Category Archives: History

“This Ain’t Nothin New” Official Music Video

This song has been to date the longest project I have ever worked on. It is simultaneously one of the musical accomplishments I am most pleased with. Not only does it sound good sonically, but the message is also precisely what I want it to be. As a writer and an artist I often find myself wanting to change things when I return to a project. Like oh, that is the wrong snare, that hi-hat is just a little too high, or that line could be rapped better. However, with “This Ain’t Nothin New” none of that is occurring. Part of my deep sense of accomplishment is the feeling that my project is finally complete.

You will find “This Ain’t Nothin New” on all major streaming platforms.

Verse one of this song is about how the history of oppression has been washed away and made trivial. It calls into question the sources of our information and reassert the importance of our internal understanding of the oppression we feel.

Verse two digs into the contradictions between the supposed oppression overcome and the current counterpart. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” was a major influence to the formation my analysis. Jim Crow being another name for #segregation Alexander cleverly argues that serrations is very much still alive and thriving, it is merely couched under a new name with different conditions. This verse piggy backs on that understanding and expands the conversation to more than prisons. The right to abortion and bodily control seems always under threat and Arizona just repealed the Roe v Wade legislation in the State. The real argument of this verse is that not as much had changed as people often want to believe. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Verse three is about the continued reactionary response to social justice and Liberation movement across generations. It’s also about how the hate groups of the past, namely the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils have their modern counterparts; i.e. the Tea Party and Proud Boys, etc… not to mention the fact that there are still kkk and Nazis out here. Fascism has not died. In fact, it seems like there is a resurgence of it on every continent. These are scary times, for certain. The nasty part about having our history rewritten to make invisible the truth of the past and to hide the factors of our present, is that they can use that foundation to manipulate our acquiescence and thus our consent to be oppressed. Thus, #KnowledgeIsPower in this sense because we will not accept anything other than reality and from that point is the point at which our struggle for Liberation begins to thrive.

Reforming a System is One Thing, Reforming People is Another: Viceroy Toledo & Peru

Francisco de Toledo

In analyzing whether the Toledo Reforms were successful it must first be acknowledged that these reforms occurred within the context the Spanish Empire that had conquered many peoples and that within Spanish colonial rule many mistakes had to be rectified. My intent here is not to argue the ethical axiology of the colonization project itself, but rather, whether the response to faults and mismanagement of the colony by the Spanish Empire were answered by the reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in Peru during the 16th Century. To be certain, when a technologically advanced group conquers another group by force, usurping its customs, politics, economics, and its entire social structure a great harm is done to the people. This becomes all the more apparent as evidence of rape, murder, the spread of disease, and the enslavement of indigenous peoples comes to bear on our understanding of the situation. Therefore, when I argue that the Toledo Reforms were successful, in no way do I imply that they were free of harm, nor do I argue that they mitigated the harm being done in any way. I only argue that the Toledo Reforms sought to rectify mistakes that the Spanish Empire believed itself to be making. The reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in the 16th Century Spanish Colony of Peru, both succeeded and failed because while the reforms did not achieve a strict and to the letter materialization of Toledo’s vision, the reforms nonetheless, did achieve an administrative structure that was used for nearly two hundred years during which time there was relative peace and prosperity in the colony, that was for a time accepted by the Andeans.

Immediately after don Francisco de Toledo arrived in Lima, Peru in 1569 he went on a five year trek through the Andes conducting what became known as the General Inspection, implementing a census, surveying the topography and designing a system of laws and procedures that he hoped would harmonize the interaction between the Andeans and Spain. The organization that the Spanish had initially imposed upon the indigenous populations proved not to maximize the population’s productive capacity. The culture, geography, and the needs of the people fostered different constraints than the Spanish were accustomed. As a result, the Spanish could not reap the same volume of resources from the Andes that they initially found there, in part because the Spanish stole a surplus that had accumulated over generations and in part because the Andeans were dying at unprecedented rates.

One of the resources that the Spanish were the most interested in was the silver that had to be mined in places such as, Potosi and Huancavelica, but for the Spanish gaining access to this resource required a cheap or free labor force; namely, the Andeans. However, if the Andeans were not alive, or they could not be accounted for, then they could not be forced to work in the mines in the interest of Spain.

The Junta Magna, which formed just prior to Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru in response to the management or lack thereof in the colony, suggested that there “can be no information about affairs in the Indies,”[1] because Spain lacked the necessary infrastructure to provide the required information to control outcomes in the colony. The General Inspection was a direct response to the complications that Spain was having managing its colony and was a component of a much larger project of resettlement of Andeans that was in part justified by providing “at all times the necessary number [of workers] in the mines” via Viceroy Toledo to the King of Spain, Phillip II.[2]

The “Reduccion General de Indios–the General Resettlement of the Indians”[3] was both the purpose of the General Inspection and the result of it. The logic behind it was bring order to the colonial system by increasing the accuracy of population data, centrally locating the Andeans for greater control and Christianization, and making the colony safer for the Spanish. However, the fact that the Spanish wanted to organize Peru to fit Spanish standards and structures, does not mean that the Andeans lacked a complex social structure prior to the arrival of the conquistadors in 1532.

Pre-conquest Andeans lived and organized themselves very differently than the Spanish and much of this organization was owed to the Inca, who formed the Tawantinsuyu Empire (1438-1533), and much of it predated the Inca. The empire was not unlike the Spanish Empire in that a particular group of Andeans who were centrally located in Cuzco controlled most of the Western seaboard of South America and the lives of all the peoples therein. The major cities such as Cuzco were laid out in a grid-like fashion around a plaza that had both running water and sewage systems, much like cities in the Mediterranean.[4] Outside of the cities and the vast majority of the Andes were organized into what has been termed an Archipelago, which were “settlement enclaves at different elevations” that “pooled the products of diverse ecological zones,” so that Andean communities could maximize their access to necessary resources.[5] It was the Incas who implemented the kuraka, (known as a cacique to the Spanish) and was local leader who organized the labor and taxation for a given region. Because of the size of the empire and its ecological variation resulting from elevations that stretched over hundreds of miles of mountains, the king needed a hereditary class of elites to manage localities that he could trust.

The Inca also implemented what was known to them as the mita, which Mumford states “translates roughly to ‘turn-taking,’” was an annual compulsory labor to be fulfilled in rotation by all adult males. The mita was used to build roads (the empire had a system of roads that stretched over 3,000 miles), temples, palaces, for state farming and more. However, this sophisticated society had not developed a system of writing (yet), so they managed this complex network of taxation, redistribution, and labor with a system of data tracking called “khipu” that utilized the tying of knots on rope for accounting purposes. One very important feature of the mita system was a ritual hospitality that occurred in what they called a tamp’u, which were Inca state complexes that were situated throughout the Andes and functioned “to reward workers and their caciques” on the plaza with gifts.[6]  The Tawantinsuyu Empire was highly structured and organized, both within and in between the major cities, and the civilization had a social structure that produced an incredible surplus that the Spanish both envied and respected.

The Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the Inca disrupted the Andean societal structure and also caused many of the problems within the Spanish colony that Viceroy Toledo sought to rectify.

Many of the conquistadors that risked the journey across the great Atlantic Ocean and exploration in the ‘New World’ did so because they were fortune seekers attempting to garner upward social mobility within the Spanish society. Their reward for valor and success in battle was a claim to land, encomiendas, in the Americas within the regions they had conquered and the right to collect tribute from the people therein; they became ‘lords’ called encomenderos. The conquistadors brought with them diseases that the indigenous lacked the antibodies to defend against and they tore through the “New World’ with a fury, leaving in their wake a decimated population. In addition to the diseases, the encomenderos were able to act with impunity shortly after the conquest killing, raping, and enslaving whomever they chose.

This however, posed an increasingly problematic situation as the definition of conquest and justification for involvement in the lives of indigenous people evolved. Queen Isabella was a very pious person and believed that the ‘Indians’ had the potential for conversion to Catholicism from their so-called ‘paganism’. The situation was further complicated because it was believed, although not always adhered to, that Christians should not be enslaved. “We listen but do not obey,” an adage from the Spanish colonies that seems to have fit the actions of the conquistadors very well. The autonomous behavior of the conquistadors undermined the authority of the Spanish royalty, was in the process of destroying the social structure of the Andean people, and caused many revolts to emerge. These are many of the reasons that caused the determination of the Junta Magna and for Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru to conduct the resettlement.

Viceroy Toledo sought to establish order in the Peru to streamline the acquisition of wealth by curtailing the power of the encomenderos, creating a clear chain of command, and situating the indigenous population for efficient applications of forced labor. However, the actual outcome was not as clear and straightforward as Viceroy Toledo’s model proposed, and although some reducciones (the newly founded cities) were homogeneous, Peru as a whole was a motley patchwork of social and political structures. One of the parameters that Viceroy Toledo set to establish was that the reducciones were to be self-governing, but Chérrepe actually became “the cabecera or head town” of Guadalupe.[7] Both reducciones were part of one repartimiento and were further segregated by occupations; farmers in Guadalupe and fishermen in Chérrepe, making each reduccion homogeneous.[8] The Condes repatimiento, on the other hand, had a very complex and mixed population; not homogeneous at all.[9]

Mumford argues that the inspectors who established the reducciones within the repartimientos had such variation because thy both acknowledged and accepted the geographical constraints that led to develop the Archipelago social structure in the first place. Thus, what resulted for the most part, was a Spanish system of control that was placed right on top of an existing social structure; both the Kuraka (cacique) and the mita remained as functioning institutions. Mumford suggests that the Spanish were contending with two competing goals when considering how to manage their Andean colony: “cultural survival and cultural change” and that it should be “partly preserved and partly remade,”[10] and in that, Viceroy Toledo was successful in his objective.

A report survives from forty years after the General Resettlement that was written by an Andean born man named don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, who details the corruption that still existed within the Spanish colonial system in Peru. Guaman Poma reveals that while he agreed with the premise of resettlement, that he disagreed with how the locations the reducciones were selected because they tended to relegate the Andeans to “places with damp and unhealthy soil, stench and pestilence,” while the Spanish selected choice and profitable locations. This had multiple effects; it made it difficult for the indigenous to sustain themselves and pay tributes, made many of them unhealthy, and removed them from lands that were connected to their families like children. Guaman Poma also severely critiqued the priests who were supposed to be responsible for setting the ‘Christian example’ to the indigenous population, promoting Catholicism and educating the people. In stark contrast to this proposed objective he mentions that the priests, “gambled and dueled, extorted gifts from the parishioners, and even falsified Andeans’ wills to get their property.” He also notes that the priests were sexually abusive to women and girls, making some their sex slaves and participating in a form of nepotism with the women’s fathers so as to avoid or deter being reported. He also reports that the priests omitted educating the Andeans because they feared that educated Andeans would assert their rights and report their un-Christian-like and misconduct. Guaman Poma then implicates both the caciques and the cabildos in the corruption and suggests that they followed the examples set by the priests. The most pressing problem that Guaman Poma mentions pertained to the Andeans leaving the reducciones and after the reports of corruption and abuse, it is very plausible that they were seeking more equitable arrangements elsewhere. What is clear is that both the presence of the Spanish and the Toledo reforms had dramatic social impacts on the Andean society, even if they did rectify some of the problems that Toledo and the Junta Magna sought to fix.[11]

In terms of the relative peace experienced in Peru between 1569-1780 by both the Spanish and the Andeans, the Toledo reforms were successful. This is particularly evident when compared to the Tupac Amaru Rebellion (1780-1781), which emerged as a response to the Bourbon Reforms of the 18th Century that restructured the Spanish administration of Peru to correct what the new royalty perceived as mismanagement of the colony. The Bourbon Reforms were criticized by the Andeans for violating the social contract that was established by the Toledo Reforms and which the Andeans had agreed to by imposing harsher “mitas” or forced labor, more stringent taxation, limited autonomy and recourse in the courts for harms done. The new burdens upon Andeans and the subsequent lack of legal retribution that came with them, led to an explosion of violence that lasted for several years and ultimately to over 100,000 deaths, the collapse of the economy and further restructuring of the colonial administration.

By 1826, Peru had won its independence from Spanish colonial rule and thus, brought an end to the oppressive reforms of the 18th Century. By strict comparison, the Bourbon Reforms failed, whereas the Toledo Reforms were successful, at least in terms of Spanish colonial rule in Peru.

[1] Jeremy Ravi Mumford. Vertical Empire: The General Resettlement of the Indians in the Colonial Andes. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 77

[2] Mumford, 82.

[3] Mumford, 1.

[4] Mumford, 14-16

[5] Mumford, 4.

[6] Mumford, 25.

[7] Mumford, 126

[8] Mumford, 127

[9] Mumford, 129

[10] Mumford, 4

[11] Mumford, 143-156.

Apathy and Responsibility: The American Response to the Holocaust

There were millions of people dying unjustly at the hands of the Nazi regime in the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s and the American population and government, for all intents and purposes, were permitting this atrocity, or at least allowing it to happen. The pseudo history that is presented in the United States today about Americans being the “heroes” of World War II is only part of the story. What is usually not entailed in these Hollywood retellings is how many Americans denied the truth and urgency of what later became known as the Holocaust, which in its general form means total destruction. Furthermore, the utter lack of acknowledging that there were pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations active on American soil during the 1930s that were engaging in propaganda campaigns, protest, and violence is slanted to paint the U.S. as more responsive, at best. History tells a different story. The moral burden of the people in the 30s and 40s was paramount because the unprecedented liquidation of an entire ethnic group was occurring and responsibility was both unclaimed and undetermined. There were arguments on all sides, but while the American government officials were engaging in arguments about what to do, if anything, the Jewish population was being exterminated in Europe. On the one hand, people were screaming for justice and for help, screaming for anything other than America’s complicity in Hitler’s plight. On the other hand, there were the skeptics, non-believers, and or non-confrontationists who indicted the screamers as being war mongers, as liars, as being unprepared for the true tasks ahead, and “quietly and gently” calling for America and the people to wait.[i]  And at the heart of the argument was the question of responsibility, because it is on that conception that acceptance or denial to act hinged.

It is perhaps not difficult to understand and conceive that many people in the 30s and 40s felt a sense of urgency to help and alleviate the suffering of the millions of Jewish people, Jewish-sympathizers and dissenters from Nazi rule in Europe. It is probably more difficult to conceive of people lacking a sense of urgency, who either, believed the reports coming out of Europe were fabrications, or were devoid of any sense of responsibility to their fellow humans. Fred Eastman was of the latter sort and in 1944 having sufficient knowledge of the situation in Nazi occupied Europe, he wrote a cold and calculated critique of the people with a sense of urgency, titled, “A Reply to Screamers.”[ii]

The document written by Eastman is a response to an author named Arthur Koestler, who was a novelist that wove into his narratives some of the tragic tales he had experienced in Europe. Eastman admitted in his response that the “reports of the mass murders of Jews and countless others are too well authenticated to be denied,” but yet lacks any motivation to join the screamers because he believes it is after the war that that real effort will begin; “the long-term task of building peace.”[iii] He thinks the screamers are responding emotively in eruptions or fits, but does not provide any reason not to have an emotional response to what he termed “no blacker crime,” and that is why he comes across as cold. For example, Eastman draws upon the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a story that is supposed to express one’s duty to help those in need, and he could have chosen any example or explanation to follow it, but he chooses to quote a girl so young she cannot form the ‘th’ sound and whom has, as he calls it, an “emotional regurgitation,” instead of the correct moral response, which would have been a desire to help.[iv] The implicit analogy Eastman is making with this young girl is that the screamers are uneducated and immature children who do not understand morality or duty to others, and are in need of guidance. It is this unfeeling and unsympathetic, matter-of-fact, disregard for human connection and the bonds that actually motivate duty to others, that makes Eastman’s response to Koestler so cold. In addition, Eastman believed himself to be a typical representative of the American population who was in opposition of the war and the efforts to help the Jewish people in Europe.[v]

In stark contrast to Eastman, Freda Kirchwey, wrote an article in 1943 titled, “While the Jews Die,”[vi] blaming the United States and the United Nations for their complicity and failure to do their duty to help those in need.  After opening the article with an enumeration of the Nazis’ program of extermination, Kirchwey, straightforwardly identifies the blameworthy by stating; “In this country, you and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt.”[vii] The “you” is a general you and given the context of the sentence it is found in, it seems most appropriate to assume the audience and recipient of the condemnation is the American people as a whole. Thus, Kirchwey lays blame flatly on both the citizens and government of the United States for their skepticism, apathy, complicity and “share” in the oppression and extermination of the Jews in Europe. Whereas Eastman believes the correct moral response is to wait, Kirchwey believes the Americans have already waited too long and the correct moral response is to act now to help the Jewish people. Kirchwey’s article was written a nearly a year prior to Eastman’s response, when more proof had been compiled, but the evidence was not enough to motivate many Americans to accept the burden of duty, with a sense of urgency to help those in need.

It is too easy of an analysis to suppose that it was anti-Semitic sentiment and prejudice that motivated the apathy of the American people although, this was certainly a factor for many people’s judgment, the reality of the reasons for the lack of urgency are more nuanced than that. There was a lack of faith in the credibility of the reports, but also questions about the motivations of the people making the reports or screaming for action, and a belief that a conflict of this magnitude was inevitable. Eastman argues that the conflict with Hitler and the Nazi regime was a “mighty conflict…over [different] philosophies of life,” that was destined to occur.[viii] Behind Eastman’s belief in this conflict rested a nest of religious and political conflicts about the origination and fruition of rights; God-given rights that lead to democracy and state-granted rights that lead to tyranny by a “master race.”[ix] This fatalistic perspective of the war with the Nazis and the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe omits autonomy, free-will, and choice from the reckoning and thus, attempts to absolve responsibility. Notwithstanding the success of this line of reasoning, the objective was to assert that if there was no responsibility, then there was no duty to help those in need and thus, no need for any moral urgency to help the Jewish people in Europe.

The fatalistic reasoning Eastman employs probably did not have as much resonance with the American people as did his critiques of the screamers wherein he claims that they “do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.”[x] This was the claim that founded his assertion that the screamers are calling for an “emotional regurgitation” instead of educated correct moral responses. Eastman ends this particular critique by appealing to the fact that his sons were in the war fighting the Nazis and that the screamers were non-combatants armchair moralizing, but not assuming any of the risks. What is revealed through these connections, in correlation with what has already been mentioned is that Eastman blames the Jews and the screamers for an imposed duty to risk life and limb for a people and a cause that it was not their responsibility to do so for. In the broader context, even given the anit-Semitic sentiments that existed within the United States in the 30s and 40s, the lack of moral urgency was more an outgrowth of the lack of moral responsibility than prejudice alone.

At the heart of the issue of the American apathy concerning the oppression and extermination of the Jewish people in Europe were conflicts with trust. At first it was the unbelievable characteristic of the reports coming out of Germany and Europe, but many of those reports were verified and still people continued to remain skeptic about the severity of the problem and their responsibility in the situation. Noted above, Eastman made two claims; that the screamers made no specific demands and that they were also non-combatants, and while that may have been the case for many, it was not always the case. Varian Fry was an American journalist who volunteered with the Emergency Rescue Committee in France in 1940 and also created an underground network to help Jews escape Nazi extermination; was what Eastman would consider a screamer.[xi] Thus, it is not the case that the screamers were not taking risks and responsibility, but were in fact acting on their convictions while simultaneously calling on others to act as well.

In 1942, Fry wrote “The Massacre of the Jews,” which moves from being accommodating and understanding of why skepticism exists, and transitions to condemning with focused anger the apathetic and skeptical American population and government. Important to note in this account is the list of specific actions being requested that Eastman claims does not exist. Fry calls on President Roosevelt and Churchill to make public statements and to “speak out again against these monstrous events.” Fry also screamed for the development of Tribunals to “amass facts,” for Diplomatic warnings to be issued to the countries in the Balkans region, for the Allies to form a blockade, to provide asylum for refugees, and to feed the Jews in the occupied territories. He also called on the Christian churches, the Protestant Leaders and the Pope, to excommunicate and condemn anyone who assisted the Nazis. Lastly, Fry suggested that any efforts that are made should be broadcasted and made public because the Nazi actions required secrecy and hoped to “create resistance” and foster “rebellion” among the people. This is a very specific list of things that can be done to assist the Jewish people and hardly any of them hint at combat, and this also shatters the conception that the “screamers do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.” What is revealed is that the America population was not listening to the screamers and chose to label them as war mongers as a justification for not assuming responsibility and displaying the moral urgency necessary to prevent or end the mass extermination of the Jewish people in Europe.[xii]

This account should not be taken to mean that Americans did not play a pivotal role in WWII and the liberation of the Jewish people from the Nazi concentration camps and occupation, because that is not true. This account was meant to convey a portion of the complex and disparate moral and ethical views of Americans in the 1930s and 1940s by analyzing their own words and setting them into context with one another. By doing so, I hope this exposition has challenged the pseudo history that presents the decision to go to war as a simple and contradicted it. There is great sacrifice in going to war for any reason, especially when it is for another country and people. Not only was Nazi campaign unprecedented in history, but so was the Allied response to Hitler’s Nazi regime, and it had to be justified both to the United States Congress and the American citizenry. For some, the mere numbers, methods, and length of time of the oppression and extermination of the Jews were enough justification to warrant the moral urgency. However, others were either, reluctant to believe, felt the need to wait, or were not willing to sacrifice the resources and lives necessary for a people they did not feel obligatory duties towards. The volume of people killed and the scope of the Nazis’ plans brought the ethical dilemma; “to kill or let die,” to the surface, wherein America’s apathy was indicted for being; “accessories to the crime” as Kirchwey says and thus, responsible to act with moral urgency.

[i] Eastman, Fred, “A Reply to Screamers,” Christian Century, February 6, 1944.  American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 171.

[ii] Eastman, 170-174.

[iii] Eastman, 173.

[iv] Eastman, 172.

[v] Eastman, 171.

[vi] Kirchwey, Freda “While the Jews Die,” Nation, March 13, 1943. American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 152-155.

[vii]Kirchwey, 153.

[viii] Eastman, 172.

[ix] Eastman, 172.

[x] Eastman, 172.

[xi] Fry, Varian, “The Massacre of the Jews,” New Republic, December. 21, 1942.  American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 126-127.

[xii] Fry, 132-133.

The Saint’s Lamp: A Critique of the Liberal Experiment in Egypt (1940’s)

Yahya Haqqi, the author of The Saints Lamp and Other Stories, originally published in 1944, was an Egyptian who wrote a novella that can be interpreted as a symbolic criticism of the Liberal Experiment in Egypt that followed World War I and, a comparison-contrast of the Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood.[1] Haqqi presents the argument that the East and the West can and should be reconciled and he does this through his use of the less politically volatile examples of science and religion of an eye doctor in a small community, as oppose to political parties and Islamic religion at the level of the state and society. Furthermore, The Saint’s Lamp can be read as a criticism of the Liberal Experiment because Ismail, the protagonist of the story, struggles to reconcile the European education and values he brought back to Egypt after studying abroad with the Islamic traditions and values of his homeland.

It is difficult to place the exact time of the The Saint’s Lamp because many of the characteristics and patterns Haqqi notes existed in both the 19th and 20th Centuries, but the setting is not as important as its contextual meaning. It mentions that Ismail’s father, the narrator’s grandfather, moved to Cairo after the establishment of the Ministry of Public Works in the mid-late 19th Century, of trains and crowded ship yards, and mass migrations, which all point to a mid-20th Century setting. Thus, given the literary convention of utilizing similar events and symbols to provide commentary on contemporary circumstances, and given that The Saint’s Lamp was published in 1944, this suggests that Haqqi was critiquing the interwar period of Egypt wherein the Liberal Experiment was taking shape and both the Wafd Party (est. 1918-1924) and the Muslim Brotherhood (est. 1928) became primary actors in Egypt.[2]

The name of the protagonist, Ismail, is significant both because of its ties to Haqqi’s past and its relevance in 1944. Isma’il the Magnificent was a secular reformist in Egypt during the Tanzimat era of the mid-late 19th Century and his primary objective was the complete Europeanization of Egypt at the cost of subjugating Islamic traditions.[3] Similarly, Haqqi’s Ismail, after returning to Egypt from Europe to find it the victim of “ignorance, poverty, disease and age-long oppression,”[4] who saw Egyptians as a backward people who had forgotten their historical greatness, “was determined to deal to ignorance and superstition a mortal blow, even if that should cost him his life.”[5] However, the outcome of Isma’il the Magnificent’s reforms and infrastructural improvements led him to borrow substantial sums from foreign entities, then to a huge debt that led to the Urabi Revolt (1879-1882), and essentially to the British occupation of Egypt that utterly changed the state.[6] And Haqqi’s Ismail, returned to Egypt as an eye specialist to witness his mother treating his fiancé, Fatima’s diseased eyes in the (backward) traditional way with oil from the Saint, Umm Hashim’s Lamp.[7]  He exploded and revolted against both his family and the mosque that protected the lamp and was subsequently mauled by a mob for his revolt.[8] After which he decided to use the European method to fix her, but only succeeded in destroying her vision.[9] The name of the protagonist coupled with the historical relevance of Isma’il the Magnificent would potentially have had a resounding impact on the Egyptian people because it conveyed the conclusion Ismail draws; “There can be no science without faith,”[10] or more to the point that any Europeanization in Egypt without Islamic values guiding it was destined for failure. The name Ismail, had recent historical relevance that could have been seen to apply to the Liberal Experiment.

The prominent actor in Egypt in 1944 who exemplified the image of the destructive impact of Europeanization on Egyptian society is the Wafd Party. The leader of the Wafd Party, Sa’d Zaghlul, had a “European-style education” and the party was instrumental in the institution of an imported Western-style, secular democratic-parliamentary government, in 1924. [11] Because the Wafd Party championed the symbolic independence of Egypt the people voted them into office, but their support was short lived because they distanced themselves from the population by asserting that European civilization was superior to Egyptian civilization.[12] Reminiscent of Isma’il the Magnificent, the Wafd Party sought to supplant European Values for Islamic values, but instead of creating an independent and prosperous state, Egypt remained a pawn of Britain and furthered the divide between rich and poor. For these reasons, it seems probable that if Haqqi was a critiquing a contemporary actor, then it was the Wafd Party because they imported and set in juxtaposition the East and West as oppose to reconciling them.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as a prominent actor in response to the secularization of the country, and operated on the premise that in order for there to be political and social regeneration Islam had to be restored.[13] However, for them that did not mean the dissolution of Western influence in Egypt, but rather, a fusion of the technological and scientific advancements of the West with Islamic values. Haqqi agreed with their assertion, as was evinced by the transition he brings Ismail through unto the point that “[h]e return[s] to his science and medicine, but this time fortified by faith,” who was not only successful in restoring Fatima’s eye sight, but in healing many others because “[h]e relied first upon God, and secondly on his learning and the skill of his hands.”[14] In stark contrast to the Wafd Party who is symbolized by the Ismail who is reminiscent of Isma’il the Magnificent; the Muslim Brotherhood is symbolized by the Ismail who reclaimed his traditional values. The Muslim Brotherhood advocated that God should be the director of Egypt’s development, while implementing what they thought was useful to their society from the West. Thus, it seems clear that Haqqi believed the Muslim Brotherhood would be the actor who would lead the Egyptian people to the future they sought and heal the nation.

The Saint’s Lamp shows that both religion and science have their purposes, and also that neither is sufficient for Egyptians alone, but rather, that they must be implemented together to achieve their greatest potential. Yet, Haqqi is also warning his fellow Egyptians that if they learn science and technical skills from Europeans, then they risk losing their faith and trust in Islam while being indoctrinated with European values. However, the significance of the The Saint’s Lamp, or rather, Islamic values for Haqqi, is that they provide an understanding, which allows the Egyptian people to perceive how to successfully employ and reconcile science with religion, and further to reconcile government with the goals of an Egyptian society while maintaining those values.

[1] Yahya Haqqi, “The Saint’s Lamp” (1944, English trans. 1973), 1-38.

[2] Cleveland, William L., and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. (Boulder: Westview Press, 2013), 180-185.

[3] Cleveland, 88.

[4] Yahya Haqqi, 22.

[5] Yahya Haqqi, 27.

[6] Cleveland, 88-93.

[7] Yahya Haqqi, 25.

[8] Yahya Haqqi, 26-30.

[9] Yahya Haqqi, 31-32.

[10] Yahya Haqqi, 36.

[11] Cleveland, 180-182.

[12] Cleveland, 184.

[13] Cleveland, 185.

[14] Yahya Haqqi, 37.

The Significance of “Black Friday”

One of the coolest gifts of being in school is that I get to learn about our world, what we have done, what we are doing, and what we have the capacity to do as human beings. I think one of the freshest aspects of studying history is that I have the opportunity to learn facts and concepts that have shaped our civilization. And then as a cap to all of that, I have been granted the privilege to evaluate that information and those assertions with my studies of philosophy, whereby I am learning how to use and design moral frameworks from which I can evaluate the implications of what has been done and what “should” be done in the future in terms of what is justified and what is obligated of human beings; and I can base my interpretations in historical fact.

Last night I came across term Black Friday in my history textbook; “A History of the Modern Middle East” (William L. Cleveland, 2013), and it was a tragic scene in Iranian history. And before I make it seem like this is to present a negative perspective of Iran, or any Middle Eastern country, what I am going to tell you about this event has occurred in some fashion in every culture, nation, state and society that I have studied so far. As it turns out “Black Friday” was a term used to describe the response of Muhammad Reza Shah’s regime to a large mass of unarmed students, workers and other civilians protesting the actions of the regime. On Friday, September 8, 1978 Reza Shah’s regime marched tanks, helicopter gunships, and army into the crowds and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians to quell the protesters and silence them.

After reading that, I questioned when the term “Black Friday” was coined and why because as I am sure most of you are aware of it is associated with the Friday that follows the American holiday Thanksgiving, that occurs on the fourth Thursday of November. (The point of this post is not to call into question the moral implications of that holiday, that will be for a later post.) The contemporary meaning of Black Friday, according to, since 1924 and the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, has marked the beginning of the holiday shopping season wherein companies move from the “Red into the Black” a term used to signify an end to making a loss and earning a profit.

I fact-checked those claims with and found that the term was coined in 1951, in reference to employees calling in sick to work the Friday after Thanksgiving Day. The site further notes that in the early 1960s in Philadelphia the police termed the traffic problems related to the shopping in the metropolitan district as “Black Friday”. also confirmed the usage of the term that mentioned in regard to it being the beginning of the holiday shopping season. however, discredited the claim that “Black Friday” was a term coined to descibe a special business day for the selling of slaves in the 19th Century.

However, in all of this research, I did not see any reference to what occurred in Iran in 1978 under the rule of Reza Shah of the Pahlavi Dynasty. My initial concern was that here in America we could have transmitted a term used to define an atrocity to mean something different, that is actually celebrated and rewarded annually. The transition in the meaning of terms is not something that is unheard of. Many of us in the United States are either familiar with or use the term “A Rule of Thumb,” to mean a general rule of operation, or in other words a maxim, but most of us do not know where it comes from. Nonetheless, the “Rule of Thumb” refers to the legal rule that if a stick was not wider than the diameter of the husband’s thumb, that he was legally justified in beating his wife with it. This was the grounds for my concern and what motivated my research into the etymology of the term. And I have been able to clear up, that the usage of the term to describe the initiation of the holiday shopping season predates the atrocity in Tehran, Iran by more than ten years.

Before leaving you all, I would like to briefly comment on the significance of the 1978 event, wherein the regime utilized the military to suppress the voices of the people who were expressing discontent. As I mentioned earlier, this is not something that is contained only to Iran, or the Middle East. We have to only peer into U.S. history and we will be acquainted with the suppression of African Americans during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, who were voicing dissent and the police riot guards were called in to suppress them. Or more recently, when the protesters participating in the Occupy movement were suppressed to start to form an idea that suppression of dissent is not something that only happens outside of the United States, or is contained to the distant past.

As citizens of this world, no matter what country we live in, whether it is a democratic state or it is hierarchical, or its state government is based on the observance of religion, or a monarch; the consistent pattern is that when the voice of dissent is suppressed it lead to outcomes in that nation or state that are undesirable to population as a whole. Sometime suppression is more implicit than armed forces marching into the metropolitan area of a city and murdering hundreds of civilians. One type of power concerns the control of the agenda. This is important because even in a democratic society wherein the people are “allowed” to have a voice, if the agenda of what they can voice an opinion about is constrained, then those in power with the motivation to protect that power can situation that agenda to ensure that the issues that most threaten their position are never brought up to vote upon.

The United States is largely a consumer society that bases much of identity in Spending Power or the prestige that comes from possessing such power. Furthermore, in a society wherein Conspicuous Consumption, which signifies that status symbols (clothes, cars, watches, etc..) are used to delineate social class and thus power, the citizens of such a society have a vulnerability that can be exploited by those in power. To connect this to the previous ideas of the suppression of dissenting voices and controlling the agenda, when the elites can focus the populace’s attention on consumerism, attaching their self-worth to how much they can buy (Social Trappings), they can effectively control the agenda. If this line of reasoning is accurate, then the citizens of the United States are systematically having their dissenting voices suppressed by consumerism.

So, while it may not the case that the term “Black Friday” was explicitly designed and coined to represent the oppression of people and the suppression of dissenting voices, it is nonetheless clear that an argument can be made to support the claim our voice of dissent can be suppressed by such means.

And to think, that all of this thought came from one paragraph in my history textbook… Yeah, I love school. I decided to go to school to get an education and what has occurred is that it has changed the way I think about the world. I am now being armed with the skills and the knowledge to evaluate the world we live in. And this is precisely the reason that I decided to go to school.

“A History The Modern Middle East” by William L. Cleveland; 2013

Education: The First Step Toward Equality for Women in Iran

The Women’s Rights Movement of Iran during the first half of the 20th Century was primarily a battle for women to be considered as equals with men. There were many issues that the women of that period in Iran thought needed to be addressed, such as polygamy and suffrage.  However, what was most important to these women was that they had the same access to education as men. It was through education that they would be most able to fulfill roles outside of the home. Becoming educated was one of the only ways for women to participate in the government, because during the first half of the 20th century in Iran, women were viewed as incapable of the higher faculties that men inherently possessed. I will endeavor to reveal some of the difficulties in the struggle of women to earn their rights, some of the reasons why they decided to act as they did, and some of the outcomes of their actions. It is important to note before I begin, that I have found it exceedingly difficult to locate primary source documents written by women in this period, so I shall begin by framing the socio-political environment of Iran.

In the period between 1900 and 1940, Iran experienced many social, economic, political, and educational changes as the country sought to modernize itself, which by most definitions at the time meant to become more like the West. For instance, the Constitutional Revolution of Iran which lasted from approximately 1906 to 1911, sought to limit the authority of the Shah and to create a more democratic government. What is perhaps not well known is the amount of participation that women played in this movement, or the impact it had on them. Leading up to the Constitutional Revolution, Iranian women participated in the Tobacco Boycott of 1890’s, a protest of the Qajar Dynasty granting concessions and granting a monopoly of the tobacco industry to foreign interests. During the Tobacco Boycott, Iranian women engaged in public protests, and even violent attacks of public officials (Paidar, p 50-51). Then, between 1905 and 1910 secret societies were formed that were devoted to the formation of a constitutional government. In these secret societies women played an important role in the dissemination of information and protests (Paidar, 52-53). Many of the women who participated in the Constitutional Revolution were nationalists like their male counterparts. Yet, women, as a group, also began to form their own opinions, through the use of their communication networks and secret societies, about the state of women in Iran and the direction that modernization should take in regard to both women and the nation as a whole (Sanasarian p. 21-23). They were drawn to the call for equality and democracy because at the time, women were barred from most enterprises outside of the home, not allowed an education, not allowed to vote, were by law subjugated under the authority of men, and not granted liberty (Sanasarian, p. 21-23). Under these constraints, the agenda for the emancipation of women was conceptualized and communicated, with much of the primary focus placed on the education of women and girls. Thus, women both participated in the Constitutional Revolution of Iran and were influenced by struggle for a more democratic society.

During the Constitutional Revolution of Iran, Sadiqah Dawlatabadi (spelling varies depending on source) emerges as a major actor in both the development of Iran and was a focal member of the Women’s Movement. When Dawlatabadi was eighteen years old she was one of the founding members of the National Ladies Society in 1910, whose primary goal was the nationalization of Iran. The members also held concerns of the state of women in Iran, though they “blamed [the state of women] on the exploitation of Iran by foreign countries” (Sansarian, p. 35; Paidar, p. 69). Dawlatabadi was also the first female manager of the feminist Iranian newspaper Zaban-e Zanan or Women’s Voice first published in 1919, as well as the Persian representative for the International Advisory Council in 1926. Dawlatabi was an avid advocate for the literacy of girls and women, as is evinced by the pursuits of the Zaban-e Zanan, which “advocated the education and economic independence of women” (Sansarian, p. 32-33).  She did so at much risk to both herself, and the women who worked with her. Many of the women’s inequality issues that Dawlatabadi and many others fought for during the first quarter of the 20th Century came to pass after the Pahlavi dynasty came to power in the mid-1920s.

Thus far, for the framing of the first quarter of the 20th century in Iran I have had to rely on secondary sources, and although I was not able to locate a translated version of one of Dawlatabi’s own works, I have nonetheless located an article written in 1926, by an American woman who met Dawlatabadi in Paris named Mary Winsor. Winsor’s article titled “The Blossoming of a Persian Feminist” was published in the National Women’s Party magazine titled Equal Rights. Winsor’s article was primarily an expository composition, but she does report specific details from Dawlatabadi and some of it is even in Dawlatabadi’s own words. Given the difficulty of locating any works written by Iranian women from Iran during this period, this exposition of Winsor’s is quite valuable.

First and foremost, the existence of Winsor’s article provides evidence that Dawlatabadi did actually in fact live, that she was from Iran, and that she did fight for the rights of women. This is very important because many primary sources and historiographies have omitted the presence and activity of women during this period of history in Iran. For example, Edward G. Brown reconstructed the events that led up to, through and after the Constitutional Revolution in Iran in the book titled The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909 (1910), by piecing together telegrams from Iran to two newspaper companies in England: Times and Reuters. In none of the accounts was there any mention of the involvement of women, either in the revolution or in the telegrams. However, Sir Edward Grey, who was noted to be an active participant or at least an observer in the revolution both by Brown, Eliz Sanasarian, the author of The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement, and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini, and Parvin Paidar the author of Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran, all identify women in the revolution. Both Sanasarian and Paidar reported that women were highly active in the revolution and that the London Times published a response of Sir. Edward Grey’s to Iranian women with the Russian intervention in Iran in 1908 (Paidar, p. 58; Sansarian, p. 20-21). The omission of women from this important period in Iranian history not only fails to capture the extent to which the Iranian people had to work together to accomplish their goals, but also fails to recognize the role Iranian women played in shaping Iran’s modernization. The existence of Winsor’s article in which she writes about Dawlatabadi is evidence that Iranian women were politically active during that period of history in Iran and is also further evidence of Dawlatabadi’s actions in Iran during the Constitutional Revolution.

The second function that Winsor’s article serves is to place Dawlatabadi in the mid-1920s as an advocate for women’s rights and it reveals a radical shift in Iranian thoughts about women. Winsor states that she met Dawlatabadi in Paris while “lobbying the International Woman’s Suffrage Alliance”, and they began to share experiences and interests. Winsor learned from Dawlatabadi that the Iranian government had sent her to Paris to get an education so that she could become the “inspector of a girl’s school in Tehran” (Winsor). When the Constitutional Revolution took place and Dawlatabadi helped to found the National Ladies Society in 1910, one of their primary goals was to secure the education of girls and women. Winsor’s observation reveals that in 1926, just over a decade later, the government not only sanctioned Dawlatabadi’s education, but was also promoting the education of girls. Further, Dawlatabadi was not in the “home” but was rather in another country to be trained for work outside of the home. This transformation of policy and social thinking is made more salient when Winsor relates Dawlatabadi’s own education. Winsor reported that Dawlatabadi told her what her father told her regarding the education of girls:

At six years of age her father said to her: “Thou knowest I do not love girls, for I do not think that they can study and acquire knowledge as men do. But the mother was enchanted that thou wert a girl and adores thee. For this reason I will bring up my daughter as I bring up my sons and will provide an education by one of the most eminent professors in Persia for all of you together. If thou studiest well, I will cherish thee as a son, but if not, I shall write in my journal that I do not love girls” (Winsor)

As can be seen in this short passage which are reported to be Dawlatabadi’s own words, education was typically a male occupation, and that in order for her to be educated she would have to be raised as a male. Further, women were typically not thought capable of learning, at least not in the same capacity as men could and she had to be trained privately because there was not a school for her to attend. What is perhaps not easy to gleam from Winsor’s account is that Dawlatabadi’s family was not one of the lower classes. Her father was “a priest of a high rank, holding the position second only to the Grand Priest of Tehran,” which is what allowed him to be able to educate his daughter in the manner in which he did. However, not all families had the capacity to do such, so many girls remained uneducated. Winsor’s article does not trace all of the steps that were taken by women seeking emancipation, or even Dawlatabadi herself. Nonetheless the article reveals that the actions of the women who were seeking emancipation in Iran had already had an effect, as at the time Dawlatabadi was in Paris preparing to be the inspector of the girl’s school in Tehran.

Winsor seems to have been particularly interested in Dawlatabadi’s publication Zaban-e Zana, Women’s Voice because she dedicated a third of her article to it. Winsor notes that Dawlatabadi had to obtain a “license to establish a feminist newspaper” while she was in Tehran. As was noted earlier, Dawlatabadi utilized the publication to promote women’s issues such as economic and educational equality, so the publication was no stranger to going against the grain. Winsor takes notice of a particular question that was published in Zaban-e Zanan about the veiling of women that caught the attention and retaliation of the religious elite. The question the publication asked the priests was: “Why are the peasant women allowed to go about unveiled, and why do they enjoy entire liberty?” (Winsor). The day after the publication her brother, who had assumed the position their father had held, met with Dawlatabadi on behalf of the priests and informed her that she had to give up on the paper. After which, when Dawlatabadi questioned her brother she was told “that it was not for her to ask the reason but to obey” for two reasons: she was under the authority of her brother who had become the head of the family after their father’s death, and that was the social order. However, as was shown in Winsor’s exposition, a male servant was allowed to question his ‘master’ because as Winsor explains “[t]he servant being a man was of course a privileged character” because he was a ‘man’ (Winsor). The response of Dawlatabadi’s brother was a prime example of the social norms she questioned, as she was not free, she was not equal. She wanted to know why but there were no answers to her questions, only opposition. Winsor’s article goes on to show that in order for Dawlatabadi to continue her publication without jeopardizing her brother’s position that she had to disown him and that she in fact did make that sacrifice. She continued both to question and to confront the socially stratified system. In the very next issue of Zaban-e Zanan she wrote an article titled “Long Live the Freedom of the Press”, wherein she blamed traditional thinkers for the death of liberty in Iran (Winsor). After that publication, Zaban-e Zanan published 2,500 copies each Saturday and influenced both women and men for the next two years about the issues that concerned women, in particular education, veiling, familial and economic. Evinced by the fact that Dawlatabadi studying abroad in Paris, her message was both heard and listened to, and the government was working to educate women and girls.

This is not meant to be taken as a complete history of the Women’s Movement, it was only my hope to shed some light on some of the causes, conditions and outcomes of the struggle women in Iran faced in securing their independence. Even with the lack of access to the primary documents written by the women who participated in Women’s Rights Movement during the first half of the 20th Century, there is no doubt that they were both politically active and influential in shaping Iran. Much like in American history, when women became involved in the national struggle for independence and democracy, those concepts conflicted with the reality of the subjugation faced by women. They used what they learned in the struggle for nationalism and applied it to the emancipation of women. One of the primary goals of the women’s movement was securing the education of girls and women, and by the mid-1920s, through perseverance and dedication they had helped the country takes steps toward that end. Those who were fortunate enough to have been educated prior to this transition, like Sadiqah Dawlatabadi, were the vanguards of the Women’s Rights Movement. These activists published many newspapers and periodicals, created secret societies, formed communication networks, taught one another, and risked death to help ‘modernize’ the nation of Iran,  by fighting for liberty and equality for both Iran and women. Mary Winsor’s article in the National Woman’s Party’s magazine Equal Rights helped to confirm much of what I discovered in secondary sources. She provided an insightful glimpse into the mind and the life of a woman who was one of the pioneers of feminism in Iran, and conveyed the message of how far Iran had come toward the emancipation of women, which began with their education.


Atabaki, Touraj, ed. Iran in the 20th Century: Historiography and Political Culture. New York:

I.B Touris & Co Ltd, 2009.

Brown, Edward G. The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1910

Paidar, Parvin. Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran. New York:

Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Sanasarian, Eliz. The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement, and Repression from 1900 to Khomeini. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1982.

Winsor, Mary. “The Blossoming of a Persian Feminist” in Equal Rights, vol. XIII, no. 36 (Oct.

1926). Woman’s World in Qajar Iran Digital Archive. Middle Eastern Division, Widener Library, Harvard Library. (accessed Dec. 11, 2013).