Jim Drougas and I exchanged chat messages tonight. He said that “The Onion” had said that never in the history of the world had mourning for a politician affected so many people in so many parts of the world (If I understood him correctly). I said that I thought that John F. Kennedy’s mourning, 50 years ago, had been pretty substantial. I hope that Jim understood that I didn’t mean that I thought that JFK and Mandela were exactly the same sort of person, only that Kennedy was mourned and missed and sorrowed for in a way that spread over the world and affected everyone then living. It was a great shock to all to have an American president assassinated.
I think JFK would have been a very interesting president, and probably a great one, had he been fortunate enough to live as long as Mr. Mandela. But I was not saying that the 2 men had achieved the same thing or that they were equal in their ability to understand the human condition or to affect those around them.
Nelson Mandela’s was the more remarkable achievement, in that after going into a terrible, hardworking, Alcatatraz-like jail for 27 years, he emerged in a beautiful dignity, and clothed in the wish for nonviolence and a wish for peace and reconciliation for S. Africa. Who has done anything like him in terms of saying “Throw your knives and guns into the ocean” when he saw that young Blacks were rising up in fury and violence that he himself would perhaps have espoused if he had been the man he was when going into prison so many years before? I heard one person on National Pub. Radio saying that Mandela had made a sensible and thoughtful decision, on coming out of jail, to embrace nonviolence, in a world that had changed immensely since he had gone in. I think that he himself had also seen enough suffering, enough pain and enough death and had come to decide that, as in Southern North America in the Civil Rights years, nonviolence was the only way to finally end the struggle, win over the minority of whites who still held so much power. But then, when he had won, when he was in place, when he became President of S. Africa, he very sanely and sensibly gave all the South Africans, Black and White, a way out. He asked them to confess and to forgive one another. When in the history of the world has this been done before? No one has done it. If MLK (Dr.King) had lived, if it had been possible in those racist days here in the US, for him to become President (he could not have), possibly he would have thought of such an act– a further development of Gandhi’s Satyagraha. But it was for Mandela and his government to create a way to make peace in their nation. It is difficult to imagine America being able to do such a thing– to confess crimes in exchange for being forgiven. Here, no doubt, someone would blow the head off of anyone who confessed to having raped a daughter, killed a father, tortured a brother.
But in any case, it worked in South Africa. It is not perfect there and they still have many problems, I am sure — but who doesn’t?
I will very profoundly miss the greatness of having a Bodhisattva like Mandela in the world. We have been lucky in my (The Baby Boomer) generation. We have had many wonderful scientific advances and we have lived among true Buddhas, many of whom, as my father, Irving, used to say, did not even realize they were Buddhas.
Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his many helpers; Rosa Parks, Robert Kennedy (if he had lived, I hope he would have kept his promise to get out of Vietnam); John Kennedy if he had lived and developed to be all he could be; Gandhi died only a few years before I was born; The Dalai Lama… and many women who are just now beginning to be known in their own struggle for women’s rights and safety all over the world; their work for women and girls to be able to go to school, and their right to dress as they wish, drive a car,and NOT have their genitals ripped out without anesthesia (or at all). I am against all circumcision unless an adult chooses it for themselves, but “female circumcision” as practiced in many Muslim societies, even here and in CAnada, is one of the most horrific and brutal tortures ever invented. And the only crime those who receive this terrible punishment have committed is to be born female, and to have sexual desire…
I have defended (on Twitter, notably) Muslims and their right to live peaceably without being harassed for what extremists in their society have done. Female genital mutilation has nothing to do with Muslim belief or with the teachings of the Koran, I understand. And so it is not that I am changing my mind about the right of those who believe in Allah to live as they believe, but all people, women, have the right to live with their bodies whole and unharmed and their psyches unravaged by having their own mothers, aunts or grandmothers arrange to have them cut in horrific ways meant to make them “pure.” I beg women in these societies to use their influence, if any, with the men who command the situation to forego having their daughters mutilated, and please, send them to school (if they wish to go), so they can become a part of the world on their own terms one day.
This has nothing to do with poetry and fiction, and other kinds of artistic expression, but perhaps one may consider it a kind of essay. Here it is at QH’s “arts” page, anyway.
Thanks for reading.