UK Politics

The Nelson Mandela Test

This morning, on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Ken Livingstone declared that he would support the Government’s proposals to exclude and deport preachers who “provoke” or “glorify” terrorism. [Listen again here]

Ken Livingstone said:

“Whether or not I support it will depend on what I call the “Nelson Mandela” test. If this new law had been in place 20 years ago, would the supporters of Nelson Mandela’s ANC been deported from Britain. If it can pass that test, then I think broadly it can be acceptable.”

He then went on to defend Qaradawi as a man who would pass the “Nelson Mandela Test”.

In fact, it is clear that Qaradawi fails on the criteria set out by Ken Livingstone.

The African National Congress

At its inception, in 1913, the African National Congress was a political organisation. Its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was founded in 1961, the year after the Sharpeville Massacre. Its focus was sabotage, rather than causing injury or death.

During the struggle against Apartheid, civilians were indeed killed in bombings. Certain of those bombs may have been planted by the Pan African Congress. Others may have well been planted by the South African Defense Forces sponsored Civil Cooperation Bureau. The ANC itself clearly did have some, limited, involvement in terrorist acts which resulted in civilian deaths. Two examples in particular should be considered further:

Magoo’s Bar

An Umkhonto we Sizwe cadre, Robert McBride, certainly carried out a bombing of “Why Not Magoo’s Bar” in Durban, which they thought was “frequented by security branch police“. The attack left 3 people dead, 73 wounded. None of the dead were police officers. This is how Thabo Mbeki summarises the ANC’s perspective on the bombing.

The ANC has never said that it specifically ordered the operation against Magoo’s Bar. It has always said that this operation was carried out by cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe acting in the field, on the basis of information available to them, targeting military targets in white areas, consistent with ANC policy.


Supposed black “collaborators” were killed by igniting car tyres which were placed around their bodies. It seems likely that Winnie Mandela’s supporters were involved in these crimes. In 1986, at a rally in Soweto, Winnie Mandela was quoted as saying:

“Together, hand in hand, with our matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country.”

She later claimed that the press had distorted her words and repudiated the statement. By contrast, Archbishop Desmond Tutu led a march on Parliament to protest against Necklacing.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi

Qaradawi, by contrast, is a vocal provoker, inciter, glorifyer and theological justifier of suicide bombings against civilians.

These are his words, as reported by the Palestine Times in September 1999:

The Islamic resistance in Lebanon and Palestine represents the glorious face of the Muslim Umma and serves as an example to that effect. As for the martyrs, I have issued a religious edict blessing the martyrdom operations in which a given Muslim fighter turns himself or herself into a human bomb that casts terror in the hearts of the enemy… If we can’t carry out acts of Jihad ourselves, we at least should support and prop up the Mujahideen financially and morally.

On Palestinian women carrying out suicide bombings he says this:

The martyr operations is the greatest of all sorts of Jihad in the Cause of Allah. A martyr operation is carried out by a person who sacrifices himself, deeming his life less value than striving in the Cause of Allah, in the cause of restoring the land and preserving the dignity. To such a valorous attitude applies the following Qur’anic verse: “And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen.” (Al-Baqarah: 207)

Concerning the point on Hijab, a woman can put on a hat or anything else to cover her hair. Even when necessary, she may take off her Hijab in order to carry out the operation, for she is going to die in the Cause of Allah and not to show off her beauty or uncover her hair. I don’t see any problem in her taking off Hijab in this case.

On 1 December 2001, twelve people, including two suicide bombers, were killed in an attack on a Jerusalem shopping centre. On 2 December 2001, a suicide bomber exploded a bomb up a bus in the northern coastal city of Haifa, killing fifteen people and wounding more than 100 others. Hamas claimed responsibility.

In the aftermath of that attack Sheikh Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi, head of Cairo’s al-Azhar University said:

Islamic Shari’ah law, “rejects all attempts on human life, and in the name of Shari’ah we condemn all attacks on civilians, whatever the community or state responsible for such an attack.”

“We disapprove of all whose who justify attacks against children by reasoning that the children will join the army when they grow up.”

Qaradawi’s response, as reported by his own website, Islam Online was as follows:

“How can the head of Al-Azhar incriminate mujahideen [fighters] who fight against aggressors? How can he consider these aggressors as innocent civilians?”

“Has fighting colonizers become a criminal and terrorist act for some sheikhs?” Qaradawi asked. He added that “Israeli society was completely military in its make-up and did not include any civilians.”

Al-Sharq al-Awsat renders Qaradawi’s words as follows:

“We must realize [sic] that Israeli society is a military society – men and women. We cannot describe this society as civilian. We cannot say that the casualties were innocent civilians. They are not civilians or innocent.”

Ken Livingstone will, of course, continue to repeat his “Nelson Mandela Test” line. Perhaps he that nobody will compare the terse response of the ANC to the Magoo’s Bar bombing to Qaradawi’s glorification of the murdering of civilians. Or possibly he really is a supporter of Necklacing. But more probably, he’s simply using the name of Nelson Mandela as rhetorical cover for his political misjudgement in inviting, embracing, and defending a man who promotes the deliberate targeted murder of civilians.

That is because Ken Livingstone has no shame at all.