A rather astute article in the Huffington Post ends with the following.
“Rather than remember and mourn for Mandela only as a saint, we should remember and celebrate him as a radical. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to his struggle for freedom and justice beyond South Africa’s borders.”
The article has a point. The public hysteria surrounding Mandela’s loss is the manifestation of ideological orgasm; the cherry-picking of his actions, through which we paint a picture that suits our moral fantasies.
Not Just A Pacifist
Mandela was more than just an aggregate of people’s fantasies. He was about the raw realities of cultural and racial politics, in which he was tempered, fighting for his cause through radical statements and ferocious means.
Here are some of the quotes mentioned in the HuffPost article to provide a fuller picture of the deceased icon than what’s circulating in people’s soggy-from-moral-hysteria imaginations.
‘If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.’ (A reminder to all those in DC now praising him as a saint, and to those advocating him as a man of a non-incendiary nature.)
On Yasser Arafat – ‘Comrade in arms.’ (Strange company for a pacifist.)
On Israel – it is ‘slaughtering defenceless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories, and we don’t regard that as acceptable.’ (Daring to criticize the ruthlessness of Israel in a world where the slightest criticism of Israel could be construed as anti-semitic.)
Then, toning it down, on Israel again – ‘I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.’ (Daring to point out the crafty viciousness of the Arab states in an age where the slightest criticism on the Arab world could be regarded as islamophobic.)
On Muamar Gaddafi – ‘Brother Leader’ and a ‘friend.’ (More strange company for a pacifist.)
On Castro’s Cuba – ‘…a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.’ (Really?)
The Real Mandela
Clearly, Mandela’s way was neither a one-dimensional, pacifist paradigm, nor entirely correct. He was a flawed but inspirational individual, an icon, a fighter who dared put his money where his mouth was, taking a stand for what he believed in, for better or worse. Regardless of whether we agree or not with one or more of his statements, one thing remains: Mandela was not a Buddhist saint. He was a ferocious fighter, who put his efforts behind the cause of freedom, as he understood it, doing his country (and the entire world) a great service by bringing down Apartheid.
As for the rest of his positions, some were accurate, others were ambiguous, others most unfortunate. Many were radical, especially during his earlier years. The mellower ones came later, with the advance of age and the assumption of state power, which demanded of him a more stately demeanor, and even then, he was outspoken, critical, and harsh.
Mandela was a complex man. That’s what I remember of him. I make not a moral commodity out of him by cherry-picking his actions to fit my idealist fantasies. I pay tribute to the totality of the man and what he stood for by remembering the complex nexus of actions that made him the icon he now is.
Remember Remember Not Just Mandela’s Farewell December
Let’s pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, exalt him tomorrow and the day after, and long after that. Let’s praise him by remembering his whole stance, warts and all, acknowledging where he was justified and where he was misguided. For that, and for his struggles against Apartheid, and for the inspiration he provided to the bullied, those less fortunate, and those willing to rise and claim their sovereignty, he deserves a mountain of praise – and perhaps a mountain to be named after him. The saintly stuff we can save for the Dalai Lama – and even he has a few rivers of controversy running through him.
Most of all, let’s learn from Mandela’s ways. He can teach us how apply change not with hypocrisy or hysteria, but with wisdom and integrity — how to shed our firebrand ways in favor of something more robust and lasting, something to inspire the next generations.