Archive for October, 2013

Fisk, Jahnar and Middle East Lowdown

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013


The United States and Saudi Arabia have been allies since 1932 (BBC)

Middle East Lowdown: Comments on Some Interpretations in the Media
By Gary Crethers

Robert Fisk is a reporter for the Independent and an experienced Middle East analyst. I have read his The Great War for Civilization and was impressed. This is his take on the recent Saudi move to reject a seat on the UN Security Council. I am not sure I totally agree, but I like his sense of outrage. I personally think Kerry is playing a fairly sophisticated game and without knowing the insider details think that the deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria was reasonably well played. Certainly Israel is happy about that. I am also not totally convinced that the Saudi princes are so much afraid of Shiites as they are of a democratic revolution that just might happen to be funded by Shiites. Elite’s attempting to remain in power will make deals with the devil if they think it will give them another lease on life.

The section of Jahnar’s paper regarding the Saudi-Iranian past relationship supports much of my own claim to a class or at least elite versus populist, not a religious-cultural basis to this conflict. The religious differences have been used in my mind to whip up popular support and to engage naive young Islamic youth to participate in a struggle over control of resources and an attempt to retain domestic control by entrenched elites. Although the radical fundamentalism in both the Suni and Shiite worlds as a reaction to secular socialist nationalism had morphed by the 1990’s into something that was becoming more of a populist fundamentalist movement to overthrow all the old regimes, at least on the part of certain aspects of the movement such as the Populists in Egypt in the Muslim Brotherhood, something that was a threat to Saudi control of the international Sunni fundamentalist movement. The key here is that rich elites are manipulating popular forces to retain control. The Iranian revolution of 1979, became a counter-revolution as the progressive and socialist elements were killed, driven underground or into exile. But due to the populist elements involved, with its own form of democracy, the strictly monarchical Saudi’s have had a wary relationship with this unpredictable element in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Iranian Stamp

King Faisal (Saudi Arabia) Visit - 1965 Iran / Persian Stamp - King Faisal (Saudi Arabia) Visit
From Ariel Jahner’s paper on Iranian-Saudi relations:


The Saudi - Iranian relationship dates back to shortly after the establishment of the al - Saud dynasty in 1928. Formal visits between heads of state, however, did not take place until the mid - 1960s, the impetus for an increased diplomatic dialogue resulting from the 1958 overthrow of King Faysal in neighboring Iraq. The king’s dethronement by nationalist forces raised concerns about the possibility of additional populist revolts against monarchical dynasties in the region. As a result, “Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and the Saudi Kings Sa’ud, and especially Faysal after his seizing power in 1964, initiated a modus of frequent consultations to coordinate their regional policies ” which strengthened the relationship between the two ruling families and their countries. The synergy between the leaders was clearly a result of a shared interest in the preservation of their respective regimes, in addition to common economic goals and concerns. As Henner Furtig describes, “the common interest in fighting socialist and radical – nationalist influences in the Gulf region, in ensuring a stable flow of oil and gas, and in increasing wealth through exports, united Iran and Saudi Arabia till the end of the 1970s.”

Additionally, one should note that this period of friendly relations was predicated on the presence of similar government structures in both countries along with complimentary foreign policy and domestic goals; sectarian divisions were not emphasized, nor were they significant in bilateral discussions. David Long remarks specifically that “prior to the [Iranian] revolution, the primary political confrontation in the Gulf was neither Sunni -Shiite nor Arab-Persian but conservative – radical.” This observation is particularly striking when contrasted against current discussions of sectarian animosity and heightened tensions in the Gulf between Sunnis and Shi’ites. It also reveals the degree to which linguistic, cultural, and religious differences were overcome by more pressing domestic and nternational issues that joined the two dynasties together in a friendly and harmonious relationship. Yet despite the early success of the Saudi - Iranian relationship, cordial and cooperative relations between the two nations were not fated to last, as the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 resulted in a drastic shift in Iranian foreign policy that threatened al–Saud legitimacy in addition to challenging the status quo of monarchical rule in other countries in the region (Jahner 39).

Former Iranian President and Saudis

Relations between Ahmedinejad and Saudi King Abdullah seem to be cordial (Global Research)

From Robert Fisk’s article in the Independent Newspaper:

The unprecedented Saudi refusal to take up its Security Council seat is not just about Syria but a response to the Iranian threat

The Muslim world’s historic – and deeply tragic – chasm between Sunni and Shia Islam is having worldwide repercussions. Syria’s civil war, America’s craven alliance with the Sunni Gulf autocracies, and Sunni (as well as Israeli) suspicions of Shia Iran are affecting even the work of the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia’s petulant refusal last week to take its place among non-voting members of the Security Council, an unprecedented step by any UN member, was intended to express the dictatorial monarchy’s displeasure with Washington’s refusal to bomb Syria after the use of chemical weapons in Damascus – but it also represented Saudi fears that Barack Obama might respond to Iranian overtures for better relations with the West.

The Saudi head of intelligence, Prince Bandar bin Sultan – a true buddy of President George W Bush during his 22 years as ambassador in Washington – has now rattled his tin drum to warn the Americans that Saudi Arabia will make a “major shift” in its relations with the US, not just because of its failure to attack Syria but for its inability to produce a fair Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.

What this “major shift” might be – save for the usual Saudi hot air about its independence from US foreign policy – was a secret that the prince kept to himself.

Israel, of course, never loses an opportunity to publicise – quite accurately – how closely many of its Middle East policies now coincide with those of the wealthy potentates of the Arab Gulf.

Hatred of the Shia/Alawite Syrian regime, an unquenchable suspicion of Shia Iran’s nuclear plans and a general fear of Shia expansion is turning the unelected Sunni Arab monarchies into proxy allies of the Israeli state they have often sworn to destroy. Hardly, one imagines, the kind of notion that Prince Bandar wishes to publicize.

Furthermore, America’s latest contribution to Middle East “peace” could be the sale of $10.8bn worth of missiles and arms to Sunni Saudi Arabia and the equally Sunni United Arab Emirates, including GBU-39 bombs – the weapons cutely called “bunker-busters” – which they could use against Shia Iran. Israel, of course, possesses the very same armaments.

Whether the hapless Mr Kerry – whose risible promise of an “unbelievably small” attack on Syria made him the laughing stock of the Middle East – understands the degree to which he is committing his country to the Sunni side in Islam’s oldest conflict is the subject of much debate in the Arab world. His response to the Saudi refusal to take its place in the UN Security Council has been almost as weird.

After lunch on Monday at the Paris home of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud al-Faisal, Kerry – via his usual anonymous officials – said that he valued the autocracy’s leadership in the region, shared Riyadh’s desire to de-nuclearise Iran and to bring an end to the Syrian war. But Kerry’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime must abandon power means that a Sunni government would take over Syria; and his wish to disarm Shia Iran – however notional its nuclear threat may be – would ensure that Sunni military power would dominate the Middle East from the Afghan border to the Mediterranean.

Few realise that Yemen constitutes another of the Saudi-Iranian battlegrounds in the region.

Saudi enthusiasm for Salafist groups in Yemen – including the Islah party, which is allegedly funded by Qatar, though it denies receiving any external support – is one reason why the post-Saleh regime in Sanaa has been supporting the Zaidi Shia Houthi “rebels” whose home provinces of Sa’adah, al Jawf and Hajja border Saudi Arabia. The Houthis are – according to the Sunni Saudis – supported by Iran.

The minority Sunni monarchy in Bahrain – supported by the Saudis and of course by the compliant governments of the US, Britain, et al – is likewise accusing Shia Iran of colluding with the island’s majority Shias. Oddly, Prince Bandar, in his comments, claimed that Barack Obama had failed to support Saudi policy in Bahrain – which involved sending its own troops into the island to help repress Shia demonstrators in 2011 – when in fact America’s silence over the regime’s paramilitary violence was the nearest Washington could go in offering its backing to the Sunni minority and his Royal Highness the King of Bahrain.

All in all, then, a mighty Western love affair with Sunni Islam – a love that very definitely cannot speak its name in an Arab Gulf world in which “democracy”, “moderation”, “partnership” and outright dictatorship are interchangeable – which neither Washington nor London nor Paris (nor indeed Moscow or Beijing) will acknowledge. But, needless to say, there are a few irritating – and incongruous – ripples in this mutual passion.

The Saudis, for example, blame Obama for allowing Egypt’s decadent Hosni Mubarak to be overthrown. They blame the Americans for supporting the elected Muslim Brother Mohamed Morsi as president – elections not being terribly popular in the Gulf – and the Saudis are now throwing cash at Egypt’s new military regime. Assad in Damascus also offered his congratulations to the Egyptian military. Was the Egyptian army not, after all – like Assad himself – trying to prevent religious extremists from taking power?

Fair enough – providing we remember that the Saudis are really supporting the Egyptian Salafists who cynically gave their loyalty to the Egyptian military, and that Saudi-financed Salafists are among the fiercest opponents of Assad.

Thankfully for Kerry and his European mates, the absence of any institutional memory in the State Department, Foreign Office or Quai d’Orsay means that no one need remember that 15 of the 19 mass-killers of 9/11 were also Salafists and – let us above all, please God, forget this – were all Sunni citizens of Saudi Arabia (Fisk).

Iran and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian King FAISAL & Jordan King HUSSEIN with Shah of IRAN & Kuwait’s Ruler EMIR SABAH ES SALIM ES SABAH in 1969 O.I.C Summit.

Fisk, Robert. “How the Sunni-Shia schism is dividing the world,” The Independent. 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

Jahner, Ariel “SAUDI ARABIA AND IRAN: The Struggle for Power and Influence in the Gulf.”INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS REVIEW. XX, 3. (2012).33-49. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

Influence of Popular Direct Action in Revolutionary America

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Tar And Feathering
Bridgeman Art Library

Tax Collector Tarred and Feathered

Influence of Popular Direct Action in Revolutionary America
By Gary Crethers

In 1774 James Madison congratulates his college friend William Bradford on his success in intimidating a British tea merchant with tar and feathering if the merchant tried to land and sell his wares in the port of Philadelphia. Unlike the Boston radicals who had boarded a merchant ship and dumped the tea overboard, an action that Madison considered to be bold but not discrete (Brant 17-18). By this Madison is indicating an approval of imposing the tea boycott as agreed upon by the 1st Continental Congress that year, but not necessarily acts of vandalism or property destruction. Madison, an ardent nationalist, at that early stage was soon to become a major participant in creating the Constitution, but he did not trust the popular masses. Madison’s ambivalence led him and his allied Federalists into something of a political reaction in creating a very restricted version of constitutional democracy when it came to the participation of the polis at the constitutional convention. The popular masses, in direct action helped propel the nation into independence, but were subject to an elite consolidation of power due to the ideological and experiential influence of founders such as Benjamin Franklin and James Madison.

Wikimedia Commons

James Madison, by Charles Willson Peale, 1783

Benjamin Franklin a believer in virtuous order (Conner 16) found himself defending the mob in Boston to the British, “[I]n a country so frequent in mischievous Mobs and murderous Riots as this is [speaking of England], ‘tis surprising to find such Resentment of a trifling Riot in Boston…” (138). Franklin was a believer in the harmonious order promoted by four great qualities benevolence, happy mediocrity, productive labor and simplicity (15). In this he was opposed to mob action which he saw as disruptive of his harmonious order, yet at the same time he was an advocate of universal free male suffrage (134-135) and a unicameral legislature with Congress voted for by population not by state (113-114). As an early advocate of unity between the states with his Albany plan, Franklin was a nationalist just as much as Madison, but with a populist streak that perhaps was rooted in his experience as a poor migrant to Philadelphia who had only “a Dutch dollar, and a change of stockings in his pocket” (10). Franklin steeped in the classics reading from his friend James Logan’s library, at the time the “largest and finest collection of classical writings in Colonial America” (180), believed in translating the classics into English to make them available to all, and it was a major reason for his sponsorship of a lending library in Philadelphia (179-181).

Franklin was an advocate of the middling classes that was part of his meaning of happy mediocrity, as it meant not only that it was better not to aspire to extreme wealth or poverty (188). He opposed the emergence of American gentry, and was suspicious of the creation of an upper chamber in the legislature even though he agreed to it, largely because of “a Disposition among some of our people to commence an Aristocracy, by giving to the Rich a predominance in the government” (114). Franklin was considered to be the driving force behind the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 which included no property requirement, all male taxpayers of at least one year residence who took an oath on the constitution and the bible could vote. This was seen as a victory of the “leather aprons” over the wealthy classes (Brunhouse 13-16, 235).

John Wilkes

“Portrait of John Wilkes” by William Hogarth

The ambivalence towards the masses for Franklin was partially based in his experience trying to keep frontiersmen from unruly depredations of the Indians where “horrid riotings on our Frontiers” in which Indians were victims of “horrid Murthers” by whites in the course of “three atrocious Riots” (137). Also his observations in England of supporters of John Wilkes (a populist candidate for parliament) “knocking down all those who will not roar for Wilkes and liberty” (137). Franklin had a mistrust of parties, although David Hume in a letter to Adam Smith said of Franklin “I always knew him to be a very factious man” (151). Franklin had a fear of mobs and fractious parties while still being a pragmatic player in the political field.

Paxton Boys
Wikimedia Commons

19th century lithograph of the Paxton Boys’ massacre of the Indians at Lancaster.

Madison much younger than Franklin, a son of a wealthy landholder in Virginia, participated starting in 1774 in the affairs of the revolutionary movement. As a member of the “Orange County Revolutionary Committee” he participated in the destruction of pro-loyalist pamphlets from New York found in the hands of the tory rector of his church (Brant 15, 21). This was after the first Continental Congress determined to cut off all trade with Great Britain, publicizing and boycotting any violators. Georgia which rejected the trade ban was duly boycotted until they had a change of leadership joining the ban in 1775 (19-20). Mob violence soon was endemic across the colonies with a surge after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, where loyalists were forced to sign recantation statements, wanted posters were issued by the Patriot Committees of Safety (National Humanities Center, Loyalists II: Traitor! n. p.).

This violence had already become epidemic at least in New England according to Peter Oliver who wrote an appendix to his book Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion, where he lists mob attacks on Loyalists from August 1774 to February 1775 as evidence of the treatment he and his ilk had to endure, ending in his own exile to Halifax. Below is one such incident:

November 1774, David Dunbar of Halifax aforesaid, being an Ensign in the Militia, a Mob headed by some of the Select Men of the Town, demand[ed] his Colors [flags] of him. He refused, saying, that if his commanding Officer demanded them he should obey, otherwise he would not part with them: upon which they broke into his House by Force & dragged him out. They had prepared a sharp Rail to set him upon; & in resisting them they seized him (by his private parts) & fixed him upon the Rail, & was held on it by his Legs & Arms, & tossed up with Violence & greatly bruised so that he did not recover for some Time. They beat him, & after abusing him about two Hours he was obliged, in Order to save his Life, to give up his Colors

(Oliver, appendix 3).

Huck Finn version Rail ride
Wikimedia Commons

Illustration from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn of the King and the Duke being tarred and feathered and ridden on a rail after attempting to perform “The Royal Nonesuch.”

Against a backdrop of a potentially violent populace, Nathaniel Hawthorn describes in his story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” a young man watches as his uncle is tarred and feathered . The uncle was an aristocratic American working for the British government in 1730 Boston. His description of the setting is humorous and informative describing the mood of the people of Massachusetts:

The American people looked with most jealous scrutiny to the exercise of power, which did not emanate from themselves, and they usually rewarded the rulers with slender gratitude for the compliances by which, in softening their instructions from beyond the sea, they had incurred the reprehension of those who gave them. The annals of Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six governors, in the space of about forty years from the surrender of the old charter under James II, two were imprisoned by a popular insurrection; a third, as Hutchinson inclines to believe, was driven from the province by the whizzing of a musket ball; a fourth, in the opinion of the same historian, was hastened to his grave by continual bickerings with the House of Representatives; and the remaining two, as well as their successors till the Revolution, were favored with few and brief intervals of peaceful sway

(Hawthorne 1).

Major Molienux

Contemporary depiction of masked man tarring and feathering a British official.

Interestingly there was a Molienux in the Boston Tea Party who was “active in the actual direction of the riot. He was named as a participant, and unlike other Whig leaders, was not present in the Old South during the afternoon” (Hoeder 262). The lack of authority on the part of the British government is revealing in this case. Governor Hutchinson claims “I am in a helpless state’ because the council as well as the merchants in general ‘profess to disapprove of the tumultuous violent proceedings of the people but they wish to see the professed end of the people…attained in a regular way” (259). The sheriff is sent to disperse the gathering at the Old South Church. He is booed, and as Hutchinson said about ordering the judges sheriff to call out the posse, “no Justice dare to do it and no other Posse except the meeting itself would have appeared” (259). There were no British troops available and the only effective measure the government was able to take was the recalling of guns to the city armory (257). Hutchinson noted that the crowd was made up mostly of the lower orders, journeymen tradesmen and some “Gentlemen of Good Fortune” (258). Sam Adams rebuked the governor and claims “a free people had the right to assemble and consult, especially if they were injured and did so for their own safety” (260). So we see that in the prelude to the tea party, there was widespread involvement the authorities knew that there would be some kind of incident but they had no ability to react. There was debate and discussion. Action taken by the mob was not random or spontaneous for the most part. Guards had been posted to prevent the assembled mob of some 2000 to 3000 from taking advantage by grabbing some of the tossed tea for themselves. Benjamin Franklin like Madison did not approve of the destruction of private property “in as dispute about Public Rights” (263).

Boston Tea Party
W. D. Cooper Wikimedia Commons

“Americans throwing Cargoes of the Tea Ships into the River, at Boston”

A different more spontaneous event is the Boston Massacre which according to Professor Freeman was instigated by a British soldier knocking down a boy who goes to complain to some adults “There is the son of a bitch who knocked me down.” These adults decide to go complain to the British at the barracks and then thing snowballed. Like the dangerous snowballs used by the colonials against the ‘poor’ British soldiers. A mob had formed because someone had rang the town hall fire bell, thinking there was a fire but soon became embroiled in a conflict with British troops. Freeman quotes from British General Gage’s report on how the colonists taunted and threw bricks and snowballs at the soldiers (Freeman, American Revolution part 6).

Boston Massacre

Paul Revere Engraving of Boston Massacre

According to Gordon Wood in his article “A Note on Mobs in the American Revolution,” states that “Mob rioting at one time or another paralyzed all the major cities; and in the countryside violent uprisings of aggrieved farmers periodically destroyed property, closed courts and brought governments to a halt” (Wood 635). In his article Wood argues that these American mobs were not exceptional, i.e. they were not better than European mobs because of some high political ideology and upper class direction. Instead he argues that they reflected the times and the struggles. Discussing the Gordon Riots of 1780 in England, Wood states, “The crowd’s motives were diverse and complicated, ranging from the seeking of ‘elementary social justice at the expense of the rich, les grands, and those in authority,’ to the devotion to political principles and generalized beliefs about man’s place in society” (Rudé qtd, in Wood 636-637). He uses this as an example of how the mobs were not mindlessly violent in Europe and conversely the American mobs were not of some senatorian gravity. Further information on the Gordon Riots indicate that they were a serious attempt on the part of Lord George Gordon to bring about an end to the war with America, and perhaps to effect a revolution that set London in turmoil (Gilmour 368).

A March to the Bank by James Gillray, 1787

“This image is commonly said to be Gillray’s protest against the considerable nuisance caused to pedestrians by a detachment of guards, known as the Bank Piquet, as it marched daily to the Bank of England.

The Piquet was formed in response to an attack on the Bank by a mob during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Soldiers’ shot on the rioters and a number were killed outside the Bank. Read in this context, Gillray’s satire can be thought to show the defenders of privilege and wealth, trampling the poor” Posted by: johngoto in AR Gilt City

Wood in his book Empire of Liberty describes factional fighting between Republicans and Federalists, sparked by the declaration of war in 1812, broke out in Baltimore. The mob of thirty to forty attacked and dismantled the Federalist newspaper which had been aggressively opposed to the war. They told the mayor to stand aside as they had no quarrel with him. “This mob had been acting in a traditionally eighteenth century manner, enforcing what it took to be natural standards of the community” (Wood 337). Subsequently the city erupted in violence. A mob was about to use a canon on the Federalists headquarters where “two dozen of Maryland’s elite” were holed up, after several of the mob had been shot. The authorities intervened and the Federalists were escorted on foot to jail where the angry Republicans burst in that night and stabbed and beat the Federalists, “tearing off their genteel clothes, the most conspicuous symbol of their aristocratic status.” One of them Light Horse Harry Lee subsequently was crippled and another general from the revolution James Lingan died from his wounds. These mobs were “to act against elites precisely because they were elites.” President Madison, when informed of this unrest by Secretary of State Monroe, declined to act (Wood 337-338). This violence taking an increasingly partisan party character with clear class distinctions was something that Franklin had seen in England that he abhorred. “Shun Party – Wrangling, mix not in Debate With Bigots in Religion or the State” (Conner 151).


Gracchus, tribune of the people, wood engraving from 1873, from a play by Adolf von Wiibrandt

The founders raised reading the classics were imbued with a fear of the mob that came with the reading of Appian, Cicero, Plutarch and Sallust among others. These tales of the Roman Civil Wars, starting with the Gracchus, who in their appeal to the masses, brought violence to the Senate (Appian 1-20). The Catiline Conspiracy in Sallust, John Adam’s favorite author (Richard 21, 25). The sectarian battles in the period of the first Triumverate especially the murder of Publius Clodius Pulcher a populist, by Cicero’s friend Milo; in his Pro Milone, defense of his friend Cicero typically indicates his bravery in defending Milo when the mob was against him:

For those guards which you behold in front of all the temples, although they are placed there as a protection against violence, yet they bring no aid to the orator, so that even in the forum and in the court of justice itself, although we are protected with all military and necessary defences, yet we cannot be entirely without fear. But if I thought this adverse to Milo, I should yield to the times, O judges, and among such a crowd of armed men, I should think there was no room for an orator. But the wisdom of Cnaeus Pompeius, a most wise and just man, strengthens and encourages me, who would certainly neither think it suitable to his justice to deliver that man up to the weapons of the soldiery whom he had given over as an accused person to the decision of the judges, nor suitable to his wisdom to arm the rashness of an excited multitude with public authority

(Cicero 2).

Death of Gracchus

The death of Tiberius Gracchus, 132 B.C.E. Steel engraving, 19th century

Cicero was an important source for any reader of the classics in colonial America. Sam Adams even signed one protest against “the British maintenance of a standing army ‘Cedant Arma Togae’ (let weapons yield to the toga), a slogan popular with Roman republicans like Cicero who had insisted upon tight civilian control of the military” (Richard 39). This fear of a standing army is reflected in the Articles of Confederation and informs the attitude of Washington to civil authority. Washington set the precedent stating “I am not fond of stretching my powers and if Congress will say thus far and no farther you shall go, I will promise not to offend…” (Ellis 36). The Roman civil wars ending with the story of the attempt on the part of Cesar to seize the Republic, Brutus and the Ides of March conspiracy, Antony having Cicero murdered. Octavian’s revenge and the subsequent loss of the Republic and rise of empire. The narrative is of a loss of a noble republic due to popular sentiments getting out of hand, the demos being thus a potential threat to republican values, being swayed by demagoguery and military dictatorship sealing the fate of the Roman republic.

Death of Caeser

Death of Caesar, by Vincenzo Camuccini

Michael Parenti, takes the case even further, in his The Assassination of Julius Caesar, “As with Polybus and Cicero, so with Aristotle, and so with the framers of the United States Constitution in 1787 (who were heavily influenced by their reading of the classics and their own propertied class concerns) – all have been mindful of the leveling threats of democratic forces and the need for a constitutional “mix” that allows only limited participation of the demos, with the dominant role allotted to an elite executive power” (Parenti 56-57). While it may not have been precisely the leveling effect the founders feared, after all Franklin, although well to do, was a great believer in economic opportunity and general equality. “Government was to provide a setting for the orderly evolution of social virtue and the peaceful resolution of social friction” (Conner 111). But certainly there was among the founders, especially “The Federalists, increasingly obsessed with the need to stem disorder in America and continuing to cling to a notion of political representation that depended heavily on deference, were most obviously working within a traditional and elitist conception of republicanism” (Beeman 9).

Thus when Franklin’s wife is threatened by a mob who though that Franklin was benefiting from the Stamp Act while he was in London, the fear of the mob becomes something of direct concern (Conner 11). Madison desiring an American response to British banning American trade with the British West Indies, was instrumental in gaining support for a convention on trade to be held in Annapolis in 1786. The delegates using an opening provided by the New Jersey delegation proposed a conference of all the states to consider adjustments to the Articles of Confederation. Madison would have had difficulty gaining passage for Virginia had a strong ant-federalist faction, among whom Governor Patrick Henry was a leader. Were it not for the Shays Rebellion in which alarming reports from War Secretary Knox led Washington to described the Shayites leading unprovoked “disaffected and desperate characters to involve this rising empire in wretchedness and contempt” (Brant 69). With Madison finding such rebellion intolerable and Washington stating “thirteen independent sovereignties pulling against each other…will soon bring ruin upon the whole” (69), the Virginia Congress passed the resolution for a convention in 1787, setting the stage for the Constitutional Convention. Madison according to Freeman in her lectures on the American Revolution decided to study all types of government across all time to determine what would be best and then he went about creating his Virginia plan (Freeman, American Revolution lecture 1).

Shays Rebellion

Shays Rebellion

The Shays Rebellion, indebted farmers, led by Daniel Shays, a war veteran and an officer, was due to Massachusetts farmers being forced to pay 25-40% interest on farm loans and defaulters being sent en masse to prison (68). The rebels first tried petitioning the State for redress, failing that they organized and occupied courthouses freeing debtors for prison. The militia called out by Congress to fight them refused to fight. Ultimately merchants had to raise a private militia and then suppress the rebellion with canon fire. Wood makes the point that in the 1780’s there were serious riots in Charleston, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Haven, and that these were people seeking extra legal means of redress of their grievances. The odd thing about the Shay’s rebellion was that it failed to get the grievances of the rioters or rebels addressed (Wood 639). It is the most well-known rebellion and also the one that failed.

For the Federalists or Nationalists, this was crucial in pushing the wavering into supporting the creation of a more powerful central government. Joseph Ellis in his American Creation notes that Madison thought that the failure of the Confederation Congress to send federal troops to put down the rebellion “represented a failure of national will that endangered the very survival of the American republic. However misguided, these were sincere convictions on Madison’s part, rooted as they were in the genuine belief that ‘the spirit of 76,’ with its reflexive resistance to any coercive expression of governmental authority, was incompatible with any viable national union” (Ellis 96-97). Franklin writing to foreign friends described Shays rebellion as “part of America’s ‘little disorders’ as the result of a few errors which crept into the state and national constitutions during the confusion of war” (Conner 133). One of the final letters of Franklin indicate something of the nature of the American situation at the end of his life, “We have been guarding against an evil that old States are most liable to, excess of power, in the rulers; but our present danger seems to be defect of obedience in the subjects” (146).

The influence of mass popular action upon the founders in reality and in imagination was a palpable influence on the Virginia Plan of Madison presented by James Randolph at the Constitutional Convention on May 29th 1787. He proposed a bicameral legislature, with only the lower house being elected. “[R]ights of suffrage in the National Legislature ought to be proportioned to the Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases” (Avalon Project Variant Texts). The upper house was to be selected by the lower house, the executive selected by combined houses and a judiciary to be selected by the same. This recommended limited franchise can be seen as being in part a direct result of the fear of mob violence.

Franklin at the Constitutional Convention 1787 by Joseph Boggs Beale

Franklin who would have preferred a unicameral legislature and advocated for a more expansive electorate was sidelined. He had seen his experiment in a more expanded franchise in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, become reined in by the time of the Constitutional Convention as more conservative nationalist voices predominated. Nationally the loose Confederation was transformed into a centralized national Republic. The mob or popular masses restricted from participation, never have been completely shut out and since the time of the revolution there has been tension between the popular will and the elite desire to restrict and control the polity of the US.

Works Cited

Appian, The Civil Wars. Trans. John Carter. London: Penguin Books, 1996. Print.
Beeman, Richard, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, Eds. Beyond Confederation Origins of the Constitution American National Entity. Chapel Hill, NC. : U. of North Carolina Press. 1987. Print.
Brant, Irving. James Madison And American Nationalism. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co. Inc. 1968. Print.
Brunhouse, Robert L. The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania 1776-1790. New York: Octagon Books. 1971. Print.
Cicero, M. Tullius. “Pro Milone.” The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Trans. C. D. Yonge, London: George Bell & Sons, 1891. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Conner, Paul W. Poor Richard’s Politiks Benjamin Franklin and his New American Order. NewYork: Oxford U. Press. 1965. Print.
Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation Triumphs and Tragedies At The Founding Of The Republic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2007. Print.
Freeman, Joanne B. The American Revolution History 116. Yale lectures. 2010. Open Yale Courses website: Youtube. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Gilmour, Ian. Riot, Risings and Revolution Governance and Violence in Eighteenth Century England. London: Pimlico. 1992. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” 1830. National Humanities Resource Center Toolbox. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Hoeder, Dirk. Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1765-1780. New York: Academic Press. 1977. Print.
Oliver, Peter. Origin & Progress of the American Rebellion. 1781 Appendix I. National Humanities Resource Center Toolbox. Web. 18 Oct. 2013.
Parenti, Michael. The Assassination of Julius Caesar A People’s History of Ancient Rome. New York: The New Press. 2003. Print.
Richard, Carl J. The Founders and the Classics Greece Rome and the American Enlightenment. Cambridge: Harvard U. Press. 1994. Print.
“Variant Texts of the Virginia Plan, Presented by Edmund Randolph to the Federal Convention, May 29, 1787. Text A” The Avalon Project. Lillian Goldman Library. 2008. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.
Wood, Gordon. “A Note on Mobs in the American Revolution.” William and Mary Quarterly. XXIII (Oct. 1966). 635-642. Web. 17 Oct. 2013.
—. Empire of Liberty A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815. Oxford: Oxford U. Press. 2009. Print.

Dickens Mob

Mob From French Revolution in Dickens Tale of Two Cities

Some Beowulfian Thoughts

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Some thoughts on the world of Beowulf taken from a few sources this afternoon probably too much time spent on this. Some things are clicking like the association between the Viking raids on monasteries and the Frankish Christian attack on the Saxons. Dragons too, show up at the same time and so does Beowulf. Some different views are represented below.

History of Britain: The Anglo Saxon Invasion BBC Documentary
and Pelagius and Pelagianism

This cultural adaptationist view of the dark age British claims Bede made up Anglo Saxon invasion and denied existence of prior British Church. Perhaps it was due to Pelagianism, that was declared heretical by Rome. Pelagius might have been Irish and he was in Rome around the time of Alric 410-411 CE. But I am indulging in my own wondering about why Bede would have been so against the existing British and Irish church. One thing is clear, Christianity was in Roman Britain at least since Constantine, so unless a century of Roman Christianity was wiped out, then the visit of St. Augustine in 597 CE to convert was a myth of sorts.

The message of the documentary seems to be more about lessons in multiculturalism and leaves a lot of evidence unstated. But it does address some of my own concerns about where did the residue of Roman culture go.

After the Fall of the Romans: The Dark Mysterious Ages

This Documentary has a great scene where an ex-forger is recreating Sutton Hoo style art. This one focuses on art, Viking, Anglo-Saxon and Frankish. It presents the idea of three sources of Christianity Irish, Roman and later from Augustine. “Wonky” crosses are shown. They get into the art of Lindisfarne. Beautiful book of Gospels.

The theory of the Viking raids on monasteries were partially in revenge for Charlemagne’s brutal attack on the Saxons. This could be part of the negative view of the Franks in Beowulf.


“The Saxons, restless Germanic tribesmen, have long plagued the settled Frankish territories by raiding from their forest sanctuaries. Charlemagne the emperor is harmed by their depredations; Charlemagne the Christian is outraged by their pagan practices. From 772 he wages ferocious war against them, beginning with the destruction of one of their great shrines and its sacred central feature - the Irminsul or ‘pillar of the world’, a massive wooden column believed to support the universe.”

Read more:

Alcuin shows up all over the place. He was with Charlemagne in the late 8th Century and was opposed to the mixing of pagan myths with Christianity. He was either a student of Bede, or at least was following in Bede’s footsteps.

He was opposed to Charlemagne’s forced conversions of the Saxons (Brock & Parker 230).

Brock and Parker have an interesting perspective on the Dream of the Rood. Claiming it as a bitter sweet critique of the sometimes bloody conversion of the Saxons (229-230).

Brock,Rita Nakashima, Parker, Rebecca Ann. Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of this world for the Crucifixion and Empire. Boston: Beacon Press. 2008. Google books. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.

This is from The Dream of the Rood: An Electronic Edition

“Wondrous was that tree of victory, and I stained with sins

wounded sorely with defects, I saw the tree of glory,

15 honoured with garments, shining joyously,

adorned with gold. Gems had

splendidly covered the Lord’s tree.

I was able, however, to perceive through the gold,

the ancient hostility of wretched ones, [that] it first began

20 to bleed on the right side. I was all troubled with grief,

I was afraid in the presence of that beautiful sight. I saw that noble beacon

change its coverings and colour; sometimes it was drenched with moisture,

soaked with the flow of blood, sometimes adorned with treasure.”


“While returning from Rome in March, 781, he met Charlemagne at Parma, and was induced by that prince, whom he greatly admired, to remove to France and take up residence at the royal court as “Master of the Palace School”. The school was kept at Aachen most of the time, but was removed from place to place, according as the royal residence was changed. In 786 he returned to England, in connection, apparently, with important ecclesiastical affairs, and again in 790, on a mission from Charlemagne. Alcuin attended the Synod of Frankfort in 794, and took an important part in the framing of the decrees condemning Adoptionism.

In him Anglo-Saxon scholarship attained to its widest influence, the rich intellectual inheritance left by Bede at Jarrow being taken up by Alcuin at York, and, through his subsequent labours on the Continent, becoming the permanent possession of civilized Europe. The influences surrounding Alcuin at York were made up chiefly of elements from two sources, Irish and Continental. From the sixth century onward Irishmen were busy founding schools as well as churches and monasteries all over Europe; and from Iona, according to Bede, Aidan and other Celtic missionaries bore the knowledge of the classics, along with the light of the Christian faith, into Northumbria. Both Aldhelm and Bede had Irish teachers. Celtic scholarship appears, however, to have entered only remotely and indirectly into Alcuin’s training. The strongly Roman cast which characterized the School of Canterbury, founded by Theodore and Hadrian, who were sent by the Pope to England in 669, was naturally reproduced in the School of Jarrow, and from this, in turn, in the School of York.”

Vikings Looted Lindisfarne

“Alcuin, the greatest scholar of the day, was an Englishman living in the court of Charlemagne. He wrote, ‘What assurance is there for the churches of Britain, if St. Cuthbert, with so great a number of saints, defends not its own?”

And there were dragons reported in the same year as the attack on Lindisfarne.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

“A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter. Siga died on the eighth day before the calends of March.”

Anyway just doing my pre-Beowulf test research. also watched this great Documentary

Michael Wood: In search of Beowulf.

He loves Bede. There is a great performance intercut in the video of a recitation by Julian Glover. Wood also quotes Alcuin without crediting him in his comment about Ingeld.

Taken from Robert Levine’s “Ingeld and Christ: A medieval problem”

“Alcuin’s question, “Quid Hinieldus cum Christo ?“ (What has Ingeld to do with Christ ‘?).”

Odysseus Tales

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Odyssus diet

I don’t know if it was the sugar that made him that way.

Tales of Brave Odysseus
By Gary Crethers

The Homeric epics serve as both nostalgic adventures and warnings about what once was and could again happen in a condition of lawlessness. The generation of the composition of the texts, is that of the beginning of the democratic, and other state structures based on law. Furthermore upon occasion the voice of the people would find a place in the Iliad and the Odyssey, indicating ambivalence towards the great Odysseus, and offering a subtext to the tales of adventure, with the author critiquing the world of the past portrayed in his tales. In this light Odysseus is not so much a hero, as he is a crafty manipulator, navigating his way, as a primarily self-interested opportunist, a king among freebooters, vengeful, petty and shows self- restraint not as a noble quality but as a survival tactic, becoming a fairly indiscriminate killer when called upon. He reasserts a tenuous authority by murder and claims royal privilege in a world where royalty is little more than being the most willing to commit murder to accumulate some cattle and plundered lucre. A few traditions of hospitality protect strangers. A mythology of devious and plotting gods, mirroring the rule by the bold, strong and crafty, substitutes for the rule of law in Homeric Greece, something that was changing by the time of the writing of these epics as law became written, literally in stone.

There is a critique of this social order in the way Homer handles how the various players fare at Odysseus’s hand. There is implicit and sometimes explicit commentary on this rough and tumble world. Aspects of Homer’s critique emerge by especially showing the relationship of Odysseus with the various orders of the classes, who often provide foils and mirrors for his less than commendable behavior, and express alternatives to violence and vengeance, often the roads not taken.

Some indication as to the status of the classes comes with the discussion between Antinoos and Eumaios where Antinoos complains of Eumaios dragging in “beggars, / foragers and such rats” (Od. 17. 493-494), to which Eumaios replies chiding well born Antinoos for his lack of generosity, listing those who are welcome artisans, healers, prophets, builders and harpers, all sought after, but not beggars, calling Antinoos “a hard man” (Od. 499-510). This delineation of class structure in Homeric Greece indicates some of the crafts that are considered desirable and the tenuous position of the down and out. It also indicates the qualities and values of the suitors, epitomized in its extreme by Antinoos, men who act out the more boorish aspects of privilege. Antinoos throws a stool at the beggar, Odysseus in disguise. By contrast Telemakhous offers bread to the beggar, demonstrating the quality of generosity in hospitality expected of a host (Op. 17. 521-529).

The suitors and Telemakhous are able to sustain their positions due to the acceptance of the rules of hospitality, but not far from the surface are the naked facts of power. The suitors spend their days in athletic and military training. They are the sons of men of property owners and have abused their relationship as guests in the power vacuum. They have not committed a crime in their culture, only abused their privilege, in fact as is stated by Antinoos, in the village council where he blames Penelope for leading them on, if she chose then they would disperse and leave the house to Telemakhous (Od. 90-136). The crime is in the affront to Odysseus’s property, taking the wife of a living man, ironic since that was exactly what Paris did, taking Helen here at least they are suitors, not pillagers. It creates something of a dilemma, what is worse, asking or taking, in that world a strong man took what he wanted. The suitors are actually showing some regard for propriety, a respect that may be based only on rivalry rather than any desire to follow a code of honor. There is no law, only the uneasy truce based on a balance of forces in an impasse.


Melanthios gives Odysseus the boot.

Melanthios, the goatherd, has insulted Odysseus personally, marking him for special treatment later. By the springs of Clearwater he has kicked the disguised Odysseus (Od. 17. 297-298). He gives an interesting critique of the status of beggars among the workers. Perhaps mirroring the upper class view of Antinoos, seeing in the beggar a shirker “he learned his dodges long ago-/ no honest sweat. He’d rather tramp the country/ begging” (Od. 17. 289-291). This reflects the settled working man’s loathing of those who don’t share the fate of a worker, earning his bread by toil. An early statement of the communist dictum ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,’ a system threatened by one who would shirk and attain bread without honest labor.

Iros and Odysseus

Iros and Odysseus duke it out.

The concept of the threat is further emphasized by the competition between the beggars, a parable of early Darwinian survival of the fittest when the house beggar Iros threatened by Odysseus’s presence outside the palace portal orders this rival to be gone (Od. 18. 1-16). There is no thought of charity or sharing on the part of this member of the lumpenproletariat. When Odysseus offers to share the space, with a plea to solidarity, it is rejected, even if the offer is insincere (Op. 18. 19-38). This description of the dog like scramble for scraps from the tables of the upper classes in which these two are pitted against one another, is emphasized when the suitors led by Antinoos present the beggars with a wager, and are forced to compete at the pleasure of the suitors for the scraps from the table, in a winner take all battle royal of boxing (Od. 18. 41-60). Homer is skillfully setting up the scene with foreshadowing of things to come, making a commentary on class relations, solidarity, divide and conquer methods used to separate the poor and on the callousness of the suitors as representative of the upper classes. Even though this is a tale of Odysseus’s revenge, there is a subtext of commentary on relationships of class and gender.

Back to Melanthios, he serves the suitors, seeing this as his best way forward, not expecting a return of Odysseus. He places his bet on the suitors. Wishing Apollo would strike down Telemakhos within earshot of Odysseus, he has earned a seat at the table with the suitors and allies himself with Eurymakhos (Op. 321-331). But as a quick witted servant, when the slaughter of the suitors begins, Melanthios coolly replies to Agelaos, who wants to escape by a window, it would not work, and then thinks of getting weapons for the suitors from the storeroom (Op. 22. 143-155). He then acts, gathering weapons and then returns for more, at which point his good judgment under fire is outdone by Odysseus who has his men grab the goatherd and truss him up for later retribution (Op. 22 156-220). Thus the industrious commoner gets his comeuppance, for he could hardly be rewarded with success in this morality tale where the rightful king is restored to power, some twenty years after his departure for war and plunder.

Questions of legitimacy come up. How long could an adventurer, waylaid by his dalliances among the various demi-godesses expect to find himself still in command of his house? Odysseus’s twenty years away, leads many of the servants to make the reasonable assumption that Odysseus is dead, including Melanthios. Yet he is treated to a special revenge, as a smart servant, he is a serious threat, and must be made an examples to the others. Not only that, he excites blood lust on the part of Odysseus cutting off Melanthios’s nose, ears, genitals, hands and feet (Od. 22. 527-530).

Only the serving maids led by Melantheo get an equivalent treatment, and they are only hanged, after being forced to clean up the mess from the battle. The serving girls are hanged in a particularly gruesome manner, not from a scaffold with a trap door that breaks the neck and kills quickly, but instead by slow strangulation, lifted off the ground, after being compelled to place their own heads in the noose (Op. 22. 517-526). Homer makes their death a pathetic one, comparing them to so many sparrows. Here the reader can question Homer’s loyalties. He describes the vengeful nature of Odysseus, who has a particular grudge against Melanthios’s sister, Melantheo. She had abused Odysseus when disguised as a beggar, paralleling Melanthios’s own abusing of Odysseus. She sleeps with Eurymakhos and had been disobedient to Penelope as well (Op, 18. 395-420). Odysseus cuts her verbal abuse short by threatening her with having her arms and legs cut off, the fate ultimately of her brother. There is a symmetry here, but also is demonstrated a ruthless and bloodthirsty side of Odysseus. Here at last is a woman that is not a goddess or someone Odysseus needs, she is someone he is free to ventilate his misogynistic emotions upon. Rather than simply dismissing a few bad servants, Odysseus has the lot of them hanged at the suggestion of his son who has taken his cue from dad on how to treat servants, one upping him by finding an even more degrading death for the serving girls. Homer doesn’t criticize him directly when dealing out justice to the servants, but the very severity marks Odysseus as a less than generous character. Generosity of spirit i clearly missing in Odysseus, but then these are lowly servants, not prized singers.

Killing Suitors

Odysseus Picks up the Bow.

The theme of the blood feud runs through the last part of the story. Revenge desired by relatives has driven the seer Theoklymenos out of his homeland after murdering a cousin (Op. 15. 337-351), certainly Odysseus expects the same from the relatives of the suitors. Odysseus executes his competitors, rather than negotiate a deal and avoid a blood feud as Eyymakhos reasonably suggests, after the evil Antinoos is killed (Op. 22. 47-72). Even his reunion with Penelope is marred by his bloodletting, Odysseus leaves her with a warning to stay home, the families of the suitors will be out for revenge, as he goes to his father seeking not only a reunion but reinforcements (Od. 23. 409-419). The whole last part of the story is the preamble to a blood feud (Op. 24.455-594). Even after Athena stops him, Odysseus is hot for blood, chasing after the fleeing townsmen until Zeus himself intervenes to remind Athena to end the bloodshed (Op. 598-610).

Odysseus is a cunning man, but he is not a wise man. He gets himself into as many scrapes as he manages to finagle himself out of. Odysseus is a genius because he can keep his head in the crunch, deferring his natural blood lust making him a step up the ladder of civilized living. Homer reminds his audience that as much as they might enjoy a good story, they really don’t want to go back to those days of yesteryear when cruel and vengeful lone rangers like Odysseus rule the world. Solon is hammering out social legislation and experiments are being made in different forms of governance as the tales are conventionalized in writing. Homer’s looking back is laced with presentment of alternatives to the god maddened violence. The commoners, even poor Melanthios, respond as rational humans making good or bad choices as fate may decide. Reacting to a violent upper class bound by only loose traditional standards of conduct, many are a resourceful as their nemesis and model, Odysseus, favorite of Athena, Out of these seeds, emerge much of modern Western class, social and political relations with its own bloody history masked in civility.

Work Cited
Homer, The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Vol. 1. Paul Davis, Gary Harrison, David M. Johnson, Patricia Clark Smith, and John F. Crawford, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 421-768. Print.

More than one Path to Mecca: Shahrazad’s Epic Adventure

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013


illustration from the Edumund Dulac edition

More than one Path to Mecca: Shahrazad’s Epic Adventure
By Gary Crethers

Shahrazad is a well educated and intelligent woman. She boldly takes on the sultan Shahrayar, responding to the outcry of the people of the realm who are losing their daughters to the depredations of the sultan who takes a new one every night and executes her the next morning (Arabian 448, 451-3). One could call Shahrazad a feminist heroine. She goes on an adventure, but it is not one of traveling vast distances, for she only goes from her father’s house to that of the sultan within the same city. But just as Odysseus and Aeneas must venture forth into the world to face tests of their mettle, so does she, within the confines of the culture of the time.

Is this sexist? Perhaps by modern western standards, but women, especially upper class women in Islamic society are shuttered. The main adventure allowed was the Hajj which is one of the five pillars of faith in Islam and involves a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in the lifetime of all Muslims able, men and women (ursis, muslimah7). It is interesting that the Saudi Arabia requires that women be accompanied by a male relative to enter. But one article said it only applied to women under 45 (Silverstein n.pag.). I searched out for an Islamic site to see if I could find some clarification and discovered this regarding female travel. One site Suniforum had the question “is female going to Hajj permitted?” There was a long series of posts with the general consensus being that a woman cannot go more than 48 miles from home without being accompanied by a male relative to whom she cannot be married or her husband. Some schools allow a group of females to go on the Hajj together as long as they are safe, but others don’t (muslimah7) . Last year in the news there was a story about over one thousand women pilgrims from Nigeria being turned away by Saudi authorities and yet the year before there was a Turkish article about women guides being allowed for the first time (Silverstein, Erdail). Apparently female travel has traditionally been disfavored more because of the dangers associated with the trip, than the fact that they are female per see. It is more of a protection than a prohibition. Although it seems there are two schools of thought on that, some emphasizing the safety aspect and others on the rules. Shahrazad would not have been able to make the Hajj while she was a slave or concubine of the sultan, but would have been obligated to go once she was a married woman with or without her husband as long as she had an escort from a male relative or was safe among a group of women, unlikely in that age. Another post indicates that travel for knowledge not available locally is also allowed according to one school. Islam is not monolithic, no more than any other religion, and the restrictions on female travel has loopholes, including, apparently, hiring a temporary relative from a travel agency to go on the Haji. (abbe, amar labedi).

Women in the Islamic world of old were not simply exotic sex slaves, drudges or victims as we see in Shahrazad. Fazeela Siddiqui, Program Manager, for Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality, writing for the Huffington Post made that point in her article “10 Muslim Women Every Person Should Know.” Siddiqui rolls off a number of famous Islamic women, “Nusayba bint Ka’b Al-Ansariyah (Arabia, unknown-634 C.E.)” questioned Muhammed about why only men are addressed in the Quran? He thought about it and answered that women are equal to men, Quran 33:35 (Siddiqui). An example of a slave girl made good was “Rab’ia al-Adawiyya (Iraq, 717-801 C.E.) ,” who became a founding Sufi saint. “Fatima al-Fihri (Morocco, unknown-880 C.E.) with her wealth she built the Al Qarawiyyin mosque. From the 10th to 12th century, the mosque developed into a university — Al Qarawiyyin University,” and not to be outdone by any man, “Sultan Raziyya (India, 1205-1240)” who would not be called a sultana because it made her sound like somebodies servant. She dressed as a man and “was the Sultan of Delhi from 1236 to 1240″ (Siddiqui, n. pag.).

Sultan Raziyya (Modern Conception)

Golley makes the point in her book Reading Arab Women’s Autobiographies: Shahrazad Tells Her Story, that women in Arabic culture are active socially and politically but mostly through the sphere of the family which is an essential component of Arabic society. Since she says there is no separation between public and private life in Arabic culture in the sense that western sociologists and feminists define the term, that women have a much more significant role than is often assumed in the West (Gulley 22-23). Thus Shahrazad’s influence should not be seen as such an anomaly. In fact her influence, via the bedroom is exactly what would be expected. This is not to be seen then as a disadvantage when a woman of resourcefulness takes the position as clearly Shahrazad is. Gulley, writing of Huda Shaarawi Egyptian feminist and nationalist of the early Twentieth century, notes that Shaarawi’s text, Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, played a leading role in the creation of Egypt’s first woman’s union and the struggle against the British imperialism. This woman of the sheltered upper classes, was able to meaningfully participate in civil society (35). Another example of a Shahrazad, educated, sheltered, from an upper class family, yet subordinate to the all powerful ruler, in this case the British. Shaarawi is Shahrazad in a modern context as Gulley has presented her.

As each human has their own story of adventure, of bravery, stepping up and taking advantage of whatever opportunity afforded, One Thousand and One Nights, affirms the same propensity to rise up against adversity that is present in the Odyssey and the Aeneid, thus reflecting to us a reminder, as well as a tale well told of the adventure of life. In this case constrained as she seemingly is by custom and male dominance, Shahrazad manages, just as a modern day Hajjah can circumvent the need for a male member of the family by renting one from a travel agency (amar labedi), there are ways for a resourceful woman even in the context of sure death before the all powerful lord, she has been able through her wiles defeat the beast in man (Thousand Nights 463). No wonder this is considered to be a somewhat disreputable tale (Davis et al 439). It is joyfully subversive.

Works Cited

abbe. “is female going to Hajj Alone permitted?” Suniforum. 26 Oct. 2009. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

amar labedi. “is female going to Hajj Alone permitted?” Suniforum. 08 Sept. 2009. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Davis, Paul, Gary Harrison, David M. Johnson, Patricia Clark Smith, and John F. Crawford, eds. The
Bedford Anthology of World Literature
. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. Print. 2004.

-“The Thousand and One Nights.” Introduction. Davis, etal, eds. World Literature. 435-440.

-The Arabian Nights. Trans. Hussain Haddawy, Davis, et al, eds. World Literature. 441-462.

-The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. Trans. Powys Mathers. Davis, et al, eds. World Literature. 463-467.

Erdal, Busra “Women pilgrims outnumber men on sacred ground in Mecca.” Today’s Zaman. 3 Nov. 2011. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Golley, Nawar Al-Hassan. Reading Arab Women’s Autobiographies: Shahrazad Tells Her Story. Austin: U. of Texas Press. 2003. Google Scholar. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

muslimah7. “is female going to Hajj Alone permitted?” Suniforum. 31 Mar. 2009. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Siddiqui, Fazeela.”10 Muslim Women Every Person Should Know.” Huffington Post. 24 Mar. 2012. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Silverstein, Amy. “Saudi Arabia deports more female pilgrims on their way to Mecca.” Global Post. 28 Sept. 2012. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Ursis. “is female going to Hajj Alone permitted?” Suniforum. 30 Mar.2009. Google. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.

Photos from Google Images (Fair Use).

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