Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Far Right and Nelson Mandela

Amidst the outpourings of grief and respect that have followed the recent death of Nelson Mandela, you'd be forgiven for thinking that these tributes reflected a universal regard for one of the great figures of the 20th century. But sample a bit of what the right-wing news and blogosphere has to offer, and you'll find that some are happy to offer an unfashionable (read: incredibly ignorant) opinion. A great example is WorldNetDaily, where editor Joseph Farah seems to hold Mandela responsible for every violent act committed towards whites by anyone loosely involved in the resistance to apartheid.
He was not Martin Luther King Jr. He was not Mahatma Gandhi. And he was certainly not George Washington, as Barack Obama claimed.
(George Washington owned slaves, by the way, so he is right. Nelson Mandela certainly never did that.)
He was a committed member of the South African Communist Party. He was a leader of the revolutionary African National Congress, which he helped to radicalize into an organization sworn to armed, violent attacks.
Also at WND, Diana West attempts to nullify Mandela's legacy by pointing out his association with Communists.
If we attempt quantify the crimes of apartheid in brief, we can point to some 7,000 “political deaths” of South African citizens over four decades of white minority rule. The ANC struggle against apartheid, meanwhile, was sponsored by the Soviet Union, conservatively estimated to have killed some 20 million citizens to preserve its totalitarian dictatorship and to force Marxism-Leninism on the rest of us. This global movement, according to “The Black Book of Communism,” resulted in 100 million deaths.
( So just so we're clear, apartheid was only bad because of a few political deaths, rather than the systematic oppression of the majority of South Africans because of their race.) 

What jumps out at me from this quote is: the Soviet Union was a horrible totalitarian regime, yet they backed the struggle of black South Africans, while the freedom-loving United States did not. That is quite an indictment on the US. It's a common tactic in the US for the Right to use the word "Communist", "Marxist" or "Socialist" as a universal term to place someone in the box marked "irrevocably bad person". They've also done it with Barack Obama, and they're even doing it with the current Pope who has had the nerve to criticise the culture of capitalist materialism. 

It might seem obvious, but I'll point it out anyway: a LOT of people thought Communism was a good idea for a while, and most of them had no idea that some of its exponents in some countries were into mass murder. And for people who had to endure oppression under fascistic capitalist and democratic governments, it's not hard to see how Communism seemed like it might have been a better alternative. In any case, the kill count racked up by Christianity over the centuries is pretty damn high too, but most of us don't hold individual Christians responsible for that. 

As Salon points out, many more-or-less reasonable people on the conservative side politics have spoken favourably of Nelson Mandela following his passing, only to receive blowback from their supporters. At Renew America, Cliff Kincaid asks: "Is Mandela the biggest liar in history?" That's quite a challenge to throw down. How does one determine history's biggest liar, by the way? How thoroughly would Madiba's pants have to be on fire for him to win this one? 

Meanwhile, Rodney Atkinson, British political economist and embarassing brother of comedian Rowan Atkinson, says: “His legacy is a murderous one, comparable, in its racist and economic persecution of a minority, to the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. And, like the Jews in Germany, whites, especially the young and well-qualified, have been leaving South Africa for years.” Of course in order to make the Mandela-Hitler comparison work, you would have to ignore substantial differences in death tolls (Hitler is up by around 6 million), and justification for their actions (I'm not sure whatever hardship those nasty Jews were inflicting on poor Adolph and his peeps was quite as bad as what black South Africans had to deal with). 

Now, you might have heard it said that "One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist", and it would not be unreasonable to debate whether the non-violent philosophies of Gandhi or Martin Luther King were better or more effective than the armed resistance advocated by Mandela's ANC, at least for part of their history. But when it comes to the Far Right's condemnations of Mandela as a "terrorist" for engaging in armed resistance, bear in mind one thing: These are the very same people who constantly trumpet the right to bear arms, not merely for self-defence but as a safeguard against tyranny. Except the apartheid state was not sufficiently tyrannical in comparison to the very real spectre of tyranny that right-wing Americans face today under Barack Obama. I mean, socialist health care? The possibility of having to pay slightly higher taxes? Having to put up with gay people getting married? Having a black head of state whose name sounds kinda Muslim-y? If Nelson Mandela had fought against THAT kind of horrific oppression, THEN he might be considered a hero.