Popular Education-Addressing Social Inequalities

“Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression.” – Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The tenets of popular education are well-defined in Friere’s most famous work, and although educators in El Salvador may not have had direct access to Pedagogy of the Oppressed the education system they developed was in line with his proposed pedagogy. The term “popular education” loses some of its meaning when interpreted into English, but as Villasboa explains, in Spanish the word ‘popular’ also can be translated to “from the populous” or “the base of people.” Popular education first developed out of desperation and necessity during the civil war in El Salvador when resources were scarce and involved those with a little bit of education, teaching what little they knew to those with less education; thus it was an education from the people. However, popular education also developed as a way to awaken the political consciousness of campesino who struggled together to fight to end the oppression and violence that the oligarchy and military used to control the less fortunate in El Salvador.

While some Americans in the United States may take their education system for granted, the US possesses one of the best education systems in the world. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that the US is also the number one economic, military, and political power in the world. A solid foundation in education tends to create a solid system of democracy and economic strength in a nation. Although my pre-graduate education was not in the US it was in Australia, another developed and strongly democratic nation, and I attended a private high school and graduated from college. Even within my own country and the US, I can conceive of my privileged access to education and how the quality of education almost dictates one’s socioeconomic status.

Frederick Douglass’ narrative was particularly insightful to me in understanding how the simple act of learning to read can open someone’s mind beyond just reading to pursuing freedom and justice. The early colonists of this country denied slaves education as a form of control, just as the oligarchy in El Salvador denied their own people access to education. Working in a Historically Black College, I have seen first hand that while the US is a great democracy it is not yet a democracy for all. African Americans and other minorities in this country are behind economically, politically, and socially and it seems to be sub-standard education that keeps them this way.

The tenets of popular education would certainly bode well in redressing some of these inequalities. Minorities are seriously under-represented in politics in all levels of government and so their education is not being given the attention it deserves. These groups need to become more politically aware so that they can work to correct indifferences that exist in American society and popular education is one such method for doing so. I think the main difference between minorities in the US and El Salvador is that the campesino were the majority of the population. However, I feel repression was to a greater degree in El Salvador than it is here and so there is hope that education could redress disparities between minorities and wealthier populations. It is truly a momentous task but education, specifically popular education, seems like the most logical path to redressing some of the biases and prejudices that have developed towards US minorities for decades.

The Motivation of a Suicide Bomber

The Arab-Israeli conflict has a long and complicated history, with massacres and violent acts committed by both sides and each with their own cultural, religious, and personal motivations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have valid, but conflicting interests in the area and brokering a long lasting peace deal has been unachievable. The conflict has been characterized by military incursions, forced resettlement, revenge killings, and terrorist attacks, including the more recent use of suicide bombings. The suicide attack of a Palestinian woman living in Israel and her husband’s subsequent struggle to understand her motivations serve as the primary focus of Yasmina Khadra’s novel The Attack. Through the main character Amin’s journey of discovery the reader is exposed to many aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and explores the fundamental issues that contribute to the continuing tension in the region. Although this story delves into these issues, it is difficult to treat it is as an historical source due to the Algerian author’s disconnection from the situation. However, it is refreshing to read a work by an author who is an Arab and is Muslim writing on this subject.

In The Attack, Amin’s unique position as a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, the husband of a suicide bomber, and a man slowly reconnecting with his roots, allow the reader to explore this conflict from a variety of perspectives. The story focuses particularly on Amin’s struggle to comprehend his wife, Sihem’s decision and motivation to kill herself and seventeen other people in a suicide bombing attack. In the beginning he calls on his friend, Israeli policeman Navid for explanation as to his wife’s motives. Navid believes that the specific motive of the suicide bomber varies, but that there is something in their subconscious that “clicks” and from then on their own life no long matters.

Amin’s early interpretation was that she was “indoctrinated” and brainwashed into carrying out the attack. However, as the novel progresses, so does Amin’s understanding of his wife’s actions and motivations. He reconnects with his roots after returning to Bethlehem, swelled with refugees, for the first time in ten years and then to the town of Jenin which had been a “picturesque” town in his childhood but was now a war ground, scattered with posters of martyrs and rubble from Israeli tanks. Through violent confrontations with Palestinian fighters and observing his past life turned into a battleground, Amin is forced to confront what he has left behind. His family’s overwhelming pride in her actions helps him realize how he has isolated himself from his heritage and no longer understands the plight that Palestinians are suffering. Although he was unable to realize Sihem’s unhappiness during their marriage, his return to his homeland and tribal roots demonstrate that her actions helped open his eyes to the suffering that she simply could not ignore. Until the very end and his rather ironic death at the hands of Israeli military he maintains that killing is always wrong; but it seems that he now understands Sihem’s most compelling motivation for the attack was that she was “fighting to recover their homeland.”

Although The Attack gives an excellent portrayal of the psychological, physical, and emotional scars created by the Arab-Israeli conflict, it cannot be used as a strong historical source. Yasmina Khadra is a pseudonym created by the Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul to initially shelter him from military censorship during his service as a soldier in the Algerian army. While Moulessehoul experienced Islamic terrorism during his military career, his biography does not reveal any direct or personal connection with the Arab-Israeli conflict and so one must be careful when using The Attack as an historical source. What is refreshing is that he is an Arab and a Muslim who has had personal contact with Islamic terrorism. Although his background is too removed from the situation to truly comprehend the impact of this conflict, Moulessehoul seems less susceptible to Western bias or preconceptions that often influence commentary on the Arab world. Indeed, he highlights this himself in an interview when he says that “the West interprets the world as he likes it. He [the Westerner] develops certain theories that fit into its world outlook, but do not always represent the reality.”

While The Attack is fiction and was written by a man not directly connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is truly insightful in understanding the complicated motivations of both sides of the war and in particular the suicide bomber. Amin was completely oblivious to his wife’s unhappiness with their wealthy and comfortable life and that she had reconnected with her Muslim and Palestinian roots. While Amin was somewhat aware of the pain and suffering of his people, he had chosen to remain neutral and to live the life of a doctor and “care for patients”. However, Sihem’s suicide and his gradual understanding of her reasons for doing so drew him back to his people and appear to have removed the sheen that blinded him from delving deeper into the issues. In his search to understand her motivation he sees, as does the reader, that both the Israelis and Palestinians are suffering and fighting for the same almost elusive entity – a homeland.

Reflections on the Cultural Revolution

Personal reflections can reveal some of the most intimate details from history, but as they involve personal perspective they often only reveal one part of the story. In China, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution affected millions of Chinese, particularly intellectuals and their families, as evidenced in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and _Wild Swan_s. Both works are either partly or solely based on the personal experiences of the authors, dealing with the period in their life affected by the Cultural Revolution. Sijie’s story of reeducation highlights the stark differences between city intellectuals and Mao’s beloved peasants and how they ‘reeducate’ one female peasant with Western literature. Chang tells her own story of growing up in a society deeply affected by Mao’s political indoctrination and an education system where role models such as Lei Feng sprang from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda campaigns. Much can be learned from their depictions of communist China and the terrible legacy of Mao’s policies. However, it must also be recognized that both authors had migrated to European countries, receiving a European college education, and were from fairly wealthy and comfortable backgrounds. While their removal from China allowed them the freedom to criticize elements of their past, they only represent one small part of those affected by Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Sijie opens his semi-autobiographical novel with a scene depicting the local peasants passing around and examining the narrator’s violin. The imagery is reminiscent of caveman or a child discovering some fascinating new item to explore, serving perhaps to belittle their intelligence and highlight the peasant’s backwardness. The narrator and Luo seem to be indifferent to communist propaganda and Chairman Mao, although they go to the countryside without protest. There they develop a relationship with the little seamstress, exposing her to Western literature and ultimately inspiring her to leave her rural home for the city. Her ‘reeducation’ seems to highlight that even the ignorance and lack of knowledge that ties peasants to Mao’s revolution can be broken.

In Wild Swans, Chang appeared more susceptible to the propaganda machine of the CCP. She describes how all were to learn “love and devotion” to Mao from the famous soldier Lei Feng. Although Lei Feng may have been a real person, it is quite apparent from his biography and its title, that his story was being used as propaganda by the CCP to encourage acceptable behavior and adherence to the party line. Chang’s depiction of the Cultural Revolution is very revealing and her work serves to highlight just how deeply the political indoctrination of Mao affected her and other Chinese youth through the education system. The most profound effects of this period in China were on intellectuals and Chang’s work deals intimately with the consequences for those who denounced Mao and his policies, as did her parents.

While the two authors focused on different periods of their life in communist China and their acceptance of Mao’s propaganda differed, they both came from intellectual backgrounds and did not truly experience a peasant’s life. It is true that Sijie underwent reeducation, but he was not raised as a peasant nor would he have to remain in the countryside for long, returning to the city and escaping to France. Chang also experienced reeducation before she moved to Britain in 1978, where she realized how blind she had been in the “cult of Mao”; but like Sijie she enjoyed a wealthy upbringing and her experience as a peasant was brief. Looking back on his time in China, Sijie seems unable to see any happiness in the peasants or to question whether they felt any more freedom under Mao, depicting them primarily as unintelligent and unaware. Chang attributes any love of Mao to their falling victim to Mao’s propaganda, without attempting to delve deeper into other reasons why millions of Chinese would follow his campaigns that left millions dead and livelihoods ruined. While their personal stories shed light on a difficult and emotional period for these individuals, their removal from the situation and a privileged upbringing have perhaps affected their ability to see outside of their own world and explore how it affected other groups.

In their work, both Sijie and Chang expose the harsh treatment that intellectuals and their families experienced during the Cultural Revolution and the effective propaganda machine used by the communist party. Indeed, the negative impact of Mao’s rule is well documented and there is little doubt many suffered under his rule. However, Sijie and Chang’s accounts deal mainly with their own experiences, showing little regard for how Mao’s China affected anyone outside of their social class and we see only one part of the story. There is also the danger that their migration to a Western and capitalist nation has distorted their memories and affected their judgment. In fact, Chang attributes her turning away from Chinese communism to the “freedom of London” and appropriately, in Sijie’s work it is the Western author Balzac that awakens the little seamstress from her ignorance and sends her to the city to seek her own future. While their stories serve as excellent examples of one side of Mao’s China they fail to significantly encompass the other classes or peasantry which makes up the vast majority of China’s massive population. It would seem that their stories alone cannot provide the whole and most accurate impact of Mao and the Cultural Revolution on China.

The Church in Latin America

In order to understand the behavior of the conquistadors and Spanish colonizers in the Americas, one must also understand the atmosphere of Spain at the time of Columbus’ discovery. Remaining Arabs and 150,000 Jews were expelled from Spain and Queen Isabella had become one of the chief advocates of the inquisition. Catholicism had been united with the battle to spread Spanish power throughout the world. With this knowledge and religious fervor in hand, the Spanish colonizers entered South America with both the Crown and God behind them as they plundered the land and decimated the Indian population. It appears that their insatiable quest for treasure was also legitimized by their faith. Columbus himself claimed that gold “even sends souls to Paradise” and a Count, in describing the Zacatecas mining district, highlighted the abundant treasures that would serve “both Their Majesties”.

The Church itself profited significantly from the procured wealth of America and so, had much incentive to be involved in the legitimization of colonial expansion and destruction. In Mexico, approximately half of all real estate and capital was in the hands of the Church, who also controlled the remaining land through mortgages. Income was also garnered through donations from miners, in a system not dissimilar to indulgences in Europe, and in Cuzco the Church received much of their income from a tithe on the trade of the drug coca. In Brazil, the Crown banned all religious orders from one mining district, as clergymen had been accused of abusing their positions to smuggle gold and not being genuinely interested in the faith of the people. In Cuba, priests offered Christian absolution in return for a 5 percent tax from sugar production. It is clear from the well adorned clergymen and richly constructed places of worship with silver and gold decorations, that the Church had chosen wealth over its spiritual mission and had constructed a legitimizing position for the Spanish colonizers in America.

In return for its affluence, the Church generated justifications for the harsh treatment of the indigenous populations throughout America. The Pope himself was involved in the colonizing process by granting territories to the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns with little consideration of the native populations. The Requerimiento appears to be one such invention of the Catholic Church which was read to Indians in Spanish and without an interpreter, and effectively gave the conquistadors the right to enslave the locals if they did not “adopt the holy Catholic faith”. The Spanish had entered a “kingdom of the Devil” and it was their mission to correct the ignorant ways of the natives by giving them Catholicism. As the Spanish charged through the lands of America, the missionaries spread tales of the sacred origin of the horses the Spanish rode, instilling fear among the native population. When the colonizers required labor for their mines, they justified forced labor as a cure for the “natural wickedness” of the Indians or a suitable punishment for “their sins and idolatries” that were in contradiction to the Christian god.

As were the colonies granted by papal bull, so too was the right to own and trade slaves. The Portuguese made sure to baptize and enforce mass attendance of their African slaves and it appears that in most South American colonies the practice of converting slaves to the Christian faith was exploited as a tool to control and assimilate the slaves. Their motivation in doing so appears to be in line with their attitude towards the native populations, which was to justify harsh treatment in return for material wealth.

In contemporary times, North American missionaries are still at work in Latin America. U.S. missions have been involved in the sterilization of thousands of women in Amazonia. Considering most Latin American countries are not overpopulated, limiting the population in these areas cannot be the main reason for sterilization programs. Instead it appears that these missionaries are concerned with limiting the population of people in the third world, perhaps because they see their culture as superior to the culture of those they sterilize. In Haiti recently, this sense of superiority was highlighted when 10 U.S. missionaries were arrested for smuggling children out of Haiti as orphans even though their parents were still alive. To take a child away from a parent, even if the parent willingly gives up the child, leads one to believe that the missionaries believe that the children will benefit more from a life in America than growing up with their own family and learning their own culture.

Democracy Sometimes Leads to Totalitarianism

The emergence of liberalism was a long and slow process evolving from various revolutions such as Protestantism, industrialization, scientific development, the Enlightenment, and the American and French revolutions. With each phase came reform and as citizens challenged the status quo, new ideas and concepts regarding society, government, and economics materialized. The main principles that have come to define liberalism are individual liberty, private enterprise, and democratic government. Springing from these main principles are modern notions of equality, freedom of speech and press, religious toleration, and secular society. However, in the twentieth century liberalism faced its first major challenge with the formation of totalitarian governments in states such as Germany, Italy, the Soviet Union, and Japan. In direct contrast to liberal nations, these totalitarian states emphasized unity and individual submission to the state, government control over industry and enterprise, and an authoritarian dictatorship opposed to democracy.

Perhaps the most important principle of liberalism is its emphasis on individual liberty and the ability of each person to direct themselves with free choice and expression. Before liberalism European society was characterized by authoritarian style governments and strong social divisions between the aristocracy and peasants. With the advent of liberalism these barriers were considered improper and in theory each individual possessed the ability to advance themselves without social classes hindering them. However, the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Mussolini threw aside this notion and instead viewed individual freedom as an impediment to “national greatness.” More important than the individual was the collective state, thus Mussolini’s conclusion that if Fascism was to win then the twentieth century would become the “century of the state.”

This proposed “national greatness” did not refer to all in the nation with totalitarian leaders abandoning liberal ideas of equality and religious toleration. Hitler’s Nazi Party developed as a racist and bigoted party who envisioned a nation consisting of people with pure “German blood” and no room for the Jew whom Nazis hated and despised. Western liberalism had developed to the point where religious toleration and secular society were seen as pillars of Western Civilization, but the advent of totalitarianism in World War II threatened this very notion. Millions of Jews and those seen as social miscreants by Nazis were persecuted and murdered in a state sponsored program created and promoted by Germany and its allies. In Japan a totalitarian state different from its European counterparts had invaded much of Asia with the belief that they were creating a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” in which Japan would lead Asian nations. In reality though, Japan also saw itself as a pure race and superior to other Asian peoples as did the Germans.

In order to achieve a greater nation and carry out unequal and discriminatory policies, the totalitarian state also required total control of the economy. Such a practice was a complete break away from liberalism which had increasingly moved towards decentralization of state power and encouraged private enterprise and competitiveness. Economic theorists such as Adam Smith had proposed that a free economy in which business could occur without regulation and government interference would create a competitive environment in which individuals would work to better themselves and thus the entire nation. However, in 1929 the Great Depression occurred and Europe experienced economic collapse, creating a sense of disillusionment with capitalism and making the totalitarian state appear to be an increasingly attractive alternative. Fascists, Nazis, and Stalin’s totalitarian Soviet all required that the economy function solely for the benefit of the state who dictated how and where money should be spent. During WWII each moved their economies into war economies where the entire nation worked and produced for the purpose of war. These totalitarian dictatorships had the power to simply step in and seize control of a business if they deemed it necessary, a behavior that goes against the laissez faire approach of liberalism.

Dictatorship is the best word to describe totalitarian states during the first half of the twentieth century, in a political climate that completely excluded democracy. Once in power, the Fascists and Nazis broke with democratic politics that had become an essential part of liberalism and individual liberty. For many citizens in these nations, democracy had only created uncertainty, instability, and a squabbling and ineffective government. The one party dictatorship that totalitarianism offered addressed these problems and gave the people the strong leadership they so desperately desired. By dispensing with democracy, liberal ideas of freedom of press and speech also had to be removed in order to maintain the power of the single party and were replaced with propaganda and complete control of the media and education. The state provided the appropriate ideology for its people and indoctrinated their own citizens with approved party policies.

In the early twentieth century Western Civilization had increasingly come to be defined by its liberal ideas and principles. Politics and society revolved around the idea that individual freedom was paramount and economic policy was based on a free economy. However, this also led to disillusionment and with the advent of the Great Depression Europeans began to question the validity of liberalism as a solution to their problems. Leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini provided a viable alternative with their totalitarian ideas of statehood, central control of the economy, and a strong and stable government. Unfortunately their rejection of liberalism also led to rejection of equality, religious toleration, and freedom of speech and ultimately the deaths of millions of innocents. Perhaps if totalitarianism had been conceived of and led by someone who respected basic human rights and equality, it could have developed as a valid political theory. However, experiments into totalitarianism around WWII and even in recent history have perhaps forever branded this form of government as evil and unworkable in a world dominated by Western liberal ideas.

Lessons from the Cold War

Emerging from the terrible destruction of World War Two the world faced a new form of conflict and tension with the advent of the Cold War, primarily between the two superpowers the Soviet Union and the United States. The initial phase of this war began immediately following the end of WWII in 1946, extending through to the mid 1950s with the stalemate of the Korean War and a change of leadership in the Soviet. The middle phase of the war was marked by national unease, an arms race, US and Soviet military interventions, as well as some positive moments of cooperation. The final phase of the Cold War was characterized by the increasing international presence of the US, waning power of the Soviet, and its eventual downfall in 1991. Of prominence during these three phases was George Kennan, who in 1946, sent a telegram back to the US from Moscow setting out the current state of the Soviet and possible policies to be adopted to address growing Russian dominance. His ideas and suggestions are evident in US policy throughout the general three phases of the Cold War.

When Kennan sent his telegram in 1946 he highlighted the danger that the Soviet was interested in increasing its influence and moving into places such as Turkey. This was followed by the Truman Doctrine in 1947 where President Truman called on congress to provide economic assistance to Greece and Turkey in order to allow those nations to continue to develop democratically and without “coercion and intimidation” from external countries. Clearly he was referring to the Soviet who had recently annexed “Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria.” This speech acknowledged the beginning of the struggle between the two superpowers and its emphasis on containment would form the policy of the US for the remainder of the Cold War. In 1949, the formation of Communist People’s Republic of China and the creation of the Soviet A-Bomb further heightened fears of Soviet expansion. In 1950, war broke out on the Korean peninsula between Communist backed North Korea and the US and Western Europe supported South Korea. The resulting stalemate reflected the two superpowers unwillingness to become completely involved in a head on war and it also set the tone for future Cold War foreign policy. In 1949 a formal alliance of Western nations had materialized with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Soviet responded in 1955 with the Warsaw Pact. The “Iron Curtain” had been drawn and the first phase of this war ended without direct confrontation between the two powers, but the stage had been set for future relations between the Western democratic and Communist blocs.

After this phase, the Cold War was characterized by internal reform and development within the two superpower states in order to combat one another. The primary focus of each was to enlarge their military and space capabilities, with the Soviet achieving the first satellite launch into space in 1957. Perhaps in direct response to this and following the second recommendation of Kennan, the US enacted the National Defense Education Act of 1958 with the aim of improving the education and skills of American youth so that the US would be able to keep up with Soviet scientific and technological development. During this period, extreme distrust led to increased intelligence and espionage operations and in the US McCarthyism further added to the tension as US citizens accused one another of being Communist. Kennan had also suggested in his first point that the Soviet should be “studied” and in his fourth point made the case that people are less interested in “abstract freedom than in security”. While the two powers never fought directly during this phase, both parties certainly had the same thinking as Kennan, intervening in various situations around the world. Throughout this phase the Soviet became involved with Cuba, East Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. The US was involved militarily in Lebanon, the Dominican Republic, and most famously Vietnam and Cambodia. Although there were moments of cooperation such as the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, this middle period involved the superpowers subverting or supporting regimes in order to increase their influence internationally and combat one another ideologically.

After the Vietnam War the US scaled down its military interventions and US food, fashion, and culture spread around the world, increasing American popularity internationally while the Soviet was dealing with internal and external conflict. This final phase beginning in the late 1970s saw the waning power of the Soviet, although the origins of their diminishing influence were also evident in the middle phase. The iron grip of Stalin was slowly loosened by Khrushchev who emptied out the labor camps and introduced perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) and some satellite Soviet countries challenged Soviet rule such as Czechoslovakia in 1968. However, the real mark of this phase and the turn of events for the Soviet was their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 which resulted in the deaths of 15,000 Soviet soldiers, diminishing domestic popularity, and an overstretched military and economy. At the same time US President Reagan had initiated an arms build up and by the time the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the Soviet economy was devastated, its people were weary and agitated, and the US was in a stronger position than ever before. The final part of this phase from 1989 to 1991 involved the breakup of the Soviet Union as Communist regimes were toppled throughout Eastern Europe, the Berlin Wall fell, borders opened, and finally the Soviet Union disintegrated and separated.

While we now refer to this period as a ‘cold’ war and it is true that there were no direct military confrontations between the Soviet Union and the United States there was certainly much tension and military intervention throughout the three phases of the war. Kennan’s observations in 1946 were clearly revealing of the structure of the Soviet and his suggestions are reflected at numerous times throughout the war. Ideologically, the US had done what Kennan suggested and maintained their “own methods and conceptions of human society” throughout the entire Cold War and now democratic principles have taken root around the world. However, the various interventions by both the Soviet and the US resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe and in some cases have resulted in further tension in certain nations affected by Cold War ideology. In a post Cold War world it is important that superpowers like the US learn from previous experiences such as Vietnam and understand the dangers involved when attempting to establish their own form of politics, economics, and societal norms in nations unfamiliar with Western Civilization.

The Colonial Economy of Spanish America

Throughout the colonial period of Spanish America, the main focus of the Spanish Crown was on developing the mining industry at the expense of agricultural production for export. Agricultural development was not consistent within or between the various viceroyalties and with the exception of Venezuela and Cuba, most agriculture was on a subsistence level or developed independently of the Crown. The clear objective of the conquistadors was acquiring precious metals such as gold and silver, and this objective also suited the Crown who saw vast sums of silver flow into its coffers.

In Columbia, officially sanctioned trade focused mainly on exporting gold, to the detriment of all other economic activities such as agriculture. As a result, the economy turned inward and agriculture was on a largely subsistence level, which was responsible for the lack of urban centers in Columbia. In Ecuador, in places like Quito there was enough agricultural trade to keep some landowners wealthy, but in the highlands it was again subsistence agriculture. In Peru, commercial agriculture was limited mainly to the coastal regions. In the Platine area of Argentina, the main export was cattle hides, although the majority of the profits went to Buenos Aires merchants and not to the producers. It appears only Venezuela and Cuba developed a strong export market independent of mining, but in the majority of South America mining for exports and agriculture for local markets remained the trend under colonial rule

There were times when the Spanish Crown encouraged agricultural development in its American colonies, although it appears the motivation for doing so was generally based on self-interest. In Paraguay they were encouraged to plant tobacco crops in an attempt to combat Brazilian tobacco imports. There was also a special project to improve commercial agriculture by producing hemp. This product was needed to supply cordage for the Spanish navy. One of the main problems in expanding commercial activity in agriculture appears to be lack of manpower. Urban dwellers were not interested in working the land primarily because of the perceived primitiveness of farm work and the Spanish emphasis on wealth through mining. There were late colonial reforms that targeted export economies based on agriculture, but it appears the reforms had more of a positive effect on imports rather than exports . Given the increase in income for the Spanish Crown from exports to Spanish America one must again question their intentions in the reforms to encourage the agricultural economy.

In Brazil, agricultural development appears to have followed a different path, perhaps because the Portuguese Crown maintained lesser control over its colonial dominions. Sugar production played a significant role in the commercial activities of Brazil and although the sugar industry began a gradual decline at the end of the 17th century, it dominated the export market for the majority of the colonial period. In 1760, gold made up 2.2 million pounds, while sugar exports came to a total of 2.4 million. Brazil was more successful in diversifying its export market to include agricultural products than was the Spanish colonies, a pattern that appears to have continued until today.

The Spanish Crown’s desire for precious metals existed at the expense of agricultural development within Spanish America. For the most part, colonial economic activity was focused primarily on the mines and extracting silver and gold to export to back to Europe. Agriculture was not actively encouraged by the Crown until centuries after conquering America, and until then had mainly existed on a subsistence basis. Even in colonies where there were agricultural exports, Spanish merchants took much of the profit. In Buenos Aires, landowners did not achieve their political and economic power until after independence. As precious metals began to dwindle, there was little other export income for Latin Americans and they became increasingly frustrated with the Spanish monarchy until they fought the wars of independence. Given their lack of interest in developing the Spanish American economy beyond the mining industry, it is not surprising that the colonies opted for independence.

The Bookseller of Kabul

Åsne Seierstad’s international bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul is one of those rare pieces of literature that artfully bridges the gap between storytelling and recording history. As a source, her book may not satisfy the strict requirements of empirical primary sources, but it certainly is an important source of social, cultural and women’s history in Afghanistan. Although controversy has surfaced since its publication and the real bookseller has refuted many of its details, Seierstad has written such a balanced and objective account that it is difficult to completely discount her work as fictional or untrustworthy. However, as with any author of non-fiction work, there are certain factors that must be taken into consideration when analyzing her work as an historical source, such as gender and cultural preconceptions which could influence her interpretation both negatively and positively.

The case for The Bookseller of Kabul being a piece of non-fiction literature is based in the fact that the book is an account of Seierstad’s observations and experiences in the family home of a prominent bookseller in Kabul. She begins the book by explaining that the story is comprised of the “thoughts and feelings” of those she encountered during her stay with the Khan Family. If this is true and the story is based on notes and recordings then the book is certainly an excellent source of the social and cultural aspects of a middle class, Afghan family. Seierstad went to the Khan’s home hoping to document how a normal family in Afghanistan lives and deals with its existing problems. Such details cannot always be found in common primary sources like government documents and newspapers, and are rarely dealt with in secondary sources addressing Afghan history. As a source it provides valuable insight into the contemporary history of Afghanistan and how one family has dealt with the turmoil that has gripped the country for decades.

Since its publication, the real bookseller Shah Muhammad Rais has come out publicly against Seierstad and filed a lawsuit against her in Norway for defamation, questioning the reliability of the book as a source. Rais claims that Seierstad abused her welcome in his home and “willfully misrepresented” her experiences; he adds that she did not recognize deeply ingrained social customs and roles in Afghan society. Other Afghans and supporters of Rais have also condemned the book for the same reasons and highlighted inconsistencies within the story. Indeed there is a possibility that cultural preconceptions might affect Seierstad’s ability to objectively gather and interpret information from a cultural situation that is so entirely different from her own. However, one could also argue that Rais’ own cultural preconceptions made him particularly susceptible to offense and denial of his portrayal. As a journalist Seierstad has had many cultural experiences, having lived in numerous countries such as Russia, China, Kosovo, and Chechnya; she speaks five languages fluently and another four intermediately. Thus, her cultural experiences are numerous and her background in cultural settings is extensive, making it difficult to ignore her keen observations in the book.

It could also be argued that Seierstad’s objectivity was impeded by her position as a Western woman. Gender is an important consideration when analyzing the intentions and biases of any author and this is particularly so if using the book as an historical source. In The Bookseller there is much focus on Sultan’s sister Leila and it is through this character that the frustrations, prejudices, hardships, and social restrictions of Afghan women are exhibited. We follow Leila as she obediently serves the men of the house, as she struggles to become a teacher in a post-Taliban society, and finally we feel Leila’s despair as she is promised to a man that she does not love and accepts her fate because she “has always done what her mother wanted.” Seierstad’s sympathy for Leila comes through in her writing and she does deal intimately with the women and their struggles in the family. However, she also deals with Sultan and his sons and documents their hurts and frustrations, particularly Mansur’s distaste for Afghan “customs and traditions” that keep him working and chained to his father. Both genders are addressed fairly equally and if anything, Seierstad’s position as a woman gave her unique access to both sexes in a society that limits interaction between men and women. If the account had been written by an Afghan woman, perhaps fear and ingrained prejudices would not have allowed for the objectivity that Seierstad achieved.

Objectivity should be one of the main goals in any non-fiction work, particularly in literature, where there is a danger for embellishment or sensationalism. Despite criticism, Åsne Seierstad has achieved a remarkable level of objectivity in The Bookseller of Kabul. Rais’ adamant denials do raise concerns about the validity of this source, but at the same time his position as an Afghan male with much to lose make it difficult to accept his assertions that the book is inaccurate. While it is important to keep her position as an outsider, a woman, and a journalist in mind, it is also these aspects that gave her the freedom to gather such intricate details from the Khan family and record them without fear or reservation. Seierstad has given us a window into the world of the social, cultural, and gender problems that have plagued Afghanistan for decades and how they are coping in a post-Taliban environment. She deals with the men and women, the old and young, and the traditional and more liberal in such an objective way that it is hard to discount her book as untrustworthy. Seierstad was trying to present the Afghan family with all its social customs that separate it from the Western world. However, leaving aside the burkas, dowries, and strong patriarchal customs she also reveals that the Khans are a family who love, fight, have pride, and dreams and aspirations; elements found in almost any family.

Legacies of the French Revolution

The French Revolution beginning in 1789, ushered in a new era for European society and politics. While the period was marked by social upheaval, political uncertainty, radicalism, and mass terror, both the direct and indirect consequences of the revolution would have a profound effect on the development of Europe and ultimately the modern world. It challenged the traditional social structure, called for equality for all men, demanded protection of human rights, and would inspire future revolutionaries and movements against unjust authorities. Unfortunately, there were indirect ramifications that arose, such as an undercurrent of counter revolution and conservatism, overt nationalism, and extremism that would contribute to some of the most tragic events in the twentieth century.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of the French Revolution was the challenge it posed to the traditional social structure of France. Divided into three ‘estates’, the clergy, nobility, and common people, the large majority of the population was trapped in their designated social class and unable to obtain the privileges granted to the lucky few. Wealth and true success was unattainable to the third estate who were overtaxed and living in poverty. The Enlightenment had ushered in a new age of thinking and reasoning that existed outside traditional constraints. Inspired by this thinking, the instigators of the revolution sought to topple their absolutist monarchy, remove the division of estates, and create equality for all men. The bourgeoisie were wealthy but lacked the prestige that comes with nobility and so were particularly active in the revolution. With the peasants, they challenged the established authority and installed a system whereby social mobility was determined by merit rather than hereditary privilege. The importance of these actions cannot be underestimated, as they completely overturned the accepted beliefs of France and later Europe.

Such equality had previously been unheard of and with the introduction of the founding document of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the protection of basic human rights was proposed for the very first time. Much of this document was also inspired by Enlightenment thinkers, one of which was John Locke. The state no longer belonged to a God appointed monarchy, but instead belonged to the people. Legitimacy of power rested on the condition that the people granted power to the authorities. Other consequences of the Declaration included a fairer justice system, which included habeas corpus and trial by jury. Secularism, including abolishing religious persecution and church involvement in state, was another pillar of the revolution which directly led to the secularist ‘ideals’ of contemporary government. Finally, commonly accepted ideas of freedom of speech and press were also included in the Declaration.

While some oppressed members of society were not exclusively included in the declaration it created a platform from which groups such as women and slaves could fight for greater freedom and equality. Women’s rights would not receive much attention until after the revolution broke out in France, but it would see the first explicit feminist movement in history develop. French women faced many obstacles during the revolution but they were able to achieve some civil liberties previously unattainable, such as equal access to divorce and to inheritance laws. The other oppressed minority were the slaves of the French colonies and they too did not receive a mention in the Declaration. However, the words of the document reached the colony of Saint-Domingue and inspired the future Haitian Revolution that is known as the first successful slave revolt in the New World. While the French revolutionaries may not have intended to address these vital social injustices, their intentions inspired their eventual overthrow.

Inspiration is perhaps one of the greatest legacies of the French Revolution. The ideals that were fought for and introduced by people such as Robespierre were sometimes basic in nature. However, the spirit and character of the revolution would come to inspire such revolutionaries as Karl Marx and proceeding Marxist followers. Napoleon was also a product of the revolution, who would not have come to power if the estate system had not been abolished. His empire spread throughout continental Europe, establishing many of the ideals that had originated in France. He used this moral standpoint from which to gain support within his empire. It has been argued that without Napoleon’s conquests, French liberalism and modern ideas of equality would not have succeeded to the extent that they did. Although an indirect consequence of the revolution, such advances significantly contributed to the modern world.

Of course with many revolutions, the French Revolution had its undesired and unhappy consequences. Although clearly the revolution was popular among the majority of the French, there were those who felt neglected by the revolution, such as the nobility and clergy. They would form the basis of an extreme conservative group who would last well into the future and come to be embodied in movements such as fascism in the twentieth century. The other undesired consequence was overt nationalism, which had actually been beneficial in early revolutionary France and particularly in Napoleon’s European takeover. Devotion as a citizen to France could be manipulated to wage war and expand into foreign territories. The ruling Jacobin party in the 1790s strongly encouraged nationalism and such thinking induced dangerous and dedicated emotions that would ultimately result in ‘The Terror’, thus stimulating extremist behavior, resulting in violence and murder. The terrible aftermath of nationalistic and revolutionary tendencies evident in the French Revolution would come to be repeated in modern revolutions in Russia, Germany (Nazism), China, and many more.

Clearly the French Revolution had consequences which extended well into the modern world. Notions of social mobility, equality, and protection of human rights, which are largely taken as a given in the modern world, were envisioned in the Enlightenment and acted upon in the French Revolution. However, extreme conservatism, passionate nationalism, and revolutionary extremism were also consequences that would indirectly lead to movements such as fascism, Nazism, and other extremist revolutions. The legacies of the French Revolution are both positive and negative, as with most revolutions in history. However, it is clear that modern beliefs such as liberty, equality, accountability of government, human rights, freedom of speech and press, and justice for all exist largely because the oppressed and ignored in 18th century France had the courage and drive to stand up and fight against their oppressive authorities. Perhaps our modern world was inevitable, but as history stands, we owe much to the French Revolution for the freedom we now enjoy.

I Want to be Australia’s First Female Prime Minister

I can remember as a child in Australia, wondering why the Prime Minister was always some old, boring man. I thought maybe women somehow were not allowed into the position until I discussed it with my parents. When I discovered it was just because no one had voted one in yet, I was shocked. I was also slightly excited by the possibility that maybe I could one day be the first female PM. As time went on, I began to realize that I didn’t really have the personality to become a politician. I am simply too selfish and out-spoken. I also realized that it would take many decades for me to even reach the age where it might be possible and I reached the conclusion that Australia couldn’t wait that long for a female PM.

So, it was with great excitement on June 24, 2010 that I learned Julia Gillard had taken up the role of Australia’s first female PM. While Gillard may not be the cultured and eloquent person that Rudd is, she is presentable, intelligent, and seems to want to get things done. Her promptness on sorting out the mining issue illustrates this fact. As a role model for women I would definitely say she has not followed the traditional path of women or even politicians. She is atheist, is unmarried, and has no children. She has been with her partner Tim Mathieson for four years and a wedding does not appear to be in the near future.

While I am happy to see a female in this role, I was not particularly impressed to see how she got there. The Labor Party’s ousting of their leader Kevin Rudd could easily be described as a bloodless coup. It was almost painful to watch Rudd’s tearful farewell.

Indeed, even though Rudd made mistakes in his short term, he was the legitimate leader of the Labor Party when Australia elected them to power. This is one thing on which I believe the US has got it right. The leader of your nation should be elected by the people and not their party. This recent ousting has illustrated the danger of this policy, with closed door dealings and self interested parties forcing their leader out. A leader should not be treated in such a way.

I only wonder now if the Labor Party’s image has not been so tarnished that the Australian people will throw out their first female PM. This would seriously diminish the legitimacy of the claim and Gillard would go down as the ‘kind’ of ‘sort’ of first female PM. With an election planned for later this year, we will see if Australia is ready to vote for a woman to lead their country. More over, a non-religious, unmarried, and childless woman.