Tuesday July 1, President Bush signed into law H.R. 5690, which "authorizes the Departments of State and Homeland Security to determine that provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act that render aliens inadmissible due to terrorist or criminal activities would not apply with respect to activities undertaken in association with the African National Congress in opposition to apartheid rule in South Africa." In doing so, Bush removes Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize from the United States terror watch list.
Does this mean that Mandela and the ANC didn't engage in acts of violence in their fight against apartheid -- of course not. The U.S. government has finally decided to bow to public opinion that view these acts of violence as the acts of "freedom fighters." It doesn't hurt that the ANC is now the ruling party in a country in which many U.S. citizens and businesses have significant economic interests.
Many of us, myself included, never considered Mandela and the ANC terrorists, but our government did. Just as there are some Americans today who do not consider Hamas to be terrorists, but view them also as freedom fighters. The point here is that the label of "terrorist" is not based on some objective measure of the level of violence employed, or the number of deaths and injuries incurred. It is a political label based on prevailing attitudes and sentiments, and it can change when the circumstances and attitudes change.
As sociologists point out over and over again, political, economic and social reality is socially constructed. It is constructed through the process of attaching meaning to things. We humans construct those meanings, and determine how things, people, and events will be defined; because our world is socially constructed, it can be reconstructed and redefined. Power and powerlessness often determine whose sets of meanings will get the backing of governments and military might. When the lines of power shift, things are often redefined to reflect those changes in power.