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Scott Blakeman

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The Handshake Would Have Made Mandela Smile

Posted: 12/11/2013 1:14 pm

Instead of recalling the stirring tributes, impassioned voices and celebratory music and dancing at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in Soweto, many Americans and media outlets around the world are talking about two viral social media moments from the event.

The handshake and the selfie.

To quickly dispense with the second moment first, the selfie of President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt was an appropriately light hearted moment in a service that was serious but far from solemn, with wonderfully rhythmic dancing and flag waving throughout, and a decidedly festive air in keeping with the South African culture of mourning.

When I awoke this morning after the service had ended, I was greeted with a Facebook post from a conservative friend that read: "Disgusting Obama sycophants defending enthusiastic handshake with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro." Knowing that I was happily in the group he was attacking, I commented, "I just added "Disgusting Obama Sycophant" to my Linkedin profile. I hope to use it as a credit if I ever get on Fox News again."

What exactly did people like Florida Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who called the handshake "nauseating" expect Obama to do as he passed Castro on the receiving line? Walk past him and look away? Wrestle him to the ground? Or maybe point his finger in his chest the way Arizona Governor Jan Brewer once did to President Obama?

The handshake comments are as ludicrous and insane as the U.S. embargo of Cuba that has lasted for 53 years and makes it illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba on their own and to spend money there. Despite the fact that there are several other undemocratic countries with far worse human rights records that we actively do business with and share robust diplomatic relations.

The Cuba embargo must end immediately, and the U.S. should establish full diplomatic relations with Cuba.

If any handshake critics had bothered to actually listen to President Obama's speech, they would have heard why the handshake was not only appropriate but it was something that Mandela himself would smile upon. Obama said, " It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth." And the president went even further, "There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people."

Unfortunately, many Democrats and most Republicans do not share Obama's enlightened view that diplomacy is the only way to achieve peace and a better world. Even as months of negotiations have produced an historic breakthrough that gives hope for a resolution of the Iranian nuclear situation, Congress is poised to approve even more draconian sanctions which could negate all of the hard earned progress.

Perhaps Mandela's most lasting message, from a man imprisoned unjustly for 27 years, was his decision to choose reconciliation over revenge and forgiveness over bitterness. The unrepentant haters in our country and around the world who are too stubborn and narrow minded to extend their hand to current adversaries, should heed the words and common sense of Mandela.

And finally, those in our own country who put their venomous personal hatred of president Obama on display with regularity and vulgarity, should pay particular attention to my favorite Mandela quote:

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

 

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