- (Phtoto: Reuters/Chris Keane)
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said he is surprised at the "hostility and vehemence" that some conservatives have in reaction to a statement he made honoring the late Nelson Mandela.
"Yesterday I issued a heartfelt and personal statement about the passing of President Nelson Mandela. I said that his family and his country would be in my prayers and Callista's prayers," Gingrich wrote on Friday.
"I was surprised by the hostility and vehemence of some of the people who reacted to me saying a kind word about a unique historic figure. So let me say to those conservatives who don't want to honor Nelson Mandela, what would you have done?" he asked.
Former South African President Mandela passed away at the age of 95 on Thursday, with the majority of the world's political and church leaders sending their condolences and respects to his family.
President Barack Obama said that the world has lost "one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth," following Mandela's death, and talked a bit about the 27 years he spent as a political prisoner before becoming South Africa's first black president.
"Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us," Obama said. "His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better."
Several conservative leaders have also honored Mandela's life, with current House speaker Rep. John Boehner saying that "Mandela led his countrymen through times of epic change with a quiet moral authority that directed his own path from prisoner to president."
"Nelson Mandela will live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe," added Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who will reportedly be joining a congressional delegation that will pay their respects at a Mandela memorial service this week alongside Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
However, a number of people have criticized Cruz for honoring Mandela, suggesting that the late president was a "terrorist" and that he supported communism.
"He was a communist and terrorist jailed for it a bomber of government targets and killed who knows how many jailed for 27 years then emerged some kind of Fidel Castro hero type elected to president of South Africa. Don't spread your lies," wrote one Facebook user in response to Cruz's post, which has generated over 1,400 comments so far.
While Gingrich did not point out specific examples of criticism that he received, he directly asked people who disagree with honoring Mandela what they would have done when facing a "crushing government" which "eliminated all rights for blacks and gave them no hope for the future."
"What would you do here in America if you had that kind of oppression?" the former speaker asked, and elaborated on some of the means Mandela had to resort to in order to fight back against the government. He added, however, that the American Founding Fathers also stood up against British tyranny, and that George Washington spent eight years in the field fighting the British Army.
"I would ask of his critics: where were some of these conservatives as allies against tyranny? Where were the masses of conservatives opposing Apartheid? In a desperate struggle against an overpowering government, you accept the allies you have just as Washington was grateful for a French monarchy helping him defeat the British," Gingrich continued.
He added that despite spending 27 years in prison, 18 of which in a cell eight foot by seven foot, Mandela emerged "an astonishingly wise, patient, and compassionate person."
The late South African president's state funeral is set for Dec. 15.