Sunday, December 8, 2013

Who is a terrorist?

Posted on December 8, 2013 by Nkem

There are people in America that want to be sure that you KNOW that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist and they stand by that. I am irritated and frankly quite annoyed at their audacity.

I have read enough tweets, blogs, Facebook status updates and the like reiterating this point and “politely” pointing out that Nelson Mandela our revered hero is not perfect. Let me let you in on a not-so-secret fact that everyone in Africa is already aware of, Nelson Mandela is not perfect. Come a little closer and I’ll tell you the particularly gory reason why… it’s because he is human! He is a hero because of his humanity, because of his imperfections.

I’m not writing to defend Nelson Mandela. I don’t need to. But I will say this, as a child of Africa’s turgid ethnic, religious, racial, socio-economic, violent conflict, Nelson Mandela symbolized an end to seeming endless violence and oppression, Madiba symbolized hope when no solution was in sight. As a young African looking to the future, Mandela modeled responsible leadership, humility and peacemaking, characteristics unfortunately in short supply in most African leaders going back several years. Africa and I say Africa, because Madiba belonged to Africa just as much as he did to South Africa, and in the same token the world, didn’t need perfection, it needed Mandela. A man who greatness is unmatched amongst the faces and celebrities that brand this current generation.

I’m not writing to defend Nelson Mandela. I am writing to voice my contempt. I have no issue with taking an honest look at the man whose very human struggles defined him but did not limit him, the same struggles influenced millions of people and changed lives. They did. He did. Nelson Mandela changed lives.

I am writing because the words of Dr. Albert Mohler (shared by a friend on Facebook) have given me pause and upset me.
“When you think of Nelson Mandela and reflect on his life, and now on his death, there are many worldview issues that are immediately implicated. One of them has to do with the fact that Nelson Mandela was, by any honest analysis, a terrorist. That immediately raises a deep moral issue. How can someone be so honored who had at any point resorted to terrorism in order to achieve a political objective?”
To begin with, what Dr. Mohler so calmly refers to as a “political objective” is justice. Mandela fought for justice and the just treatment of ALL people in South Africa. Justice is not a political objective, it is a humanitarian objective. It is tied to dignity and inherently an issue of human rights. We must fight for human rights but do so without shedding blood and wasting lives. Professor David Forsythe, widely regarded as among the first to help establish the study of human rights and humanitarian affairs in the discipline of political science (and my former graduate professor), discusses Mandela’s actions in his struggle for universal human rights here.

However what really set me off was how Dr. Mohler then went ahead and mentioned some other “terrorists” who like Mandela were bestowed with the Nobel Peace Prize: Anwar Sadat “…began his political career as a terrorist against the British.” Mohler continues:
“While we’re thinking about terrorism, we probably also ought to think about someone from our own nation’s history, like George Washington. Had the American Revolution turned out differently, George Washington would in all likelihood have been hung as a traitor. He would also have been accused of being what we now call a terrorist.”
Perhaps this is semantics, but the author who so definitively named Mandela, Sadat, and Begin terrorists uses a softer voice in reference to George Washington, who, as per the intonation of the author is not a terrorist because of the way the American Revolution played out. But if Washington lost, he would have been accused of being what we now call a terrorist?? Perhaps I am overplaying the argument on the contingency of Washington as a terrorist, but I am tired. I am tired of a discourse that creates an “other,” that paints the same crime in a darker light for some and not others. When we talk about terrorism, we make no reference to war crimes committed by American entities. Even the mentally unstable American soldier convicted of killing 16 innocent Afghan civilians was not labelled a terrorist even though his actions would be categorized as terrorism.

There is a way to discuss the humanity of Nelson Mandela, a way to address a religious response to injustice and oppression, or even how modern society idolizes celebrity icons with some very real, very visible challenges. And while Dr. Mohler did have some wonderful comments that recognized Nelson Mandela’s contributions to human rights and human dignity, those points are for me overshadowed by the depiction of the struggle for emancipation and human rights in Africa as a political objective and an unshakable impression of a politically correct slam on a necessary leader (Mohler’s own words) and a cultural icon. As a African, I take issue. As a person, I’m expressing my disappointment.

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