Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Muffling Mandela

Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, “The temptation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine… yet we would be less than human if we did so.”

Let us be clear, Mandela never spoke “in muffled tones” when it came to human rights and suffering for oppressed people all over the world.

All over the media, politicians and newscasters are jumping on the band wagon to sing the praises of Nelson Mandela, and rightly so.  He was one of the outstanding leaders of the world during the past century. Yet, how many leaders, political and religious, tell us the whole of his greatness. To do so would be embarrassing.

Some of his most significant sayings that are being “muffled” are:

But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinian people.[1] 

People of conscience cringe with pain when the thought of what a difference it would make in the suffering of so many people if just one major TV news anchor would emphasize this aspect of Mandela’s struggle for peace.

I believe there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO. We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.[2]

When challenged by Ted Koppel on ABC, Mandela responded,

We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self determination.

He told an Australian news media:

We agree with the United Nations that international disputes should be settled by peaceful means. The belligerent attitude which is adopted by the Israeli government is to us unacceptable.

Mandela went on to say that the ANC does not consider the PLO a terrorist group:

If one has to refer to any of the parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government, because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard this as acceptable.[3]

Western leaders, who until 2008, called him a terrorist are now falling all over themselves to call him a great leader. Obama puts him in the class with Lincoln, Roosevelt, Gandhi and King. Joe Biden eulogies, “The most remarkable man I have ever known in my entire life.”  I agree. But my fear is that many of those world leaders gathered to bury Mandela are hoping to bury his principles of freedom from oppression along with him.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, human rights activist and well known professor, having taught at University of Tennessee, Duke and Yale, writes:

In this week’s compilation from occupied Palestine: Today, a 14 year old child shot by Israeli sniper in the back in Jalazour Refugee Camp. A Bethlehem young man was shot by the Israeli apartheid soldier using live ammunition yesterday. Another lost his life after being in a coma for 7 months from an Israeli bullet. The apartheid state of Israel exonerated itself from the murder of Mustafa Tamimi of Nebi Selah so today we join with the Nebi Saleh community to protest and also to commemorate Nelson Mandela. Our friend Ashraf from Bili’n was Mendela. We faced a barrage of rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades. Mustafa’ younger brother Udai Tamimi was shot in the face and is now in a Ramallah hospital.  Christian communities throughout Palestine will hold special services tomorrow… Sunday December 8 in honor of Mendela.[4]

A comment of William Slone Coffin comes to mind; “Peace will come when those who are not victims of injustice feel as keenly about it as those who are.” 

Mandela lived in an apartheid state in “homelands” with no power, no military, no real economy and no control over its land, labor or resources”.  No surprise that he would identify with the Palestinians who suffer every day under the oppression of Israel.  He knew what it felt like to be labeled a terrorist because he stood up for democracy and equality. His moral authority forces us to admit that democracy and racism can never be happily married.  Speaking loud and clear, Nelson Mandela said that the world can only work from a position of truth.    It is time for our political and religious leaders to stop  muffling the tone of his voice.

                                                                                                Thomas Are
                                                                                                December 12, 2013

[1] President Nelson Mandela at the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. December 4, 1997, Pretoria.
[2] Article in JTA, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Global Jewish News Source,  South African and the U.S. Leaders Dismayed over Mandela’s Remarks.  March 2, 1990.
[3] JTA article,  Mandela Angers Australian Jews with Fresh Anti-Israel Rhetoric.  October 25, 1990.
[4] Mazin Qumsiyeh, Israeli Apartheid Gift to Mandela: Myrters and Injuries. Popular Resistance, December 7, 2013.

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