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Before Mandela Was a Hero, the Right Called Him a Terrorist
Posted on Dec 6, 2013
Remember, before he was a hero and an international beacon of dignity, healing and quiet power, Nelson Mandela was a terrorist—at least in the eyes of the United States and other Western governments that have been lauding him in the hours since his death Thursday at age 95.
They should celebrate Mandela’s life and mourn the world’s loss. But they should also own up to their own institutional support of the very apartheid regime Mandela fought against with such effect. In their opposition to the efforts of Mandela and the African National Congress to unshackle themselves from the racist South African regime, the conservatives of the era often came across as sputtering, frothing lunatics (some are still sputtering).
The British Independent newspaper wrapped up some of the more egregious comments in 1996 as Mandela was about to address both houses of Parliament, and have tea with the queen.
There were others. Member of Parliament John Carlisle raged at the notion of the BBC broadcasting a concert celebrating Mandela two months after his release after 27 years in prison: “The BBC have just gone bananas over this and seem to be joining those who are making Mandela out to be a Christ-like figure. Many will remember his record and the record of his wife as they take the podium. This hero worship is misplaced.” John Bercow, the current speaker of the House of Commons, was head of the Federation of Conservative Students when it ran a “Hang Mandela” campaign.
The American right was also, well, wrong. Dick Cheney, while in Congress, voted against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that included a demand that Mandela be released from prison, a vote he continued to defend years later. Ronald Reagan, as president, vetoed the act (overridden by Congress), calling economic sanctions against the apartheid regime “immoral” and “utterly repugnant.” It should be noted that some Republicans—including Mitch McConnell—joined with Democrats in pushing the sanctions, according to PolicyMic:
Doing the right thing often is simple, though not easy, and one wonders what has happened to McConnell’s clarity since then.
Key to remembering Mandela’s role in the world is to remember the world in which he struggled, when the U.S. government saw communists behind every freedom movement (in truth, sometimes they were, indeed, there). But it was an era in which U.S. foreign policy was based on the premise that it must fight communism around the globe, and in the process, often found itself on the wrong side of history, and morality. Peter Beinart sums it up over at The Daily Beast:
In short, Mandela’s legacy lies in embracing the moral mandate to speak truth to power.
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