There is saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But who determines who is a freedom fighter, and who is a terrorist?
Today, Nelson Mandela is feted by Western powers as an iconic statesman and a man of peace. Ironically, until July 2008, Mandela and ANC party members were barred from entering the United States, except the United Nations headquarters in New York, without a special waiver from the US Secretary of state. This is because they were considered terrorists.
The struggle to free their people from brutal oppression by the South African apartheid regime earned them the terrorist label. The West did little to help those murdered, tortured and traumatised by the oppressive apartheid regime, but described those who sought to liberate them as terrorists.
Menachem Begin led the bombing of the King David Hotel in British controlled Jerusalem in June 1946, whilst fighting for the creation of the state of Israel. More than ninety people were killed, mostly British officials. Eventually, the Zionists achieved their objectives and sixty years later, on 11 May 1949, Israel took its seat as a member of the United Nations.
The inhabitants of the land at the time were forced to leave their homes and many of them and their offspring are currently in over-crowded refugee camps. In 1978, Menachem Begin who became Prime Minister of Israel, received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Hamas fighters who are struggling to regain control of their ancestral land, where they lived prior to 1949, are referred to as terrorists. As far as they are concerned, their land has been occupied by Israel.
Today, there is a blockade on Gaza, and Israel controls most of what goes in and out of Gaza. Many Palestinians live in over-crowded conditions, reminiscent of the Warsaw ghetto established by the Nazis in the early 1940s. Persons suspected to be Hamas operatives are assassinated and the world is silent, because they have been described as terrorists. If non-Hamas personnel are killed, they are seen as collateral damage.
During the second world war, France’s Vichy government under Pétain’s leadership had an agreement with Nazi Germany, and allowed Germany to occupy France. The Free French or French resistance would not sit idly by and allow their country to be occupied.
They resisted Germany’s occupation. They resorted to an armed struggle and a campaign of sabotage in order to liberate occupied France. Germany responded with disproportionate brutality, and for every German killed a number of innocent French civilians were executed.
During Tony Blair’s visit to Syria in 2001, the country’s then newly installed President Bashar al-Assad was reported to have told Blair that those seeking the liberation of Palestine could not be classed as terrorists, and compared them to the French resistance.
Prior to 1959, Cuba under the Batista regime, was seen as a gambling and vice resort. Whilst the elite lived well, the vast majority of the population lived in poverty. Fidel Castro, who was from a privileged background, thought the stark contrast between his affluent lifestyle and the dire poverty around him was unacceptable.
With Che Guevara and others, he eventually overthrew Batista’s regime. Today, despite the challenges, and the US embargo and funding of anti-Castro insurgent groups, Cuba has free education and one of the highest literacy rates. Regarding health, all the key indicators from infant mortality to life expectancy are among the best in the Americas.
Its doctor to patient ratio is one of the highest in the world. Health care has now become a major export. Cuba sends hundreds of doctors and health workers to disadvantaged parts of Latin America and Africa. Castro was however described as a dictator.
Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary who was dissatisfied with his country, then called the Gold Coast by the British, being ruled by a colonial power. He was of the view that self-government with danger was preferable to servitude in tranquility. His struggle for independence led to his being imprisoned by the British. Eventually in 1957, he became the country’s first leader and changed the colonial name of his country to Ghana.
Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence, and set an example for other countries. This came about because people were prepared to fight the unjust status quo.
So I ask again, who determines who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist?
Ms Serwah is a NewAfricanPerspective blogger