitting at a round table several weeks ago, accompanied by four other campus activists, he was almost immobile, his stiffness a shield against what he perceives as the blanket disrespect toward his ideas and their tree of creators. On the telephone, he had been wary and agreed to talk only if he could bring along other students. A friend, part of his political posse, stood during the whole session, and a few days later stood behind him at a university forum.

Shabazz, tall and lean as a pine, spoke slowly, his long face resting in a frown. His voice echoed past young warriors, but he is very much of his generation. In his spare time, he sings rap with the Defiant Giants. In clothing style, he goes from a uniform jacket to an African-print suit to a tailored suit. His modified fade cut, scant on the sides and short on the crown, gives full exposure to his ears but makes him look much younger.

The entire evening of Feb. 23 was mischaracterized, he says, and was essentially a lesson by Muhammad in black history. "My remarks were lifted. The enemies of black people were upset because I had the gall to sponsor a man who the Senate and the House has repudiated," says Shabazz.

Several months before his Howard appearance, Muhammad had given an incendiary speech on a New Jersey campus that used phrases that were anti-homosexual, anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish, as well as a smattering of denunciations of African Americans. His speech was widely circulated and hotly condemned.

But on the Howard campus, which has traditionally prided itself as a forum for all shades of black intellectual thought, Shabazz has aligned himself with Muhammad, calling him "a superb professor of black thought and liberation."

He reiterates in his interview: "I say to all Jewish people and all white people, don't compare me to your wicked killers. I was not trained by Hitler, and I don't take any of my teachings from Nazi Germany. I was taught by black men and black scholars. I see what I hear and say what I say for myself. I do, I sympathize with the suffering of all people, but stop pushing your Holocaust down my throat when the Black Holocaust is the worst holocaust humanity has ever seen."

If some might consider him a naive firebrand, Shabazz is, instead, a secure firebrand. Testing the limits is the privilege of his age, and expressing those views in the delicately balanced language of leadership is not a concern.

Like Carmichael and Newton, Shabazz founded a vehicle to promote the ideas he considered enlightening. In 1988, when he was a Howard senior, he founded Unity Nation. The group serves primarily as a forum for students who follow the teachings of the Nation of Islam and as a venue for appearances by its leaders. "The objectives are to make Howard University students aware of the conditions, I would say the wretched conditions, of black people, so that they may qualify themselves as fit leaders to go back into the community and become servants of our people," says Shabazz.

Shabazz, who grew up in west Los Angeles and is not a member of the Nation, began following its teachings six years ago. The second of three children, he has little to say about his family, except that his father died when he was young and his grandfather, a real estate developer, has been a major influence on his thoughts.

While studying political science at Howard, Shabazz decided he wanted to know more about the Nation. "This was the movement that was going on. It was the present-day movement," he says. His grandfather, a member since 1955, gave him books and videos. Through his grandfather's friendship with Farrakhan, he was able to bring him to Howard in 1988, and Shabazz stepped out of the hallways of 12,000 students to recognition. He came back in '90 as a law student.

Along the way, Shabazz has been singing with the Defiant Giants, who have put out a number of videos and are planning an album. Though grainy in quality, "Rise Black Man Rise," their first video, provides a snappy synopsis of what has brought Shabazz to this point. The images start with the Black Panthers political party, King, Carmichael, glimpses of civil rights protests and the anti-protesters with their "white power" signs, James Brown, Angela Davis.

When he is not playing the keyboards, Shabazz sings of history. "Get in tune with Mary McLeod Bethune," sings Shabazz, dressed in an African-print suit, of the early-20th-century educator.

"The last 10 years have been a dream come true. Just coming to Howard University, then being a revolutionary servant of my people ... now being in a position to use my degree to help myself and my people. It's almost been like paradise," says Shabazz, who briefly hosted a WPFW-FM radio show and is studying international business, trade and law.

But Howard is not an island of scholarship, and its students have long looked for ways to express their anger against the conservative tide. Student protests over the appointment of Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater to the university's board of trustees turned into a takeover of the administration building in 1989 -- and forced his withdrawal. In January student leaders took the occasion of an appearance by President Clinton to protest the university's plan to remove vendors, mostly African American, from campus.

Sheltered in that tradition, Shabazz says he does feel besieged. "I do not strike on the offense, but when I am backed into a pit, I will defend myself and my people," he says. "I have to consider myself to be in a defensive posture against a war that is being waged to disrupt the rise of black people."

'Sad, Sad, Sad'

What has attracted attention to Shabazz in the past six weeks is the antisemitic nature of his words -- a fact he is well aware of.

"I knew they would be controversial, but I challenge the scholars of this world to debate me on what I have said," said Shabazz. "I normally don't focus on Jews in my speeches. However ... the black community is under siege. I have many, many sources. I have a universe of sources from Jewish writers, Jewish historians, the Talmud, as well as a wealth of other information that will prove the truth of what I have said."

But the problem remains that some of his sources, including the Nation's own book, "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews," have been analyzed as historical distortion, and some professors have been censured for teaching it. "Sad, sad, sad" is how Russell Adams, chairman of Howard's department of Afro-American studies, describes the research Shabazz relies on.

"It's very difficult to have the students slow their emotions down to listen, since they have been on a {Khalid} Muhammad train of late," Adams says. "If you dismiss the emotion, then they think you have dismissed the cause."

Why, Shabazz was asked, go down that road, where phrases, even the tone, are always flash points?

Says Shabazz: "The purpose of my exposing the involvement of members of the Jewish community in the oppression of black people, past and present ... is to hopefully make them a part of the redemptive process of reparations for black people. They have been part of the problem, and they should use their power and influence to be a critical part of the solution."

And the viewpoints of Shabazz are not isolated.

Ronald Walters, the chairman of Howard's political science department and a frequent lecturer on college campuses, says student activists around the country are increasingly critical of black leadership and white Americans. "There is a feeling that underneath the vulnerability and the lack of courage among the black leadership is this hold by white Americans and among that people from the Jewish community. To speak out against that becomes a way of liberating oneself."

"{Shabazz} is sincerely wrong. He is quite sincere, but he is as wrong as two left shoes," says local politician Isiah "Ike" Leggett. He taught Shabazz in a torts class at Howard. "I disagree with him almost across the board. In many ways it reflects a motivation and direction that I am not comfortable with and in the long term is very divisive -- divisive in the general community and within the black community. You can make the arguments for black economic development and black empowerment without this generalization about Jewish people and white people."

Jewish organizations have watched in horror as the number of verbal and physical incidents against Jews have risen in recent years. The increase in antisemitic actions on campuses has been dramatic, says the Anti-Defamation League. It has reported a 126 percent jump in campus incidents since 1988. It found in 1992 that blacks are more than twice as likely to hold stereotypical views of Jews than non-Jewish whites.

"Why does the need to instill pride in the African American community require scapegoating Jews?" asks Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director. Bonnie Scheinker, an official with the Jewish Campus Activity Board, said, "I don't object to speakers I disagree with, but I am concerned that this is the direction students want to go in and are willing to commit large amounts of money."

Who Is a Leader?

At the heart of the debate, says Shabazz and other students, is the question of their right to determine who they listen to.

And this is not just a festering issue among the students. In the aftermath of the reaction to Muhammad's November speech, some people demanded that black leaders distance themselves from him, and that raised the question among some black leaders of hand-picking who could speak for them.

Who decides just who is a black leader? When black spokesmen receive the sanction of white leaders, does that lessen or enhance their effectiveness or acceptance generally and within the multilayered communities of African Americans? When a black leader, such as Farrakhan, is roundly rejected by white politicians and commentators, does that increase his stock among black people? Or is the refusal to accept his popularity another misunderstanding?

Shabazz and fellow student leaders see the same thing happening to them, and that is where they draw the line. They want the ultimate freedom of choice.

"I must stand behind my positions. I am not {Rep.} Kweisi Mfume, not Jesse Jackson, not going to buck down. If I am in error I am not above apologizing," he says. But he is locked into his point of view. "The new black leadership is learning from people that the white structure didn't create {their prominence}."

And some faculty members are in agreement.

"They are questioning those who are interfering with their right to hear other speeches that may present other points of view," says J. Clay Smith, a professor at the law school. "The conclusion they are reaching is they don't buy into hate speech but they feel the attacks against blacks are another form of restraint. ... On both sides of the question, there is real confusion and a need for open dialogue."

"They are questioning whether we are capable to make those decisions for ourselves," says Terri Wade, a senior who is president of the Howard University Student Association. "This is another thing that shows how arrogant these people are. Not only do you tell us who we can listen to, who we can follow and what leaders we should try to be, but then you tell us how to spend our money."

Shabazz picks up the beat. "White people are now so arrogant that they want to tell us how to hurt, how to suffer. Don't tell us how to hurt and suffer, especially after what we have been through. And don't call Howard the black Harvard. ... The new black leadership does not accept and identify with white norms, values and methods of approval. This is what is disturbing the powers that be."

Squaring Off

A snapshot of the national debate took place one afternoon late last month in the moot court of Howard's law school, where students gathered for a forum on black-Jewish relations. It was lunch hour, crowded, and the white faces were sprinkled among the black faces. The atmosphere was expectant, though largely cordial.

Onstage Shabazz was all business, sometimes brusque and rigid, often pedantic, fleetingly lighthearted. He moved with the grace of an athlete, catching questions, standing firmly by his positions -- which were all about respect and reparations.

The overwhelming conclusion from the audience was that generalizations are dangerous sandpits.

Early in the discussion, Adam Schwartz, white, Jewish and a fellow second-year law student, squared off with Shabazz. "When you say who is it who hunted down and killed Nat Turner and have people in response to shout out 'The Jews,' while there may have been some Jews who were involved ... it is a factual inaccuracy to impute from those few people an entire race." Lots of applause.

(The Turner accusation has been disputed by many historians. "Everybody was looking for Nat because he did fifty-odd folk in," said Russell Adams. "Jews in the American South were under 2 percent, even in the largest concentrations.")

The debate kept coming back to passages from the Talmud and the Bible. Shabazz used the Talmud to illustrate racism and encouragement of the slave trade. "There are terrible statements in many holy books," said Schwartz.

But positions weren't changed.

"Would you not say in most societies Jews {have had more influence than} their numbers?" asked Shabazz.

Schwartz quickly answered no.

And Shabazz had one of the last words: "We will leave that as a factual determination," he said, with a slight smile.

Shabazz was asked what he would do if the tables were turned in this whole debate. "You cannot draw a comparison like that because we are an oppressed people and an oppressed people when they have been victimized when they strike back, sometimes they aim wrong." Lots of applause.