By Mats Svensson
There is a shrinking group of free people, people who believe in a context with everyone’s equal worth. This group still dreams about a society where everyone is included and for this, one is prepared to struggle.
The hours are not enough. Daddy Obama tries every night to give Natasha and Malia some of his time. The hours are not enough. That is just the way it is. Part of the job, the assignment. Much has been promised and every promise has to be kept.
I can see how Malia follows dad Obama on TV. Even when he is not at home, he is still present. Malia flips the channel; dad is always there, channel after channel, both short and long segments. Segments about what has been said and even more about what had not been said. CNN does not miss a word, a pause, a look, a hand shake.
I can see before me how Malia tries to understand. How she begins to compare what was recently said and what has now become. What did President Bush say and what is dad saying? Which words did Bush choose and which words does dad refrain from using.
Recently, the most important word was terrorism. President Bush went to the elections with one single question. Who was best at countering terrorism? Whoever was not for him was against him. It then became clear who was a friend and who was an enemy. Eight years have passed. Bush’s enemy remains while his group of friends has shrunk.
The daughter now hears a different tone, dad’s tone. Less of the Wild West and more of a ‘we’, a ‘we’ that also includes ‘the other’. She, the daughter, feels inside of her that something has changed. I can hear how she finally poses the question to her father, the question we should all ask, the question with four words. Who is a terrorist?
I am in South Africa. The year is 2003. Ten years ago President Mandela received the Nobel peace prize. He received it in Oslo but in Washington he was still a terrorist. Every morning I had breakfast at a small restaurant. This morning I am alone. I am reading a recently purchased book with the title, “No Easy Walk to Freedom.” The woman, a white woman who owns the restaurant comes up to me. After many cups of coffee and fried eggs we know each other quite well. The woman asks me what I’m reading and I show her the book, saying that I am trying to understand apartheid. I want to know how it once was.
The woman sits down in front of me. She wants to tell me. She has a need to discuss. She wants me to understand. It became a long discussion. The most important part that I remember from the discussion over a fried egg, five years ago, is that she said that she had once asked her dad who Mandela was. “He is just a terrorist!” answered her dad, “We don’t mention his name in this house.” The woman posed the question when Mandela had been in jail for 15 years and still had 12 years to go. “For me,” said the woman, “Mandela was therefore the terrorist we were all afraid of. Mandela was evil, evil personified.” The woman related, “I grew up in an all white neighbourhood, like a small Europe. We never spoke about apartheid, but in church, there were sermons about evil. The name Mandela was never mentioned, but we all knew the evil.”
Who is a terrorist? Who decides that someone is a terrorist? Who is the judge who judges? Who has the right to be right? Daddy Obama will often get these questions. He will often ask himself these questions. Perhaps Malia will be the first to ask him these questions.
In 1990 the whole world watched Mandela become free. But Mandela had always been free. In front of the prison guard, in front of the prosecutor, in front of the judge, Mandela knew that he was the one who was free. Now he took the last step and thereby escaped the burden. Never again would he smash stones into gravel in the strong sunlight, never again would someone lock the door behind him. Three years later, Mandela received the Nobel peace prize. In the USA, it took 19 years before president and Nobel peace prize winner Mandela was removed from the US terrorist list. Yes it is true. He was only removed in 2008 during President Bush’s last year in power.
The powerful in the world are using an invisible scale. A scale that decides who is a terrorist. The scale was used in the trial against Mandela in 1963. The same scale is being used today. The invisible scale is exhibited and becomes visible for us all. In one bowl one puts the hundreds of destroyed villages, almost 42 years of occupation, the establishment of apartheid, ghettos behind 720 km of separation wall, settlements, home demolitions, checkpoints, stolen land, uprooted and stolen olive trees, bombed UN school, bombed UN head quarters, bombed hospitals, killed children, killed women and men. In the other bowl one puts the resistance, the smuggled and fired rockets, the suicide bombers. One counts all the killed children, women and men. All crimes are made visible. When one is ready the scale is imbalanced. The small bowl with the smuggled in rockets and suicide bombers weighs more and the judgment falls. The judgment fell on Mandela and the judgment today falls on the women and children in Gaza and on the West Bank.
1963, during the Rivonia trial, Mandela was charged with terrorism. By his side stood Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Walter Mkwayi, Denis Goldberg and Lionel Bernstein. Everyone was charged with sabotage resembling treason. Mandela, a terrorist together with nine of his friends. They knew that they would be executed. In front of a white court of law Mandela did not want a defence counsel. Speaking in his own defence, he concluded with:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” For Mandela, to not resist would have been synonymous with unconditional capitulation.”
Mandela had to wait until 2008 before he was removed from the USA terror list. Mandela fought the evil of the time, the oppression of the time. It took almost 50 years before the world finally rallied round him. It was also then that the world finally understood that Mandela had been a free man all along. Confined but free. A freedom that he gave to de Klerk in 1990 and to the USA in 2008. To receive that freedom one first has to want to receive it.
In Israel there are also free people. People who are prepared to give their freedom away since they are free themselves. During the last war, the New Years bombings, the occupied were bombed to pieces by the occupying power. Most Israelis backed their government and their soldiers. But not everyone. There was a shrinking group of free people, people who believe in a context with everyone’s equal worth. This group still dreams about a society where everyone is included, and for this, one is prepared to struggle.
– Mats Svensson, a former Swedish diplomat working on the staff of SIDA, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, is presently following the ongoing occupation of Palestine. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (This article was originally published in CounterPunch.org.)