It was fully expected, and everyone knew that it was a matter of weeks or perhaps days. But when it happened, the shock of Nelson Mandela’s death shook the world, and billions of people genuinely recognised that, in the words of that other tall black orator, Barack Obama, “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
With more than 50 presidents, vice-presidents and other leaders at the memorial, tens of thousands of words were spoken about this incomparable man. But, let us concentrate on those of the most powerful president in the world.
Obama said “Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals.” And he added “.. his desire to fight, so men and women could stand up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price.” He praised Mandela for being unyielding on core principles. Then he promised “We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace.”
He then started chiding other world leaders “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”
We all know that this is true. But does Obama have the right to say that when his own administration is relentlessly hunting down dissenting young men and women who have chosen to simply inform the world of what his administration is doing in the name of so-called national security and anti-terrorism. After these sanctimonious words, should he not allow Edward Snowden to live peacefully in his own country without fear of persecution? Should he not allow Australian Julian Assange to leave the Embassy of Ecuador, where he has been confined for 18 months, without fear of immediate arrest and rendition to solitary confinement in some jail in the US or Guantanamo?
Here is another typical statement by Obama: “The questions we face today — how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war — do not have easy answers.”
My inevitable question is “Why do we not have easy answers, Mr President?” Why does this president not act on behalf of justice and human rights, when it comes to all the innocent victims of his drone campaign in Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Mandela said, “The UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
He also said, “Israel should withdraw from all the areas which it won from the Arabs in 1967, and in particular Israel should withdraw completely from the Golan Heights, from south Lebanon and from the West Bank.”
So, why does Obama stand on the sidelines and not fight, so Palestinian men and women and their children could stand up for their dignity, and does he not “accept the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price?”
And in the superpower of the world, where the gap between the 1 per cent and the 99 per cent is relentlessly widening, why does he not “… choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity?”
I couldn’t agree more with the final part of his speech where he quoted from ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul
Dr Qais Ghanem is a retired neurologist, radio show host, poet and author. His latest non-fiction work is My Arab Spring My Canada. Follow him on Face Book and Twitter at www.twitter.com/@QaisGhanem