The Origins of Easter


belarusian_easter_eggs

Christians celeberate a feast day called “Easter,” on which they honor a murdered son and his miraculous return to life through the power of the Father.  This story reinterprets the much earlier, Babylonian myth of Osiris, in which Isis, “the Giver of Life,” mother of the sun, and “oldest of the old,” restores Osiris to life, mates with him, and then begets a falcon-headed sun-god, Horus.  Representations of Isis suckling her son were commonly associated with Mary and Jesus from the 5th century, A.C.E., onwards.

isis suckling horus

Jews celebrate a kind of renewal of life during Pesach, or Passover, and recall the time when the Destroying Angel “passed over” those houses whose doorways had been sprinkled with blood, but killed the firstborn sons of all others, giving Pharoh yet another powerful sign that he should release the Jews from captivity.

Beitzah

Blood and eggs feature prominently in both Easter and Passover.   Christian children hunt for and devour eggs that a magic rabbit has hidden, and Jews place a roasted or hard-boiled egg, the Beitzah on the Seder plate to commemorate and mourn the sacrifices that they used to make in the destroyed Temple. But the Beitzah also symbolizes the joyful return of life at springtime.

A tradition that appears to predate Judaism and Christianity, whose traces have lingered in the Middle East, Asia, and Old Europe, is the honoring of women’s power to give birth, symbolized again by blood and eggs.  Decorated goose eggs were found in a German grave that dates back to the 4th century.   Lithuanians began to decorate and share eggs with one another at least as early as the 13th century.

ScriptMother_GimbutasSchematic

A drawing of an Old European goddess found in Marja Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess

Common motifs on these eggs are  spirals, suns, teeth, trees, flora and birds.  According to  Lithuanian historian Marja Gimbutas, who pioneered archaeomythologyan interdisciplinary approach to scholarship that combines archaeology, mythology, ethnology, folklore, linguistic paleontology, and the study of historical documents,  these symbols represent fertility goddesses worshiped by the people of ancient Europe.

red eggsPersians have exchanged red-colored eggs at the Spring equinox to celebrate No-rooz, or “New Day,”  for at least 3,000 years. The holiday is rooted in Zoroastrian religion, which prevailed in Iran long before Islam.

 

According to Bede, the Northumbrian monk living c. 720 A.C.E., the oldest origins of Easter began in rituals for Eostre, or Ostara, (Northumbrian Old EnglishĒostreWest Saxon Old English: ĒastreOld High German*Ôstara), a Saxon goddess associated with the Moon.  In De Temporum ratione, Bede wrote:

Original Latin:

Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.
Modern English translation:
Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
The Moon-Rabbit is also a symbol of fertility and immortality in ancient China.  This is embroidery on an 18th-Century Chinese Robe.

The Moon-Rabbit is also a symbol of fertility and immortality in ancient China. This is embroidery on an 18th-Century Chinese Robe.

The moon-hare was sacred in both eastern and western ancient practices.

 

 

 

 

 

When Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Holy Roman Empire, defeated the Saxons in 700s, all the months of the year were changed from their Latin names.  April was called “Osteranoth” in Frankish and Ostermonat in German.  Jacob Grimm speculated that the German equivalent “Ostern” derived from the name of an ancient Germanic goddess, Ostara, or Oestre.

Some scholars believe that Isis and Astarte are Egyptian and Syrian names for the same moon goddess whom the  Europeans worshipped.  Astarte,  Asherah and Anath are the three great goddesses of Canaanite religion.

A goddess with a similar name is found on some Roman altar stones from the Lower Rhine in North-West Germany.  These altars were dedicated to local mother goddesses, who frequently appeared as triple deities and were associated with fertility.   Similar altars dedicated to goddesses with Celtic names occur throughout northern Italy, France, Spain, and Britain.  Very close to St. Bede’s  Easterwines monastery at Monkwearmouth there is an ancient Roman fort where many inscriptions are found on an altar dedicated to Astarte, the Syrian and Phoenician fertility goddess.

Fertility celebrations are found throughout ancient European and Mediterranean regions.  The Saxons, the Irish, and the Persians  all kept a movable feast on the first day of the week after the first full moon of the Spring equinox.

Bohemians also had a ritual on the day after Oestre Sunday, which was a “Moon-day,” in which village girls sacrificed the “Lord of Death” by throwing him into the water and singing,

Death swims in the water, spring comes to visit us,

With eggs that are red, with yellow pancakes,

We carried Death out of the village

We are carrying Summer into the village.

Ritualistically casting death into the river, the villagers celebrated the return of the growing season and new life, preparing for summer’s bounty with red eggs and sun-shaped and colored food.

“Oestre “also is the source of our scientific term, estrous, from the Latin Oestrus and the  Greek οἶστρος).  The Oxford English Dictionary defines the estrus cycle as

the period of sexual receptivity and fertility during the reproductive cycle of most female mammals; the time of being in heat.

Lefthandofeminism likes Wikipedia’s version better:

The estrous cycle comprises the recurring physiological changes that are induced by reproductive hormones in most mammalian placental females. Humans undergo a menstrual cycle instead. Estrous cycles start after puberty in sexually mature females and are interrupted by anestrous phases or pregnancies. Typically estrous cycles continue until death. Some animals may display bloody vaginal discharge, often mistaken for menstruation, also called a “period”.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, all people of the planet Gethen experience estrus cycles, or periods of “kemmer,” which come and go.  As Le Guin observes,

Consider: Anyone can turn his[sic] hand to anything.  This sounds very simple, but its psychological effects are incalculable.  The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be…’tied down to child-bearing’ implies that no one is quite so thoroughly ‘tied down’ here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be–psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk or choice to make.  Therefore nobody here is as free as a free man anywhere else.

Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive.

Imagine how extraordinary our world would be if, instead of obediently rehearsing these polarities in the liturgies of the Jewish, the Christian, and the Muslim traditions,  every year, we celebrated this time of year by considering the sexes as equals, as companions, as equally powerful and active agents.

What if we were to celebrate Eostre and the oestrus in Easter by recognizing our commonality with mammals, who, like us, give birth by virtue of the blood that softens our wombs and ebbs and flows in us, like the river of life?  What if, instead of lording it over mammals and all other animals, or granting supremacy to those who do lord around, we celebrated our mutual dependence on one another and on the planet from which all life springs?

We should especially celebrate  the oestrus, the gadfly that, by stinging, moves the more bovine among us out of the mud, where we are wallowing.

Let us also remember that the figural meaning of estrus and oestrus is “Something that incites a person to passionate, esp. creative, activity.”  Let’s all be gadflies tomorrow and incite one another to passionate bursts of creative activity.

And really–to all of you who celebrate the holiday, Happy Easter!

Whither the Revolution for Women in Egypt and Yemen?


Where are the brave, feminist women and men who helped to bring down Mubarak in Egypt, and who have long been agitating against Saleh in Yemen, now?  About a quarter of the million protesters who brought down the Egyptian dictator were women.   Tawakul Karman, who has led anti-government protests at Sana’a University for years, voices the concerns of progressive Yemeni women. Time Magazine and The Guardian call her the “head of the Yemeni protest movement,” but what power does she really have? Will the men–and so far in Egypt they are all men–who rise to power because of these women value or represent their concerns?  To ask this question is not simply to inquire about politics  in the Middle East, but also to consider how deeply entrenched misogynist attitudes and customs will influence the new states to come.

Nesrine Malik, writing for Altmuslimah, argues that the few women who have been featured as central to the Arab uprisings have been “tokenized” and do not represent any genuine egalitarian development in the Middle East:

While the prominence of women in the revolutions has been moving, there is a psychology behind celebrating and glorifying women’s political activity when it is part of a popular push. In these times women are almost tokenised by men as the ultimate downtrodden victims, the sign that things are desperate, that even members of the fairer sex are leaving their hearths and taking to the streets. The perception isn’t that women are fighting for their own rights, but merely that they are underwriting the revolution by bringing their matronly dignity to the crowd like some mascot

It was not a good sign when, on February 11, the day Mubarak fell, groups of men in Tahrir square groped numerous female protesters, and a gang of thugs from the crowd raped CBS journalist Lara Logan.

It was also not good when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took over, appointed an all-male panel of legal experts to revise the Egyptian constitution.  A broad coalition of women’s groups immediately demanded that women have a greater part in planning the future state and that at least one woman lawyer be appointed to the panel, but their concerns were ignored.  On March 8, International Women’s Day, thousands of Egyptian women marched in Tahrir Square.  Instead of being celebrated for their heroic role in bringing down an oppressive regime, they were assaulted hordes of hostile men, who soon outnumbered them,  shouting insults and commanding them to “Go home, where you belong.”  Groups of men attacked and beat many female protesters and chased them down the streets.

Egypt and Yemen are ranked 125 and 134 out of 134 countries in a World Economic Forum report on the status of women.  Forty-two per cent of Egyptian and 57 per cent of Yemeni women are illiterate.  Genital mutilation is still practiced in rural parts of Egypt. Women occupied 8 of 454 seats in Parliament in Egypt and no seats in Yemen’s government.   Egyptian men freely grope, harrass, and insult women on the streets without fear of punishment.  The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights reported in 2008 that the majority of women had been harrassed, most frequently by state security officers.

Amnesty International reports that the Yemeni women “are valued as half the worth of men when they testify in court or when their families are compensated if they are murdered.”  Feminists have recently called for and end to the hideous practice of forcing girls into marriage at very young ages, sometimes as young as 8.  Last year a 12-year-old died from injuries sustained when her 30 year-old husband forced himself on her.  Another, 13, bled to death after her husband tied her up and raped her.  Predictably, top Yemeni clerics have denounced those who have called for a ban on the practice as apostates.

The recent abominable treatment of a very brave Libyan woman, whom Muammar el-Qaddaff’s forces raped, then abducted, isolated, and interrogated for days, has highlighted discriminatory attitudes in that part of the world as well.  The New York Times reports that

Like many traditionalist countries in the region, Libyans often treat rape as a crime against the honor of a woman or her family, rather than as an attack on the woman herself. In some families, a girl or woman who has been raped is cast out or shunned.

The change in the Egyptian regime so far has not made women any safer.

On March 9 the military cleared Tahrir Square of protesters and took at least 18 women into custody at an annex to the Cairo Museum. There soldiers beat or strip-searched these women while other men watched and took photographs.  They also forced the women to submit to “virginity tests” and threatened those “not found to be virgins” with  prostitution charges.  One woman found not to be a virgin by this humiliating “test” said soldiers afterwards gave her electric shocks.

Amnesty International has described these forced “virginity checks” as torture designed to degrade women because they are women and called for all medical personel in Egypt to refuse to administer these tests.

Journalist Rasha Azeb, whom the military detained, testified that soldiers  handcuffed, beat, and insulted her.  Before she was released, she heard the screams of the other women being given electric shocks and beaten.

17 women, including 20-year old Salwa Hosseini, were taken to a military prison in Heikstep, where guards tortured them further.  Ms. Hosseini told Amnesty International that

she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window.  During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

Let us remember that the men who did this were not working for Mubarak, although such abuses certainly took place under his watch.  These events took place under the jurisdiction of the provisional government.  Will they continue to occur?  Who will stop them?  Will they prompt Egyptians to vote for a more religious order, a rule of Shariah law?

Egyptian women are incredibly strong and determined.  Witness Dr. Nawal El Sadaawi, the determined feminist who founded Global Solidarity for Secular Society and who has been working to liberate women for more than fifty years.  Dr. Sadaawi argues that women need more than what passes for “democracy” in the modern world.  Women will only be free when the underlying roots of misogyny are broken apart and exposed to the light, where they will wither away.  Until men stop learning to demean, degrade, and condescend to women, the political systems that come into place will perpetuate these practices.

Sexism–prejudice–the unconscious or conscious belief that women do not have the same rights to self-determination, to subjecthood, to speaking out, to being visible, to making choices about their own bodies, to moving through public space independently, that men enjoy–this is the underlying cancer that destroys all societies.

Androcentrism, the mistaken belief that the world centers around men and that men should be in charge of women, is at the root of all other forms of oppression, because sexual difference is the first difference, the foundation of the awareness of self and other. Masculinism is a pernicious an evil in the European and American West as it is in the Arab world, and this is why feminists across the globe have reached out to one another.

Until we can learn to live with one another’s differences, whatever they may be (and they might be different ways of being male, different ways of being female, different ways of being sexual, different ways of interpreting anatomies and proclivities), until we can learn to stop forcing human beings to accept extremely rigid and narrow sexual roles (all women must…and all men will….), we will not be free.

The first step towards freedom, real liberty for women and for men, is to separate the state from the church, because nearly all world religions perpetuate the false belief that men are superior to women.   But as we have seen under Mubarak and Saleh and under every US president, setting up a secular government is not in itself enough to eradicate widespread prejudice and violence against women.

The only thing that will bring about the kind of change that we all desperately need is a feminist consciousness and a dedicated belief in the political, economic, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual equality of women.  The revolutionary action that thousands of Egyptian and Yemeni women have taken in the past months has done a lot to remind women–and women are the ones who most of all need to believe, to embrace this truth–that they are inherently as valuable as human beings as men, and that all women and all men, including gay and transgender and bisexual and cross-dressing women and men, possess the same rights to self-determination and social power as the dominant, heterosexual men who currently dominate global politics.

The argument I am making here should be clear:  thousands of lion-hearted women and feminist men have stood up to oppression in general, and against women in particular, across the Arab world.  It is wonderful to see Dr. Saadawi and Ms. Karman get the recognition they deserve after their years of struggle against and persecution by their governments.  I also salute Saida Sadouni, the Tunisian feminist “widely hailed as the mother of Tunisia’s revolution, a living record of her country’s modern history and its struggle for emancipation” and agree with Soumaya Ghanoushi, a writer for the Guardian who argues that Arab women have shattered Western prejudices of submissive, veiled women and

refuse to be treated with contempt, kept in isolation, or be taken by the hand, like a child, and led on the road to emancipation. They are taking charge of their own destinies, determined to liberate themselves as they liberate their societies from dictatorship. The emancipation they are shaping with their own hands is an authentic one defined by their own needs, choices and priorities.

Yes, all of this is true.  But it is also true that revolution may bring about a change in regime but not a change in deeply rooted attitudes towards women, not only in the Arab world, but here at home.  Feminists in Egypt and Yemen have been working hard to bring about truly egalitarian change for many years.  I support them and hope that their cause remains in the spotlight, because their cause is our cause.

Nonviolence vs. U.S. Support for Repression in the Middle East


Some things that the brave protestors in the Arab and Persian worlds have taught us:

1.  Non-violence is the most effective weapon against violence. As Gene Sharp notes in “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines.  Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).

People–even soldiers and policemen–do not willingly fire on unarmed, peaceful protestors.  Leaders of nations that claim to be democracies have a hard time keeping themselves elected when they openly support dictators who slaughter and pillage their people.  Although it took a painfully long time for the Obama administration to declare its allegiance to the democratic activists in the streets, US ties to the military and pressure probably had much to do with the fall of Mubarak and his thugs.  But other nations, such as Britain, Germany, and France, have also had to withdraw their support for Mubarak and the other autocratic rulers of countries around the Mediterranean ocean and Red Sea that are currently up in arms: Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen.

Today’s Times has a good summary of unrest in the region:

LIBYA There were violent demonstrations in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, for a third day. Human rights groups said 24 people had been killed across the country, although activists say the count could be much higher

BAHRAIN The army opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators, and when ambulances arrived to tend to the wounded, the soldiers opened fire again. Doctors at one hospital said that at least one person died and that four or five were critically wounded.

EGYPT Millions of people assembled in Tahrir Square in Cairo to celebrate the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak a week ago and to press the military to make good on its promise to move toward democracy.

YEMEN Yemeni media reported that four protesters died in the port city of Aden in battles with the police, and there were clashes in two other cities between people demonstrating for and against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

JORDAN Government supporters fought with demonstrators calling for political change in Amman, the capital, and several people were injured, witnesses said.

KUWAIT More than 1,000 stateless Arabs demonstrated in the city of Jahra demanding citizenship, with dozens of people arrested by the police, according to witnesses. The demonstration was broken up by security forces using smoke bombs and water cannons.

DJIBOUTI About 6,000 people turned out to protest against the government of President Ismail Omar Guelleh, and security forces used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Among the issues is a constitutional change that did away with a two-term limit for the president.

TUNISIA The transitional government approved a general amnesty of the country’s political prisoners. In addition, at least three people were injured when security forces fired in the air to break up a demonstration by hundreds of Islamists protesting against a brothel in Tunis, the capital.

2. The United States, Britain and many other so-called “democratic” nations have long supported brutal regimes that have terrorized, imprisoned, and tortured their people, and this practice has neither guaranteed stability nor made them many friends in the world.

The U.S. helped to overthrow Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, a democratically elected prime minister, who nationalized Iran’s petroleum industry and oil reserves.  Reactionary anti-communist forces in both Britain and the U.S. engaged in a successful plot to overthrow Mossadegh, installing Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the puppet autocratic ruler of Iran.  The outrage and resentment that this criminal act fostered in the Iranian people led directly to the rise of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the 1979 Revolution, and and the current, murderous regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

US SUPPORT FOR DICTATORSHIP AND REPRESSIVE REGIMES IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The U.S. obviously does not support the government of Iran, but it has been very friendly and helpful to numerous other near-dictatorships in the Middle East:

A.P. demonstrators in Libyan city of Benghazi

Libya: A small elite benefit from most of this country’s rich oil reserves.  The U.S. closed its military bases in Libya in 1970 and cut off economic and diplomatic relations with the country after it was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  Relations were restored in 2005. There is no freedom of speech or information in Libya.  According to the New York Times,

the Libyan government has tried to impose a blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally severed, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. Al Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring the region, has been taken off the air. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were reluctant to talk to the foreign press via phone, fearing reprisals from the security forces.

The U.S. Department of State reports that Quadafhi has pursued a policy against Islamic fundamentalism that has potentially turned elements of the military against him.  The Bush administration normalized relations with Libya in 2009 and in 2010 the U.S. signed a trade agreement with the country.

Breaking news reports about Libya on Twitter suggest that 250 demonstrators were killed in air strikes today.  It is also rumored that Libyan ambassador to the UN ambassador has asked Quadhafi to step down.

Bahrainian protestorsBahrain: This tiny kingdom on the Persian Gulf is a strategic asset in U.S. foreign policy.  It has been a base for U.S. operations since 1947.  The monarch and ruling class are Sunni, while the majority of the population are Shiite.  The Sunni minority enjoys the majority of the country’s resources and civic benefits. Nicholas Kristof reports today that:

Here in Bahrain, we have been in bed with a minority Sunni elite that has presided over a tolerant, open and economically dynamic country — but it’s an elite that is also steeped in corruption, repression and profound discrimination toward the Shia population. If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia.

A 20-year-old medical student, Ghadeer, told me that her Sunni classmates all get government scholarships and public-sector jobs; the Shiites pay their own way and can’t find work in the public sector. Likewise, Shiites are overwhelmingly excluded from the police and armed forces, which instead rely on mercenaries from Sunni countries. We give aid to these oligarchs to outfit their police forces to keep the Shiites down; we should follow Britain’s example and immediately suspend such transfers until it is clear that the government will not again attack peaceful, unarmed protesters.

The people of Bahrain have been protesting these injustices for nine consecutive days.  At least 7 people have been killed and hundreds have been injured.

Egypt:  The U.S. substantially supported the autocratic regime of President Hosni Mubarak, whom protestors forced to step down on February 11, 2011.  For examples of the brutality of this government, see for example, this article, and also  this Human Rights Watch report on police torture.

Tawakul Karman and other Yemeni women calling for democracy

Yemen: The U.S. and Britain have both invested heavily in the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whom they have considered a friend in the so-called “war against terror.”  The U.S. Department of State reports that

In FY 2009 U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $2.8 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1 million, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $2.5 million. In FY 2009 Yemen also received $19.8 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $11.2 million in development assistance, and $67.1 million in Section 1206 funding.

Critics of the government, such as Tawakul Karman, have long complained that Saleh has done little or nothing to stop the rise of Al Quaeda within its borders.  Protesters in Yemen began their uprising by calling for democratic reforms, but lately more of them have insisted that Saleh step down and make way for a more democratic government.Human Rights Watch reports on the violent suppression of journalists, academics, and other opinion makers who support a more egalitarian distribution of resources and civil rights in the country here..

On the 11th consecutive day of protests, the President, whose forces killed a teenager and wounded four other people in Aden, compared the current enthusiasm for democracy to a disease:

This is a virus and is not part of our heritage or the culture of the Yemeni people,” he told reporters. “It’s a virus that came from Tunisia to Egypt. And to some regions, the scent of the fever is like influenza. As soon as you sit with someone who is infected, you’ll be infected.

Jordanians demanding reform

Jordan: The U.S. Department of State describes relations between the United States and Jordan as having been “close for  6 decades, with 2009 marking the 60th anniversary of U.S.-Jordanian ties.”  Human Rights Watch reports that torture is rife in the Jordanian prison system and that restrictive laws suppress civil rights in the country at large.

King Abdullah, who succeeded his father, the late King Hussein, in 1999, has promised to institute reforms. Many of the protesters are fiercely critical of the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty.

Bedouins protesting for greater civil rights in Kuwait

Kuwait: Bedouins peacefully demonstrating in front of a mosque were drawn into a violent scuffle with special security forces and operatives.  Arab Times reported that 1500 special security forces and 500 operatives got involved, and that 20 people sustained injuries while about 60 people were arrested.  Apparently before this fight broke out,  women protesters met with Assistant Undersecretary for Public Security Major General Khalil Al-Shemali.  Many Beduoins, considered to be stateless Arabs, have claimed Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government has rejected their requests and claimed that their ancestors came from elsewhere. It launched a crackdown on the Bedouins, who may not obtain drivers licenses, birth or death certificates, or marriage contracts, in 2000.  There are about 100,000 stateless persons living in Bedouins, many in abject poverty.

The U.S. Department of State reports that

The United States is currently Kuwait’s largest supplier of goods and services, and Kuwait is the fifth-largest market in the Middle East. U.S. exports to Kuwait totaled $2.14 billion in 2006.

Protesters in Djibouti

Djibouti: While today’s NYTimes reports that only 6,000 protesters demonstrated against the government in this country (see above), the Financial Times states that, according to  oppositions leaders, more than 30,000 people protested on Friday against the rule of Ismail Ghuelleh, who nullified a constitutional tw0-term limit so that he could stand for office again last year.  According to a protestor interviewed by the FT, the people have come out into the streets to demonstrate against “dictatorship, bad government, lack of democracy and dynastic succession.”  According the U.S. Department of State:

The government established a minister for women’s affairs and is engaged in an ongoing effort to increase public recognition of women’s rights and to ensure enforcement. The government is leading efforts to stop illegal and abusive traditional practices, including female genital mutilation. As the result of an ongoing effort, the percentage of girls attending primary school increased significantly and is now more than 50%. However, women’s rights and family planning continue to face difficult challenges, many stemming from acute poverty in both rural and urban areas. With female ministers and members of parliament, the presence of women in government has increased. Despite the gains, education of girls still lags behind boys, and employment opportunities are better for male applicants.

This report also states that

The Djiboutian Government has been very supportive of U.S. and Western interests, particularly since the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. President Guelleh continues to take a very proactive position against terrorism.

Tunisia: Civil resistance and pro-democracy demonstrations led to the ouster of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011.  Fed up with high unemployment, little freedom of speech, corruption,and  food inflation. They began on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire.

The U.S. has regarded Tunisia as a friend and stalwart ally for a very long time–the U.S. State Department boasts that the relationship goes back 200 years.  Through the U.S.-North African Economic Partnership (USNAEP), designed to promote U.S. investment in, and economic integration of, the Maghreb region, and the  Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which aimed to foster economic reform projects while adding bilateral and regional projects for education reform, civil society development, and women’s empowerment, Tunisia received more than $4 million in assistance from the U.S. from 2001 to 2005.  Amnesty International paints a much darker picture of Tunisia before the uprising.  It charged  that the government of  had misled the world about the states of human rights in and observed

In their efforts to prevent the formation of what they call “terrorist cells” inside Tunisia, the authorities have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and detentions which breach Tunisian law, and have forcibly disappeared detainees, used torture and other ill-treatment and tried, convicted and sentenced people using unfair proceedings. In addition, they have tried civilians before military courts and produced little evidence to substantiate the charges.

 

Pro-democracy protestors in all these countries have bravely withstood tanks, assault weapons, tear gas, and beatings.  People died tragically when government forces attacked them, but the military and police forces in these countries eventually backed off for a complex set of reasons.  The most important of these reasons is that the soldiers and police were finally unwilling to slaughter unarmed, peaceful protestors.  Another significant factor is that the United States, which has historically supported these unjust regimes, threatened to withdraw their support if the government did not stop killing their citizens.

I am hoping that President Barak Obama will stand up for democracy in a way that few of his predecessors have done.  But I am obviously not just hoping silently.  I am speaking out here on this blog.  I hope that you will also speak out in support of democracy everywhere, including in our country.  On this, please see Paul Krugman’s excellent editorial about the threat to democracy here at home.

Thinking about Rape and #Lara Logan


While it is tiresomely predictable and lamentable that the knee-jerk reaction to the rape of a woman journalist has been to blame the victim, it is more distressing to me that so few commentators on the commentary have discussed the cultural conditions that permit and even encourage men to prove their manhood by beating, raping and violating women.   Over the many years that I have taught English to university undergraduates and graduates, I’ve been discouraged and stunned by the number of women who refuse to call themselves feminists and who adamantly insist that they have never been the victim of discrimination on the basis of gender.  A primary objective of most of my courses has been to show them how deeply misognynist and masculinist American culture is, and how we still live very much in a culture of rape. I have written about that here in relation to the Congo and Ben Rothlisberger and also recommend this article on the subject.

Misogynist means “woman-hating,” of course.  Masculinism is the arbitrary belief that masculine beings and characteristics associated with masculinity are superior to feminine beings and characteristics associated with femininity.  For a discussion of gender as a construct, please see this article.   We live in a masculinist culture in which many men are taught that they can only prove that they are masculine and superior to other people by dominating weaker persons, especially women.  Rapists violently and sexually assault their victims’ bodies and minds, often inflicting tremendous physical and emotional pain, in an effort to gain an illusory sense of themselves as powerful and manly.

They many people who blame a rapist’s victim for bringing the violence upon herself are also violently assaulting women, often including tremendous emotional pain.  This is not physical, but, rather, symbolic violence.  Violence inflicted through words that convey a deeply-rooted scorn for women as well as for all male beings who don’t measure up as “manly” in a masculinist culture.

Here what Echidne of the Snakes has to say about the case:

For what this is about:

On Friday February 11, the day Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, CBS correspondent Lara Logan was covering the jubilation in Tahrir Square for a “60 Minutes” story when she and her team and their security were surrounded by a dangerous element amidst the celebration. It was a mob of more than 200 people whipped into frenzy. In the crush of the mob, she was separated from her crew. She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers. She reconnected with the CBS team, returned to her hotel and returned to the United States on the first flight the next morning. She is currently in the hospital recovering.”>

I wish her full recovery from the assault. I hope that she approved the publishing of these details by CBS.

Now for the topic of this post, disgusting as it is: The comments wherever the sexual assault is discussed, especially on non-moderated comment threads. The majority of those comments are the vilest of the vile. Here is an example for those who wish to wade in the filth themselves. I advocate a Hazmat suit and excellent mental health as prudent precautions.

The loathsome comments are of two major types: The first type describes Muslims or Arabs as animals and so on. The second type, the one I’m going to analyze here, consists of victim blaming. It is Logan’s fault if she gets assaulted, in short.

There is a third type, too, which is about the desire of the commentator to join in with the gang rape of various too uppity women in the public eye or a wish that some other female celebrity had been assaulted instead.

And what about the victim blaming? Let me count the ways:

1. This experience teaches women that there are jobs women just cannot do. They get raped if they try and should stay at home, reporting on high school football games. I include that example because I came across it three times in the first 200 comments linked to above. Thus, women can be reporters but only about something which doesn’t let you advance very far in your career or truly compete with men. And the reason is not the women themselves but what can be done to them by some men. Thus, it is the victim who should pack her bags and go home, while the assaulters don’t get told to do that.

2. This experience teaches women that gender equality is impossible and that they should accept it and not to try to horn into the military services, for instance. Sorta like vive la difference but from a misogynistic point of view. Something like a sexual assault is Just The Way Things Are, and we should all be reminded of the value of traditional gender roles. Except, of course, in the case of Muslims who shouldn’t have them.

3. Logan is good-looking and blonde. She should expect to be assaulted under those conditions.

4. She dresses seductively. She should expect to be assaulted under those conditions.

5. What happened to her was a proper revenge for all her years of spouting liberal dogma and her assumption that she can just flit about in a man’s job.

Comment threads to posts about sexual assault will get a large number of comments from disgusting individuals, naturally, and I am not arguing here that what I describe would be based on a random sample of all readers of the piece. But even given the biased sample, the number and quality of the comments makes me want to give up my membership in the human species. Though people with the opinions I have outlined already think women are not full members of the species.

It is not just the comments threads which are full of woman-hating and inhumanity. Check out this post to get another eyeful of victim blaming.

#Egypt: Hosni Mubarak resigns as president – Middle East – Al Jazeera English


 

 

They did it!  Let’s hope that we–the United States–choose the people, and not Vice President Suleiman, who has personally overseen torture.

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, has resigned from his post, handing over power to the armed forces.

Omar Suleiman, the vice-president, announced in a televised address that the president was “waiving” his office, and had handed over authority to the Supreme Council of the armed forces.

Suleiman’s short statement was received with a roar of approval and by celebratory chanting and flag-waving from a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, as well by pro-democracy campaigners who attended protests across the country on Friday.

The crowd in Tahrir chanted “We have brought down the regime”,  while many were seen crying, cheering and embracing one another.

Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader, hailed the moment as being the “greatest day of my life”, in comments to the Associated Press news agency.

“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said.

“Tonight, after all of these weeks of frustration, of violence, of intimidation … today the people of Egypt undoubtedly [feel they] have been heard, not only by the president, but by people all around the world,” our correspondent at Tahrir Square reported, following the announcement.

“The sense of euphoria is simply indescribable,” our correspondent at Mubarak’s Heliopolis presidential palace, where at least ten thousand pro-democracy activists had gathered, said.

via Hosni Mubarak resigns as president – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Egypt’s army ‘involved in detentions and torture’ | World news | The Guardian


The military has claimed to be neutral in the political standoff and both Mubarak and his prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, have said there will be no “security pursuit” of anti-government activists. But Morayef says this is clearly not the case.

“I think it’s become pretty obvious by now that the military is not a neutral party. The military doesn’t want and doesn’t believe in the protests and this is even at the lower level, based on the interrogations,” she said.

Human Rights Watch says it has documented 119 arrests of civilians by the military but believes there are many more. Bahgat said it was impossible to know how many people had been detained because the army is not acknowledging the arrests. But he believes that the pattern of disappearances seen in Cairo is replicated across the country.

via Egypt’s army ‘involved in detentions and torture’ | World news | The Guardian.

Why Egypt’s progressives win – Opinion – Al Jazeera English


 

 

Egypt Watchers should read Paul Amar’s  informative article, which explains how progressive social forces are changing the country, and why Suleiman and conservative business interests will have to work with them.  Here’s a snippet:

 

It is crucial to remember that this uprising did not begin with the Muslim Brotherhood or with nationalist businessmen. This revolt began gradually at the convergence of two parallel forces: the movement for workers’ rights in the newly revived factory towns and micro-sweatshops of Egypt – especially during the past two years – and the movement against police brutality and torture that mobilised every community in the country for the past three years. Both movements feature the leadership and mass participation of women of all ages and youth of both genders. There are structural reasons for this.

via Why Egypt’s progressives win – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Time for Mubarak to Go


A Mubarak supporter threw a gasoline bomb on Wednesday.

The Obama administration has hovered on a knife’s edge while hundreds of thousands of people have demonstrated against their autocratic President, Hosni Mubarak,  in Cairo, Alexandria, and across Egypt.   The choice was obvious long ago–the United States must stand for democracy and human rights–but now that Mubarak has sent his murderous thugs into Tahrir Square, we call for  Mubarak must go!  We must call for it immediately.  The longer we stand on the side of thuggery, the less credible our rhetoric of “freedom for all” will be.    Will we enforce “democracy” with gasoline bombs and bullies?  Or will we support the people who want to choose their own leaders?

The New York Times reports,

The deployment of plainclothes forces paid by Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party — men known here as baltageya — has been a hallmark of the Mubarak government, and there were many signs that the violence was carefully choreographed.

The anti-Mubarak demonstrators had organized themselves to try to avoid violence. Men held hands in long chains to keep the two groups apart. Others, with effusive apologies, searched those entering the square for weapons. Some stepped in with whistles to break up arguments that had started to grow heated.

Several people interviewed independently said that ruling party operatives had offered them 50 Egyptian pounds, less than $10, if they agreed to demonstrate in the square on Mr. Mubarak’s behalf. “Fifty pounds for my country!” said Yasmina Salah, 29.