When President Obama denounced world leaders who praised Nelson Mandela while crushing dissent and resisting reform in their own countries, he should have had a look in the mirror.
Much attention has been dedicated to President Obama’s distasteful decision to take a “selfie” photograph with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helling Thorning Schmidt at the recently deceased South African leader Nelson Mandela’s memorial. Yet, given what the president of the United States stands for, Obama’s presence at the late antiapartheid fighter’s funeral, in and of itself, ought to be cause enough for outrage.
Addressing the crowd at Mandela’s memorial in Johannesburg, Obama denounced world leaders for praising Mandela while simultaneously crushing dissent in their own countries. “There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” he proclaimed.
“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
Nonetheless, under Obama’s watch, US tax dollars have subsidized institutionalized racism in the United States and across the globe.
Obama’s bold words come just months after a Florida court issued an innocent verdict for the now 30-year-old George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teenager armed with nothing more than a can of Arizona Ice Tea and a bag of Skittles.
“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,”Obama said in the aftermath of the verdict. “Another way of saying that is: Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
Yet during his first term and a half, Obama has proved that he has no interest in dismantling racist institutions, many of which are inherent to the capitalist empire that he oversees, both at home and abroad. As a SocialistWorker.org editorial observed at the time,
He has avoided, in spite of the ever-worsening crisis of the Black community, every opportunity to champion programs that would provide special help to African Americans. He usually hasn’t defended himself against the racist smears of Republican opponents, much less stood up against the right-wing when it spews hate and stereotypes about Blacks more generally.
This record tells us something important about racism and how to challenge it. The systematic discrimination against African-Americans won’t be changed by symbolic actions or better education or the legal system.
Against the backdrop of passivity in a society that has two different standards of justice for whites and blacks, it’s more than a little ironic that Obama decided to deplore world leaders for failing to live up to Mandela’s moral record.
Mandela was also a symbol of steadfastness and resistance, particularly for spending 27 years in the South African apartheid regime’s prisons. Meanwhile, Obama repeatedly reneged on promises to close down Guantanamo Bay, the outhouse of American justice, where at least 779 detainees have been held since September 11th, 2001. As Human Rights Watch notes, some 600 were released without ever being charged with a single crime – many of them had been held for several years. Last week, Guantanamo military authorities announced they will no longer make public the number of Guantanamo detainees presently on hunger strike against their unjust detention.
To make matters worse, Obama oversees a murderous drone program that is estimated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to have killed up to 3,613 people in Pakistan alone. In certain instances elsewhere, these drone strikes have amounted to extrajudicial executions of US citizens, such as 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was struck and killed in Yemen despite having no accusations against him.
Speaking about the indiscriminate and racist nature of the US drone program, scholar and activist Cornel West explained on Democracy Now! that “President Obama is a global George Zimmerman because he tries to rationalize the killing of innocent children” in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Needless to say, it’s safe to assume that most of these children wouldn’t have been targeted for Obama-approved murder had they been white, or had they not been Muslims.
As the mainstream media and politicians across the world, many of whom are from the stripe that persecuted Mandela, try to sanitize the late resistance leader’s legacy, Obama’s most appalling display of hypocrisy is demonstrated by his bottomless well of support for Israel’s apartheid and colonization regime.
Mandela, who was a staunch supporter of Palestinian liberation and self-determination, died on December 5. Just days before, thousands of Palestinians across present-day Israel, the besieged Gaza Strip, occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank and protested the Prawer Plan, Israeli legislation that, if fully implemented, would have evicted up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their homes in the Negev region of southern Israel for the crime of not being born Jewish.
Although the Prawer Plan was cancelled, their villages are unrecognized, and these Palestinians, despite their nominal Israeli citizenship, are punished by being denied basic services such as health care, electricity, education, roads and water, among others. Despite several visits to the region to facilitate the ongoing negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry failed to mention the Prawer Plan, even as housing demolitions were taking place in the Negev.
Though Obama and company watched America’s favorite colonial outpost silently carry out its plan, the steadfast resistance of activists across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories resulted in Prawer’s cancellation.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have had to wade through sewage in recent weeks due a severe fuel crisis caused by Israel’s ongoing blockade and siege of the narrow coastal enclave. And in occupied East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, millions of Palestinians live under a brutal stripe of martial law. Their neighbors, state-subsidized Israeli settlers, continue to steal and colonize their land at a breakneck pace.
Israel’s apartheid regime does not colonize and dispossess millions of Palestinians to the silence or indifference of the Obama administration – it does so to the tune of 3 billion US dollars in annual monetary support, paid for by American taxpayers.
Admittedly, nothing is shocking about President Obama or other world leaders attempting to capitalize on Mandela’s passing for their own crude political gains. Yet, when the White House is so obviously a glass house, the leader of the free world would be well-advised not to denounce others for failing to follow in the footsteps of the Madiba.