Nelson Mandela on Terrorist Watchlist

by Will Potter on May 8, 2008

in Surveillance

Like many environmental and animal rights advocates, even Nelson Mandela is on a “terrorist watchlist.” Unlike grassroots activists, though, it looks politicians are trying to get him removed.

I’ve seen quite a few blog posts on this, where the author is outraged that a “freedom fighter” like Nelson Mandela is on a terrorist watchlist. His placement on the list is seen as a bureaucratic error, or leftover hypocrisy from the Reagan administration, but that misses the point. I think what we need to take away from examples like this is that there is no concrete definition of “terrorist.” It’s a fluid term, meant to demonize the enemy of the hour.

At the time, Mandela was demonized as both a communist and a terrorist. In the early 60s, he was the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC, in the fight against apartheid. He coordinated property destruction and sabotage against government targets, and has admitted that civilians were often victims in these attacks (for more, see his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom).

The Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, and similar groups are labeled the “number one domestic terrorist threat” by the United States today, yet they haven’t harmed anyone. If Mandela can go from guerrilla fighter to Nobel peace prize winner in a few decades, I wonder what folks will be calling “eco-terrorists” in 2050.

In history books, the only difference between a “terrorist” and a “freedom fighter” is that the “terrorist” lost.

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