Nelson Mandela is amazing. In a celebration he held recently for the 20th anniversary of his release, Nelson Mandela invited his ex-jail guard, who closed the door on Mandela and shackled him for 27 years.
Mandela’s tolerance is a kind of soft power that has the strength of nuclear power with which he demolished his enemies and opponents, and forced the western world to respect him despite that it was in its economic interest at the time to consolidate ties with the apartheid regime in South Africa. The gradual disclosure of “the magnitude of crimes” committed in South Africa in the past decades was evident in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. For instance, it reported on experiments carried out in chemical and biological laboratories that aimed at annihilating the black race, using poisons extensively in food and medicines, and utilizing materials that would reduce pregnancy and fertility among the blacks, and even considered the use of nuclear bombs to exterminate them.
However, these frightening facts did not change the principles Mandela adopted during his peaceful struggle and even after South Africa was free from the noose of the white apartheid regime. As Nabil Shabeeb indicated in his article on Islam Online, Mandela won the bet, as South Africa did not experience the bloodshed the “whites” threatened it would to frighten the West. South Africa also did not witness collective revenge for the hundreds of thousands of victims of the apartheid regime. Mandela proved that the “tolerance” that he has called for since the beginning was not just a temporary slogan but rather an approach that he adopted, and through his public leadership he managed to curb the desire for revenge despite that the reasons for such revenge could be understood.
The great values of tolerance and forgiveness shown by history’s most noble figures are also great Islamic values. Unfortunately such values have been shelved and we only hear them mentioned in examples of the way the Prophet (PBUH) used to deal with the Jews and the Christians, or in discussions about the famous Covenant of Umar, which consolidated most human rights principles or about the way Salahaddin treated his Crusader enemies, or in other examples that can be drawn from our glorious religion and heritage. However, once a [political] storm rages in the Arab world and these values are required, we suddenly find ourselves engulfed in the spirit of revenge, anger and cruelty and referring to arbitrary texts whilst forgetting about hundreds of Islamic texts and examples that consider tolerance and forgiveness basics in how to treat one another.
The problem is that us Arabs like to criticize racist trends that have begun to appear in the West, such as the extremist right wing. We explicitly condemn racist calls for tightening the grip on Muslim minorities and we have the right to do so and we disapprove of anti-Islamic and anti-Arab slogans and we cannot be blamed for that. But at the same time however, we contradict ourselves in the way we behave. For Arabs, a courageous person is someone who is characterized by his confrontational tone of voice or calls for violence, oppression and cruelty in dealing with others and tightens the grip on them; whereas we only praise tolerance when it is being shown by others. For us, tolerance is deemed negative and as passive behaviour if shown towards others. Yet if we examined tolerance more carefully then we would find that it is the most effective weapon to use against our religious, political and ideological opponents just like Mandela who crushed the most tyrannical racist regime in history with tolerance.