When Saints Stumble - An open letter to Nelson Mandela
Mailed Friday, January 04, 2002
Received by Ambassador Hume, January 14. Forwarded to office of Nelson Mandela January 14, 2002
President Nelson Mandela
Dear President Mandela
In your statements of Wednesday January 02, 2002 you state, "The labeling of Osama bin Laden as the terrorist responsible for those acts before he had been tried and convicted could also be seen as undermining some of the basic tenets of the rule of law." President Mandela, the United States has been attacked several times by Osama Bin Laden and his men: The bombing of the Dharan military barracks in 1996. The embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998. The USS Cole in October 2000. These are acts of war, not simply criminal acts. Bin Laden has stated clearly in a fatwa, which most Muslim scholars believe to be an heretical act, that Muslims must "kill Americans and Jews wherever they may be." This is exactly what Bin Laden's followers did on September 11, 2001. The above acts have been termed "military operations" by Bin Laden. He has referred to the places where he has trained his men as "military bases". He tirelessly calls on the Muslim world to rise up in Jihad, creating a war against all non-believers or those who believe and have become corrupted. As such, doesn't my people have the right to defend itself?
Here are the very words of the man who is directly responsible for the
deaths of 3,200 people on a bright Tuesday morning in my country:
In an earlier tape, released by the US Administration and translated by four independent Arabic translators, Bin Laden says he turned on his radio in advance to listen to coverage of the attacks and that he underestimated the damage that would be inflicted on the World Trade Center. "I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for " This tape is so damning of Bin Laden and his followers that it has been called a fabrication by many in the Muslim world. However why should it be so surprising to hear a man laughing about and praising the deaths of 3,000 people when he has called upon all Muslims to follow his lead and kill? The video is within the bounds of Bin Laden's public statements and character. It is not as if you were on videotape calling for the murder of the Afrikaaners in your country. Such a statement would not be in your public character and would immediately be suspect as a forgery.
President Mandela, Bin Laden and his followers are clever men. They know how to use their enemy's own resources against him in the way Sun Tzu teaches in his Art of War. Isn't it possible that they are using your conscience as their cover to spread more destruction, kill more innocents? They know that a direct claim of responsibility would weaken their cause, and have avoided taking responsibility for all of their attacks. In fact, unlike organizations like the Real IRA, ETA, Hezballah and other terrorist groups, Bin Laden's trademark is to never take responsibility for the resulting mayhem. However in the Al-Jazeera videotape aired 12/27/01, Bin Laden did accept responsibility for an attack on Aug. 7, 1998, when truck bombs were detonated outside the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injuring more than 5,000. In the videotape he says: "In Nairobi, when the boys - may God take them as martyrs - used a 2,000-kilo (4,400-pound) bomb, the U.S. said this was terrorism, that this was a weapon of mass destruction "
You are called the conscience of Africa. Why won't you speak in defense of the families of those killed by the blasts in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam if you cannot do so for those who died in America? The Tanzanians once sheltered you and your movement, and were instrumental in your drive towards freeing your nation from the yoke of oppression. The Kenyans play only a minor role in American foreign affairs, yet suffered tremendously at the hands of one who values no life - whether it be Muslim, Jew or Christian - American, Tanzanian or Iraqi. Yet you fear that stopping this man "undermines the rule of law"?
According to the AP wire story, you "emphasized that (your) opposition to terrorism remains unflinching and that those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on America must be "apprehended and brought to trial without inflicting suffering on innocent people."" While the performance of American forces have been exemplary, minimizing civilian casualties in a way never before attempted in a war, what happens if Bin Laden cannot be brought to trial without hurting innocents? Should we leave him alone? What if he sets up his command center in a mosque or a day-care center? Should we simply avoid any action which could possibly hurt anyone but him? Then what do we tell the families of those killed in his future actions? How do we tell them that we sacrificed their loved ones because we allowed Bin Laden to use our conscience as cover for his actions?
While you consider the opinions of your family, friends, and advisers, ask yourself: What has Bin Laden or the Taliban done for the average Muslim? Prior to the destruction of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan was a land of starvation, its masses destitute and hungry all the while money was spent on arming and training soldiers to wage war against their fellow man. Laboratories were built for the express purpose or building biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction - an overused euphemism meaning the painful deaths of hundreds, thousands and millions of men, women and children. Yet you worry about appearing "insensitive to and uncaring about the suffering inflicted upon the Afghan people and country" by condemning Bin Laden and the Taliban in strong terms.
In 1993 the USA sent soldiers to protect aid convoys which were being ransacked, the aid workers, beaten, tortured and raped and to reinforce Pakistani peacekeepers who were under attack by the local militias. We came to the aid of starving Somalis for no strategic military reason other than we Americans cannot sit in our cozy homes and watch innocent people suffer. How was our kindness repaid? Our soldiers were ambushed and their bodies dragged through the streets. The experience so shocked us that a year later, when another civil war occurred in Africa, we refused to get involved. A million Rwandan Tutsis were slaughtered as a result. Bin Laden and his men were actively involved in the actions against the United Nations and America in Somalia, and should also shoulder some of the world's responsibility for the failure to save Rwanda.
Today in Afghanistan children, both boys and girls, are returning to school. Fears of famine have been averted as aid pours in, much of it being directed by American Special Forces Units. In December 115,803 tons of food arrived in Afghanistan, most of it from the United States. It was the largest amount of food delivered to any country in the last 40 years according to another AP Story; "Food Aid to Afghanistan Doubles" posted Wednesday January 2, 2002.
How much of this food has come from the Muslims of South Africa who criticized your statements supporting America's cause? How much of their money are they pledging to build schools and hospitals in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities?
I would hope that someone with your stature could be thousands of miles away yet still understand what it is like living in the shadow of these attacks. In America we are expecting another attack at any time. Judging by the most recent attempt, a man attempting to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001, our fears are not overblown. Yet at the same time we prepare for the inevitable, we remain resolved. We will not allow the Afghan people to suffer anymore, and we will continue helping them while at the same time we vanquish our foes.
Please reconsider your decision to go against your original judgement, especially since the war is now over for the average Afghan, and she or he has a much brighter future because of it. For America, the war has only begun, and it is important to have your support for our efforts to rid this world of the man who recently said, "We embrace death. The Americans - life. That is the difference between us." Being Americans, we will continue our fight with or without your support since we know in a way we have never known before as a people that our cause is right, our methods, just.
I wish you and your family a happy and prosperous New Year.