Charlie Hebdo: Norway didn’t give in to Islamophobia, nor should France

The Charlie Hebdo killers want to provoke anti-Islam sentiment among the public, just as Anders Breivik did. But France must resist
By: Owen Jones
theguardian.com, Thursday 8 January 2015 12.40 GMT

Three and half years ago, the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik bombed Oslo, and then gunned down dozens of young people on the island of Utøya. His rationalisation for the atrocity was to stop the “Islamisation” of Norway: that the Norwegian left had opened the country’s doors to Muslims and diluted its Christian heritage. But Norway’s response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity,” declared the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. When Breivik was put on trial, Norway played it by the book. The backlash he surely craved never came.

Here’s how the murderers who despicably gunned down the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo do not want us to respond. Vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well. They want Muslims to feel hated, targeted and discriminated against, because it increases the potential well of support for their cause. Already, there are multiple reports of attacks in France against mosques, and even a “criminal explosion” in a kebab shop. These are not just disgraceful, hateful acts. Those responsible are sticking to the script of the perpetrators. They are themselves de facto recruiting sergeants for terrorists.

Social media abounds with Islamophobes seizing this atrocity to advance their hatred. Islam as an entire religion is responsible, they cry: it is incompatible with “western values”. They wish to homogenise Muslims, as though Malala and Mo Farah have anything in common with the sectarian murderers of Isis. Most victims of Islamic extremists are of course themselves Muslims: including Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer killed at close range by the terrorists in Paris yesterday.

This is a dangerous moment. Anti-Muslim prejudice is rampant in Europe. The favoured target of Europe’s far-right – like France’s Front National, which currently leads in the opinion polls – is Muslims. France is home to around 5 million Muslims, who disproportionately live in poverty and unemployment, often in ghettoised banlieues. This incident should rightfully horrify, but it will now undoubtedly fuel an already ascendant far-right.

The consequences? More anti-Muslim hatred, more disillusionment among already marginalised young Muslims, more potential recruits for extremist groups.

There is a choice, of course. Norway’s enlightened response could be a model elsewhere in Europe too. It would be the last thing the attackers would want us to do. That, in itself, should give us all pause to think.

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Hidden Oppression in Eritrea

By VITTORIO LONGHI October 3, 2014 In Europe’s debate about how to deal with the flow of desperate migrants from Africa, there is an important element missing: the crisis in Eritrea. Every month almost 4,000 Eritreans flee to escape oppression, according to a United Nations special rapporteur. A visit to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, is revealing. In the cafes you won’t hear people talking about the government of President Isaias Afewerki, and in the streets you will never see a march or a demonstration. Any sign of protest is quickly crushed, and opponents of the government face immediate imprisonment and torture, often in underground jails in remote areas. There they are stuffed into metal containers where the heat is unbearable, and given little food or water. The right to trial does not exist, and those convicted have no recourse to appeal. This oppression is eerily invisible. You won’t see police officers along the sunny avenues of Asmara, nor are there soldiers around. But if you have a camera and start taking pictures, people stare and point at you. In this silent, secret system of terror, reminiscent of Soviet communism, every citizen is a potential spy. The government in Eritrea exercises control also through the “national service,” which is compulsory and open-ended for both men and women from the age of 17. It is easy to see why Eritreans will risk dangerous journeys to escape. On Oct. 3, 2013, 366 young Eritreans drowned off the tiny island of Lampedusa. The night after the shipwreck, I watched the survivors mourn the dead. They were taken to an airport hangar to wander among long rows of dark wooden coffins, and a line of five little white coffins for the children. The weeping sounded like a howl of despair for a generation fated to live in a country where hope for a better future had been banished. It was a cry for help. As people gathered in the main streets of Asmara after the shipwreck to view photos of the dead, the police arrived to disperse the crowd, but not before making a list of those who attended. “Nobody will come to save us,” said a 30-year-old teacher I met on my way to Asmara in May, who asked not to be identified. At one time, she said, she worked for European NGOs, but these organizations were expelled by the government in 2006. President Afewerki denies that the country needs any aid or assistance from foreigners. “Isaias keeps isolating our country so that nobody can see what happens here,” the teacher told me. State workers earn an average monthly salary of 500 nakfa (about $15 at the black market rate) and represent cheap labor for both the public and private sectors, especially in mining and construction, where Chinese investments are growing. Many Eritreans rely on informal work to feed their families. In Massawa, once a major port on the Red Sea, Awate Tsegay rents his car to foreigners and hopes to earn enough money to cross the border and join his brothers in Sudan. “Military officers ask up to $1,000 per person to hide you in a car so that you can get through safely,” he said. The government tacitly encourages illegal migration, recently introducing a 2 percent tax on remittances from abroad. Once in Sudan, Eritreans avoid the police and take any job available, until they can hire a trafficker to take them to Libya or Egypt, where they can attempt the sea crossing to Europe. The desert crossing is perilous, and many refugees fall victim to torture and organ harvesting. Meanwhile, President Afewerki, who has ruled for 20 years, still plays the role of the victim. He uses the pretext of the border conflict with Ethiopia to justify tight control over his people. European Union diplomats have expressed concern about the systematic violation of human rights. But if Europe were serious about addressing the causes of the exodus from Eritrea, it would put more pressure on Mr. Afewerki to loosen his grip. Likewise, the international community has done little to resolve the border conflict. Even less has been done to support Eritrean opposition forces, which could challenge the generals and set the country on the path to democratic elections. But the Eritrean opposition is fractured and presents little threat to the Afewerki government. “The most active democratic groups are based elsewhere, in Sudan or Europe,” says Valentina Fusari, a researcher in Asmara. Smaller ethnic groups of dissidents are in exile and too disorganized to be an option. At this stage, without a coordinated effort by the opposition, the dictatorship will keep perpetuating terror and forcing its people to choose between the loss of their freedom if they stay, or a potentially deadly journey if they leave. Vittorio Longhi is an Italian journalist. His latest book is “The Immigrant War: A Global Movement Against Discrimination and Exploitation.” Source: New York Times 03.10.14

Half of the world’s poor classed as ‘destitute’ – Oxford study

Ethiopia ranks the second poorest country in the world just ahead of Niger. The study is based on analysis of acute poverty in 108 developing countries around the world. Despite making progress at reducing the percentage of destitute people, Ethiopia is still home to more than 76 million poor people, the fifth largest number in the world after India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. India has the world’s largest number of poor people at more than 647 million. 87.3% of Ethiopians are classified as MPI poor, while 58.1% are considered destitute. A person is identified as multidimensionally poor (or ‘MPI poor’) if they are deprived in at least one third of the weighted MPI indicators. The destitute are deprived in at least one-third of the same weighted indicators, The Global MPI uses 10 indicators to measure poverty in three dimensions: education, health and living standards. In rural Ethiopia 96.3% are poor while in the urban area the percentage of poverty is 46.4%. Comparing the poverty rate by regions, Somali region has the highest poverty rate at 93% followed by Oromiya (91.2%) and Afar (90.9%). Amhara region has 90.1% poverty rate while Tigray has 85.4%. Addis Ababa has the smallest percentage of poverty at 20% followed by Dire Dawa at 54.9% and Harar (57.9%).

An Oxford University study to identify the multidimensionally poor in the developing world has found that in 49 countries, half of the poor are so deprived they should be classed as ‘destitute’.

The researchers’ global multidimensional poverty index or MPI measures ‘overlapping deprivations’ in health, education and living standards, with the ‘destitute’ being those who experience extreme deprivation such as having lost two children or more, having someone severely malnourished in the household, or having no assets at all.

The study says overall the situation has improved for the world’s poor due to poverty reduction programmes and economic growth; however, there is still a formidable core of extremely poor people. The largest numbers of destitute people, 420 million, were found in South Asia. In India alone, drawing on the most recent official figures available, the Oxford researchers calculate around 343 million destitute people. In sub Saharan Africa, there are around 200 million destitute people, with the highest proportion found in Niger where over two-thirds (68.8%) of the population were classed as destitute.

The study by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) also identified countries where there were improvements for poor people. Of 34 countries for which there are data, those that made the most progress in reducing destitution were Ethiopia, followed by Niger, Ghana, Bolivia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nepal, Haiti, Bangladesh and Zambia (all low income or least developed countries except Ghana and Bolivia). In Ethiopia, the research shows that the share of destitute people shrank by 30 percentage points between 2000 and 2011.

OPHI’s Director Dr Sabina Alkire, from the Oxford Department of International Development, said: ‘There is a growing international consensus that we have to put an end to the worst forms of poverty and this should be the target for the new development agenda. While the successes of poorer countries show progress is being made, these findings show that for now, destitution – with all the grinding hardship it entails – remains a grim reality for hundreds of millions of people. Renewed efforts are needed post-2015 to ensure those in deepest poverty are not left behind.’

The global multidimensional poverty index (MPI) is unique in capturing the simultaneous disadvantages experienced by poor people, such as malnutrition, education and sanitation, providing a high-resolution lens on their lives. If people are deprived in one-third or more of ten (weighted) indicators, they are identified as MPI-poor.

In 2014, the global MPI covered a total of 108 countries which are home to 78% of the world’s population. Some 30% of them – 1.6 billion people – are identified as multidimensionally poor. Of these 1.6 billion, 85% live in rural areas, which is a markedly higher percentage than income poverty estimates of 70-75%. Most live in South Asia (52%), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (29%), and most – 71% – live in middle income countries.

A destitute person in the new study is MPI-poor, and is also deprived in a third or more of the same weighted indicators, according to more extreme criteria: for example, where no one in the household has completed at least one year of schooling; or two or more children in the household have died.

Two-thirds of destitute people have someone at home with severe malnutrition. Some 40% of the destitute have a round trip of 45 minutes to find safe water by foot if they have access to it at all. Over 80% have a dirt floor, and more than 90% have no proper sanitation and have to relieve themselves outside, with all the vulnerability, fear and shame this entails, particularly for women.

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Why imperialism mourns Mandela

By Bill Van Auken

The death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 has touched off a worldwide exercise in official mourning that is virtually without precedent.

No doubt working people in South Africa and internationally pay tribute to the courage and sacrifice demonstrated by the African National Congress leader—as well as thousands of others who lost their lives and freedom—during his long years of illegality, persecution and imprisonment under the hated Apartheid regime.

Capitalist governments and the corporate-controlled media the world over, however, have rushed to offer condolences for their own reasons. These include heads of states that supported South Africa’s apartheid rule and aided in the capture and imprisonment of Mandela as a “terrorist” half a century ago.

Barack Obama, who presides over the horrors of Guantanamo and a US prison system that holds over 1.5 million behind bars, issued a statement in which he declared himself “one of the countless millions who drew inspiration” from the man who spent 27 years on Robben Island.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, the standard-bearer of the right-wing Tory Party, ordered the flag flown at half-mast outside 10 Downing Street and proclaimed Mandela “a towering figure in our time, a legend in life and now in death—a true global hero.”

Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, who ordered flags in New York City lowered, and Bill Gates felt compelled to issue their own statements.

What is noteworthy in the sanctimonious blather served up by the media on the occasion of Mandela’s death is the way in which a man whose life is inextricably bound up with the history and politics of South Africa is turned into an entirely apolitical icon, a plaster saint embodying, in the words of Obama, “being guided not by hate, but by love.”

What is it that the capitalist oligarchs in country after country really mourn in the death of Mandela? It is clearly not his will to resist an oppressive system—that is something they are all prepared to punish with imprisonment or drone missile assassination.

Rather, the answer is to be found in the present social and political crisis gripping South Africa, as well as the historic role played by Mandela in preserving capitalist interests in the country under the most explosive conditions.

It is significant that on the day before Mandela’s death, South Africa’s Institute for Justice and Reconciliation issued an annual report showing that those surveyed felt overwhelmingly that class inequality represented the paramount issue in South African society, with twice as many (27.9 percent) citing class as opposed to race (14.6 percent) as the “greatest impediment to national reconciliation.”

Two decades after the ending of the legal racial oppression of Apartheid, the class question has come to the fore in South Africa, embodied in the heroic mass struggles of the miners and other sections of the working class that have come into direct conflict with the African National Congress.

These eruptions found their sharpest expression in the August 16, 2012 massacre of 34 striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, a mass killing whose bloody images recalled the worst episodes of Apartheid repression at Sharpeville and Soweto. This time, however, the bloodletting was orchestrated by the ANC government and its allies in the official trade union federation, COSATU.

South Africa today ranks as the most socially unequal country on the face of the planet. The gap between wealth and poverty and the number of poor South Africans are both greater than they were when Mandela walked out of prison in 1990. Fully 60 percent of the country’s income goes to the top 10 percent, while the bottom 50 percent lives below the poverty line, collectively receiving less than 8 percent of total earnings. At least 20 million are jobless, including over half of the younger workers.

Meanwhile, under the mantle of programs like “Black Economic Empowerment,” a thin layer of black ex-ANC leaders, trade union officials and small businessmen has become very rich from incorporation onto boards of directors, acquisitions of stock, and contracts with the government. It is under these conditions that ANC governments that have followed Mandela’s, first under Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, have come to be seen as the corrupt representatives of a wealthy ruling establishment.

Mandela, who played a less and less active role in the country’s political life, nevertheless served as a facade for the ANC, which traded on his history of sacrifice and his image of humble dignity to hide its own corrupt self-dealing. Behind the facade, of course, Mandela and his family raked in millions, with his children and grandchildren active in some 200 private companies.

The New York Times published an article Friday under the worried headline, “Mandela’s Death Leaves South Africa Without Its Moral Center.” Clearly, there are fears that the passing of Mandela will serve to strip the ANC of what little credibility it has left, opening the way to intensified class struggle.

Concern among capitalist governments and corporate oligarchs over the implications of Mandela’s passing for the current crisis in South Africa is bound up with gratitude for services rendered by the ex-president and ANC leader. In the mid-1980s, when the South African ruling class began its negotiations with Mandela and the ANC on ending Apartheid, the country was in deep economic crisis and teetering on the brink of civil war. The government felt compelled to impose a state of emergency, having lost control of the black working class townships.

The international and South African mining corporations, banks and other firms, together with the most conscious elements within the Apartheid regime, recognized that the ANC—and Mandela in particular—were the only ones capable of quelling a revolutionary upheaval. It was for that purpose he was released from prison 23 years ago.

Utilizing the prestige it had acquired through its association with armed struggle and its socialistic rhetoric, the ANC worked to contain the mass uprising that it neither controlled nor desired and subordinate it to a negotiated settlement that preserved the wealth and property of the international corporations and the country’s white capitalist rulers.

Before taking office, Mandela and the ANC ditched large parts of the movement’s program, particularly those planks relating to public ownership of the banks, mines and major industries. They signed a secret letter of intent with the International Monetary Fund pledging to implement free market policies, including drastic budget cuts, high interest rates and the scrapping of all barriers to the penetration of international capital.

In doing so, Mandela realized a vision he had enunciated nearly four decades earlier, when he wrote that enacting the ANC’s program would mean: “For the first time in the history of this country, the non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.”

However, this “flourishing,” which boosted the profits of the transnational mining firms and banks while creating a layer of black multi-millionaires, has been paid for through the intensified exploitation of South African workers.

The ignominious path trod by the ANC was not unique. During the same period, virtually every one of the so-called national liberation movements, from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the Sandinistas, pursued similar policies, making their peace with imperialism and pursuing wealth and privilege for a narrow layer.

In this context, the death of Mandela underscores the fact that there exists no way forward for the working class in South Africa—and for that matter, worldwide—outside of the class struggle and socialist revolution.

A new party must be built, founded on the Theory of Permanent Revolution elaborated by Leon Trotsky, which established that in countries like South Africa, the national bourgeoisie, dependent upon imperialism and fearful of revolution from below, is incapable of resolving the fundamental democratic and social tasks facing the masses. This can be achieved only by the working class taking power into its own hands and overthrowing capitalism, as part of the international struggle to put an end to imperialism and establish world socialism.

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The man who taught Mandela to be a soldier

By Penny Dale BBC
Africa, Addis Ababa

In July 1962, Col Fekadu Wakene taught South African political activist Nelson Mandela the tricks of guerrilla warfare – including how to plant explosives before slipping quietly away into the night. Mr Mandela was in Ethiopia, learning how to be the commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe – the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). The group had announced its arrival at the end of 1961 by blowing-up electricity pylons in various places in South Africa. Then on 11 January 1962, Mr Mandela had secretly, and illegally, slipped out of South Africa. His mission was to meet as many African political leaders as possible and garner assistance for the ANC, including money and training for its military wing. And to be moulded into a soldier himself. During this trip, he visited Ethiopia twice and left a deep impression on those who met him during his stay in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

‘Made others laugh’ 

“Nelson Mandela was a very strong and resilient student, and he took instruction well and was really very likeable,” Col Fekadu said. “You couldn’t help but love him.” Col Fekadu was a corporal when he trained Mr Mandela. He was a member of a specialist police force – the riot battalion – based in the suburbs of Kolfe, in barracks which are still used today. He remembers a “happy, cheerful person” who “concentrated on the task in hand”. “He was polite, always happy and you never saw him lose his temper,” he said. “He laughed easily and made others laugh as well.” Col Fekadu says he was responsible for training Mr Mandela in sabotage and demolitions and how to stage hit-and-run attacks. The day’s theory lessons were put into practice during night-time exercises. Mr Mandela was a good student, hardworking and physically strong – but sometimes too robust and too enthusiastic for his own good, the colonel recalls. “Physically he was very strong and well-built. But sometimes during the training he would get ahead of himself.

“And while his intentions were good, that could also be dangerous, and sometimes we had to restrain him a bit for safety reasons.” Col Fekadu had been told to train Mr Mandela by his commanding officer, General Tadesse Birru, the assistant police commissioner who had played a key role in crushing an attempt at the end of 1960 to overthrow Emperor Haile Selassie. He was later executed by the Derg regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Back in 1962, Col Fekadu did not realise the significance of the South African politician he had been instructed to turn into a soldier. “All we knew was that he was our guest from abroad and that he would spend some time with us,” he said. “Everything was kept very secret. We were kept in the dark.” Mr Mandela was in Ethiopia at the invitation of the emperor, an ardent supporter of Africa’s decolonisation and African unity. At the time, Ethiopia had one of the strongest armed forces on the continent. Its troops were part of the UN peacekeeping operation during the Congo crisis in 1960 and a decade earlier Ethiopian soldiers had fought in the Korean war. And the emperor had invited many other African liberation struggle fighters to be trained on Ethiopian soil. As well as learning how to commit acts of sabotage, Mr Mandela’s military training also included briefings on military science, how to run an army and how to use a gun. He was also taken on long treks carrying his knapsack, rifle and ammunition. This was one of Mr Mandela’s favourite activities during his military training, and he writes about it with affection in his Long Walk to Freedom autobiography: “During these marches I got a sense of the landscape, which was very beautiful… people used wooden ploughs and lived on a very simple diet supplemented by home-brewed beer. Their existence was similar to the life in rural South Africa.”

‘Talkative’

Mr Mandela’s presence in Addis Ababa was supposed to be top secret. But physically he stood out. He was much taller and broader than most of the police cadets. And, as well as going on fatigue marches through the countryside, he would exercise out in the open in the grounds of the barracks. One person who took a particular interest in the tall stranger in his midst was Tesfaye Abebe, who was working in Kolfe as the head of the battalion’s music and drama department. He recalls Mr Mandela running around a big field in the compound – which today doubles up as a running track and a parade ground. “He would do squats and jumping jacks. He followed that exercise routine religiously every morning.” A curious Mr Tesfaye snatched conversations with Mr Mandela when he and his trainer came into the canteen for lunch. “Security was quite tight and we weren’t really allowed to approach him.” But, he says, Mr Mandela was “very friendly and talkative” and explained apartheid to him and how the ANC intended to fight it with guerrilla warfare and political activism. On a couple of occasions, the police band – in which Mr Tesfaye was the pianist – played for Mr Mandela in the officer’s club. “He really enjoyed that. He was really happy when we played for him.”

Mr Mandela’s military training in Ethiopia was supposed to last six months – but after only two weeks he was called back to South Africa by the ANC. He had already spent seven months out of the country – and he was needed back home. As Mr Mandela left Ethiopia, Gen Tadesse presented him with a pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition – a gun that is thought to be buried somewhere on Lillesleaf Farm, where in 1963 other ANC leaders were arrested and sentenced to life alongside Mr Mandela in the famous Rivionia trial. Mr Mandela himself had been arrested on 5 August 1962 – for leaving the country illegally , shortly after his return from his trip around Africa – and still in the military fatigues in which he had been trained in Ethiopia.

Source: BBC

Don’t Sanitize Nelson Mandela: He’s Honored Now, But Was Hated Then

By Peter Beinart December 5th 20137:40 pm followMore Stories by Peter Beinart

If we turn the late South African leader into a nonthreatening moral icon, we’ll forget a key lesson from his life: America isn’t always a force for freedom.

Now that he’s dead, and can cause no more trouble, Nelson Mandela is being mourned across the ideological spectrum as a saint. But not long ago, in Washington’s highest circles, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Unless we remember why, we won’t truly honor his legacy.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed Mandela’s African National Congress on America’s official list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-Americanism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his longstanding dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on America’s terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the secretary of State to visit the U.S.

From their perspective, Mandela’s critics were right to distrust him. They called him a “terrorist” because he had waged armed resistance to apartheid. They called him a “communist” because the Soviet Union was the ANC’s chief external benefactor and the South African Communist Party was among its closest domestic allies. More fundamentally, what Mandela’s American detractors understood is that he considered himself an opponent, not an ally, of American power. And that’s exactly what Mandela’s American admirers must remember now.

We must remember it because in Washington today, politicians and pundits breezily describe the Cold War as a struggle between the forces of freedom, backed by the U.S., and the forces of tyranny, backed by the USSR. In some places—Germany, Eastern Europe, eventually Korea—that was largely true. But in South Africa, the Cold War was something utterly different. In South Africa, for decades, American presidents backed apartheid in the name of anti-communism. Indeed, the language of the Cold War proved so morally corrupting that in 1981, Reagan, without irony, called South Africa’s monstrous regime “essential to the free world.”.

In South Africa, it was the Soviet bloc—the same communist governments that were brutally repressing their own people—that helped the ANC fight apartheid. In the 1980s, they were joined by an American and European anti-apartheid movement willing to overlook the ANC’s communist ties because they refused to see South Africa’s freedom struggle through a Cold War lens. At a time when men like Reagan and Cheney were insisting that the most important thing about Mandela was where he stood in the standoff between Washington and Moscow, millions of citizens across the West insisted that the ANC could be Soviet-backed, communist-influenced, and still lead a movement for freedom.

They were right. When it came to other countries, Mandela’s leftist ties did sometimes blind him to communism’s crimes. In 1991, for instance, he called Fidel Castro “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people.” But at home, where it mattered most, the ANC was a genuine, multiracial movement for democracy. And so the Americans who best championed South African freedom were the ones who didn’t view freedom as synonymous with the geopolitical interests of the United States.

Therein lies Mandela’s real lesson for Americans today. The Cold War is over, but mini-Cold Wars have followed. And once again, American elites, especially on the right, have a bad habit of using “freedom” as a euphemism for whatever serves American power. Thus, American politicians frequently suggest that by impoverishing the people of Iran with ever-harsher economic sanctions, and threatening to bomb them, we are promoting their freedom, even though the people risking their life for democracy in Iran—people like dissident journalist Akbar Ganji and Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi—passionately disagree.

Mandela challenged that. Like Martin Luther King, who publicly repudiated Lyndon Johnson’s claim that Vietnam was a war for democracy, Mandela rejected George W. Bush’s idealistic rationalizations of the Iraq War. In 2003, when Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” When Bush declared Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons a threat to the planet, Mandela had the bad manners to remind Bush that the only country to have actually used nukes was the United States. Mandela’s message to America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t pretend you are pure.

As with King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela’s legacy that is most in danger of being erased as he enters America’s pantheon of sanitized moral icons. But it is precisely the aspect that Americans most badly need. American power and human freedom are two very different things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference.