He who cannot forgive … breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~~ old African proverb
There are many finer tributes to Nelson Mandela than this one. I join so many others in feeling sorrow at the passing of a revered and inspirational world leader, but I never expected to compose this essay at all. Something happened to change my mind.
This week has witnessed a huge outpouring of fine tributes worldwide, honoring and remembering the death of Nelson Mandela. Some of these can be found on Facebook, posted or shared by many admirers. I admit I wasn’t prepared to encounter a comment to a Facebook post which actually profaned that memory. I engaged briefly with that poster. Considering his past history of online acting-out, I finally just blocked him.
It’s not the first time I’ve blocked someone, but it’s the first time I’ve ever blocked someone twice in a row.
The first time, this person we’ll just call “Charlie” made some egregiously offensive remark – one of those gratuitous remarks seemingly made just to be as off-the-wall unpleasant as possible. And it fit a pattern. Basically, it was a credible imitation of what a skinhead would sound like. So, I said, “this person is outta here,” and I blocked him.
In Facebook, sometimes you can see a blocked party’s comments when they make it to a shared thread. About a year later, I saw a comment from this “Charlie” which actually made perfect sense. It was a passionate defense of freedom from a person whose history suggests he should obviously know the value of freedom in a way most of us born in the USA might not fully appreciate. So I unblocked him.
Of Mandela, wikipedia says,
“Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Denounced as a Marxist terrorist by critics, he nevertheless gained international acclaim for his activism, having received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Order of Lenin and the Bharat Ratna. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”); he is often described as “the father of the nation”.”
In the last forty-eight hours, Nelson Mandela has been honored by leaders all over the world, including:
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US’s Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, England’s Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II, Israel’s Elie Wiesel, South African President Jacob Zuma, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas, South African ex-President FW de Klerk, former US President Bill Clinton, Pope Francis, Burmese opposition leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, actor Morgan Freeman, Charles Krauthammer, Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Former President Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Attorney General Eric Holder, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Jeff Flake, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger … and many more.
And this person, this Charlie, posted a comment on someone else’s tribute that Mandela was a communist terrorist who deserved to burn in hell. So that’s how I blocked this person for the second and final time.
Never before in my years on Facebook have I read such an offensive and deliberately disrespectful comment. It befouled someone else’s tribute. It profaned the memory of a world leader and the esteem for him held by almost the entire globe.
What I learned from this is that while most of us value freedom, there really are those throwbacks who literally reserve freedom only for those who understand Charlie-speak. They are implacably incurious about anything else.
Dick Cheney is the only prominent figure I have found so far who has nothing good to say about Mandela, offering only a negative in exchange. Cheney said he didn’t regret his vote against freeing Nelson Mandela, maintaining he was a ‘terrorist’. A loyal cult conservative never admits to any good or honor on the other side; Deutschland über alles.
Margaret Thatcher and South African ex-President FW de Klerk had something good to say about Mandela. Even Ted Cruz and Vladimir Putin had something nice to say about Mandela. But not Dick Cheney, not “Charlie,” nor any of those others who neither understand nor forgive that which they are incapable of grasping: freedom doesn’t have a political party. If freedom requires sacrifice, as far right-wingers prate, it doesn’t just require sacrifice in NATO countries.
You don’t rate a freedom fighter by his politics, but by his results. The United States and the UK were initially against Mandela and the ANC, saying he was a terrorist and/or supported terrorism, and because the apartheid South African government, which subjugated and exploited its African citizens based on their color, was the legitimate government, because we had economic and political ties to the white regime, and because the white regime said it had that legitimacy. The US and UK changed their tune, but only when they could no longer contain the tide of popular resentment against apartheid.
All revolutions are by nature violent. Atrocities have been committed by both sides in the United States, Ireland, South Africa and elsewhere, but we do not grade atrocities according to political affiliation. Mandela was tried and convicted by a white kangaroo court in their Treason Trial, he was convicted, and served 27 years in prison.
As South Africa’s first black president, Mandela served a single five year term. He refused a second term, feeling that the fledgling democracy needed the experience of free elections and choosing its leaders. His term of office was noted for its efforts at reconciliation with the former white ruling class, now a minority class. He was criticized for some by being too lenient and for not pressing for retribution.
Mandela had been criticized simultaneously for bringing an end to the old order, the old ways, on the one hand, and for not doing enough to bring economic equality and an end to widespread poverty in South Africa, on the other.
It took the United States of America nearly two hundred years to first eliminate slavery, and then to dismantle Jim Crow, domestic apartheid in the South, and gross subjugation and exploitation of its own minority class. It took Mandela only half of one lifetime to transform a country, a continent, and the whole way the world looks at the struggle for equality and freedom.
Mandela’s magnetic and visionary leadership helped transform South Africa, one of the most violently repressive societies outside the old Communist bloc, into a free land. For all the “terrorist” rhetoric against him, Mandela not only won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was a man of peace, and he was revered by the world for that reason.
I wonder if I will ever embrace that lesson enough to forgive the unforgiving.
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