Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Day Worth Remembering: The Spanish Inquisition and the Moors

Four hundred years ago today, King Philip III signed an order to expel 300,000 Moors who had converted from Islam to Christianity. The purge happened during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, an ecclesiastical court established to direct attacks against converts from Judaism and Islam. They also tried to wipe out any existing memory of Moorish rule in literature, and architecture.

North African Moors conquered Spain in the 8th century. The Muslim's armies were only expelled around 800 years later. The victory of the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand of Casstile and Queen Isabella of Aragon likely changed the course of world history and ushered in the consolidation of western dominance and discovery of the "New World". Many Spanish Muslims today argue that the government should apologize for the wrongs committed during the ethnic cleansing campaign 400 years ago.

Unfortunately, the significance of today may be lost on many, but certainly not on those of us who understand how historical events in Spain centuries ago have literally shaped the way we exist today.

Below, is a video illustrating the rise and fall of Islam in Spain.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Somali Pirates Strike Again

"Because I do it with one small ship, I am called a terrorist. You do it with a whole fleet and are called an emperor."
~A pirate, from St. Augustine's "City of God"

Everybody loves to root for the underdog---well, almost everybody. Today, the New York Times reported that Somali pirates commandeered a United States-flagged container ship with 20 American crew members off the coast of Somalia. The ship owners say the containers were carrying aid supplies to Kenya.

Today's takeover was the sixth commercial ship commandeered by pirates this week off the Horn of Africa. The failed attempts of technologically advanced foreign naval warships to destroy the pirates only deepen the mythology.

Somalia pirates are not altogether much different than other Somali people grappling with chronic poverty and violent conflict. The infamous pirates are comprised of bunch of 20-30 years olds looking for adventure, money, and goods they can bring back home.

Residents told the BBC, Somali pirates are received as rock stars back home.

"They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns"

Sounds like something out of a rap song. Wait a minute...

In the final analysis, Somalia's pirates represent a resistance to foreign domination and will continue to gain widespread support among the people of Somalia and elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Mainstream Media Excuses Reactionary Violence in Moldova

Most people have never heard of the country of Moldova, but today the southern European nation made international news headlines. In response to significant victories won by the Communist Party in Moldova, conservative opposition groups have reacted with widespread vandalism and barbarity. Protesters destroyed and burned government offices and attacked police officers trying to restore order. The opposition has claimed the elections were "fraudulent" although, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in preliminary findings that the vote was largely free and democratic.

As usual, the New York Times and other dominant media outlets portray the violent anti-democratic actions of right-wing groups as laudable. In the final analysis, these news outlets will continue to oppose any leftist government or social movement that challenges the international status-quo, even if they choose to do so democratically. The video below shows live footage of vandals destroying government property.

It is not unusual for reactionaries to use violent means after they fail to win elections. The democratically elected leftist-government of Evo Morales in Bolivia too has been a frequent victim of reactionary violence by right-wing opposition parties. The media largely ignored these attacks, although a recent United Nations Human Rights report blasted right-wing violence in Bolivia.

US Delegation Visits Fidel Castro: The African-American Connection

There are positive signs that the ridiculous economic embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba may be on its way out of the door. Rueters has reported that members of a U.S. congressional delegation have been meeting with Cuban officials to discuss a normalization of relations between the US and Cuba. Members of the delegation met with Fidel Castro during the twilight of a 5 day trip in which they also met governing president Raul Castro.

The trip is an example of the more cordial relationship African-Americans have had with President Fidel Castro and toward the Cuban Revolution in general. Fidel Castro has made several visits to Harlem where African-Americans have shown their solidarity with the Cuban people and their struggle against imperialism. The US corporate media often overlooks this historic relationship, and for good reason. The video below is of Fidel addressing a large crowd of African-Americans in 1995.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Senegal Celebrates 49 Years of Independent Democracy

Saturday, Senegal celebrated its 49th anniversary of independence with a civil and military parade presided over by President Abdoulaye Wade. Several African countries and France sent contingents to the parade in tribute to nearly half a century of democratic governance. In 1960 Senegal gained its independence from decades of French colonial rule. Since indepedence, Senegal has remained a developing democracy in a region plagued by coup d'etat, civil war, and resource driven conflict.

Thousands of Senegalese students studying in the United States celebrated the 49th anniversary from their college campuses. "Being away and thinking about Independence Day for any Senegalese gives us a sense of nostalgia," said Soukeyna Sylla a junior International Studies major at Macalester College from Dakar, Senegal.

Although she is miles away from home, Independence Day is a day when she and her friends conceptualize the countries future and reflect on the current situation.

"Within the historical context when you see discouraging events happening nextdoor in Guinea Bissau and Mauritania, it gives us pride about our democratic experience,"Sylla said. Soukenya is pleased that it appears Senegalese politicians are not necessarily thinking about their own personal interest but are in the process to sustain the nations democracy. "Although the ruling party lost the recent elections, they proved that democracy is not impossible and is an achievable ideal."

Recently, Senegal showed again why many consider it among the most politically conscious democracies in Africa. On March 22, Senegal had its local elections, which selected 20,000 people to serve in rural, municipal and regional positions. Official results showed that Senegal's opposition had won several major cities, including the capital Dakar. The recent showing was a yet another peaceful transition of power and was accepted by the ruling party and incumbent President Wade.

"The president congratulates ... in particular the opposition parties and coalitions whom the voters mandated to lead many local authorities including some important towns," said a government statement.

Senegal is a predominantly Muslim nation whose model of religious and ethnic tolerance is the envy of many countries around the world. The West African country presents an inclusive face of Islam that western media often overlooks in its coverage of the Muslim world.

The first president of Senegal at independence in 1960 was Leopold Sedar Senghor. Senghor was a leading intellectual figure in the Negritude movement as well as being a charismatic politician. After a stint with one-party governance under Senghor's party, le Parti Socialist (PS), Senegal transitioned into the rich multi-party democracy present today.

The Republic is widely known for its vibrant free press. Several newspapers are published which play an important role in holding office holders accountable to the public. Senegal's youth are also very much engaged in local and national politics. The acclaimed documentary, "Democracy in Dakar" highlights the impact hip hop artists have had on the democratic process, and the role young people played in the 2007 presidential election.

But recent crackdowns on the opposition in the media and on the streets have tarnished Senegal's international image and critics of President Abdoulaye Wade say officials are enriching themselves while most Senegalese struggle with poverty and unemployment.

Today, Senegal faces several human development challenges in spite its flourishing democracy including persistent illiteracy, youth unemployment and declining purchasing power among broad majorities of the country. In 2008, the capital city, Dakar, was rocked by food riots as the price of rice skyrocketed. Every year, thousands of Senegalese risk their lives in dangerous sea voyages in search of economic opportunity in Europe.

Last Friday, the United States government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) signed a grant agreement with the Senegalese government to provide up to $13.39 million to support development that seeks to reduce poverty through economic growth. The MCC awarded the grant to further promote Senegal's "good governance, economic freedom and investments in people".

"Why should our democratic achievements be defined by a US grant? I don't think we should subject our understanding of democracy to the will of any other country," said Soukeyna Sylla. She says corruption still exists inside the Senegalese government and foreign dollars rarely reach the Senegalese people directly. "Whenever I discuss these intiatives coming from outside I never believe in them. I don't believe in the idea you can inject any sum of money into the country and things magically change," Sylla said.

So far social and economic set backs haven't discouraged Senegalese citizens willingness to support the democratic process. The next presidential elections in Senegal are scheduled for 2012.