Monthly Archives: February 2013

For those of you not familiar with the Black Panther Party they were responsible for popularizing the slogan “all power to the people” and creating armed African-American police-watch squads to monitor police brutality throughout the Oakland area. Huey P. Newton along with Bobby Seale were its founding members and the group was active until it dwindled out in the early 1980s.

Now one early October morning in 1967 there arrived Newton, bloodied and bullet ridden, to Kaiser hospital in North Oakland. A white cop was injured and another lay dead in the scene that he had left behind him. The media and police department had coaxed many to believe that just another ghetto-dweller had shot an upstanding enforcer of the laws. This was the main injustice, nothing more should be questioned.

This of course is an easy sell because it’s a simple narrative: another criminal had crawled out from his ghetto to arrogantly flaunt the laws of a just and moral society. The ghetto itself and its dark inhabitants’ existence needn’t be questioned but assumed as normal, simply because, in fact, it is very normal to have ghettoes and many dark people in them in America.

This belief is comfortable one. It doesn’t require too much context, history, or reflection. It doesn’t require us to challenge authority moreover it doesn’t challenge us to question the places and positions that we stand in today or let alone ask how we have come to stand where we stand or acquire what we’ve acquired…

In the letter below, Dr. Aguilar eloquently presents her disgust and rejection of most of white society’s faith and contentment in the law enforcement’s inhumane dealings with blacks, a letter that is lamentably very relevant today.

Written in the midst of a time when black men, women, and children were sprayed, beaten, and mauled on a mass  scale on open streets by both “citizens” and state law enforcers, this letter serves as a good reminder to those suffering that although many people in society may look down upon your or your people’s suffering and sit back content, there will always be those, little in number as they may be, who will not accept the official narrative and will not accept silence, and just when it seems like all others are willing to pass over the concrete realities of your inequality, it is these rare people who will refuse, it is these rare people who will see you as a human.


I can remember nothing in my medical training which suggested that, in the care of an acute abdominal injury, severe pain and hemorrhage are best treated by manacling the patient to the examining table in such a way that the back is arched and the belly tensed. Yet this is precisely the picture of current emergency-room procedure which appeared on the front page of a local newspaper last weekend. Looming large in the foreground of the same picture, so large as to suggest a caricature, was a police officer. Could it have been he who distracted the doctor in charge of the case to position the patient in this curious way?


Huey P. Newton in critical condition at the hospital, a police officer stands over him.

Unusual as it was, this picture probably did not disrupt very much the pleasant weekend enjoyed by my neighbors nor disturb more than momentarily the consciences of my medical colleagues. To me, upon whose mind’s eye it is permanently engraved, this photograph is a portentous document of modern history: it represents an end and a beginning. Further, for me, there has been enough of listening, of reading, of pondering. The time has now come to speak, to act, to fight back.

I have read essays written by the patient, Huey P. Newton; I have heard him patiently and painstakingly articulating his ideas and his hopes to a parade of questioners: hour after hour he continues to address the convinced and the unconvinced alike without malice. I have listened to him paraphrasing the concepts set forth in Dr. Fanon’s books in a dozen brilliantly succinct sentences. I have listened to him and marveled that a young man of twenty-five years can interpret in such scholarly fashion the historic, socioeconomic, and political implications of the trend of modern society, while I, on the other hand, after forty-five years – seventeen of them spent in study at college and in postdoctoral education – discover I learned little of human value and must begin again.

The beginning again for me dates from the last time I saw the patient, several weeks ago, in a discussion with a group of people, many of whom came by, listened awhile, and left. One such young man called later in the evening to say that he was in jail. He had been detained by the police for what they suspected might be a minor infraction of the Motor Vehicle Code, mistakenly, as it turned out, for they quickly determined that no law had been broken. Not content, the police undertook lengthy investigation which ultimately revealed that the young man had not satisfactorily replied to a charge of driving with an invalid license one year ago. For this reason he was now jailed with bail set at $550. It took three hours to fill out the requisition form, pay the requisite fees, and see the requisite people in order to extricate this Black boy from his cell.

Two days later I was driving with a friend on the highway when she was apprehended because of four concurrent infractions of the Motor Vehicle Code, including driving without a valid permit for the trailer we were pulling. Nothing happened in spite of the fact that we were detained momentarily some miles farther on for still another infraction – this time a moving violation we still arrived home in time for dinner, two white ladies in their comfortable white neighborhood. My friend told me later her total bail for all of this lawlessness came to $15!  So please do not waste my time, my white brothers and sisters, in telling me that justice is dispensed equally under the law to all Americans. I will not believe you.

I apologize, Mr. Newton, for any aggravation of suffering inflicted upon you during the course of treatment of your injuries. I apologize for the subhuman conditions and horrors of the ghetto in which an immoral political and social system…. Makes it inevitable that men like you are gunned down in the streets of your own town.

Mary Jane Aguilar, M.D.


There is a strange feeling that accompanies this song, a feeling that should linger especially longer with those listeners who call themselves Americans or Europeans.

Not a feeling of guilt, but a strange feeling… that strange feeling you get when you discover that that ugly portrait you painted is actually a self-portrait… that strange feeling you get when you learn that that disgusting image you wanted to avert your eyes from was actually your reflection…

“The Bold Marauder” is the creation of American folk singer-songwriter Richard Farina, he and his wifetumblr_lt6j11DyXw1qg03pro1_500 Mimi Farina (sister of the legendary Joan Baez) were among some of the most talented but under-acknowledged musicians of the 1960s folk revival movement.

Now the song the “The Bold Marauder” is generally said to be about the Crusades, the period of time when Catholic European nations banded together to overtake lands in the predominantly Muslim Levant….but in the context of the Vietnam War the song demands a closer examination.

As Americans we are generally encouraged to forget that there is still an ongoing American/NATO military occupation of Afghanistan that’s not too different in nature from the occupational tactics used by the Americans during the Vietnam War, nor is the mentality behind it too different from the Europeans during the Crusades. We’ve been taught that our soldiers are noble and the only real references to the war are generally limited to “supporting our troops” and marveling at the savagery of our “enemies” while turning our heads gracefully away from the violence committed in the name of our freedom…  We’ve been conditioned to accept this violence we create and spread so well that not even the slightest feeling can emerge. And everything is normal.

That’s why Farina’s words here are magic, restoring to us a vision we long pretended was impossible for us to possess, he gives us back the power to view ourselves as we are in the eyes of “the others,” in the eyes of the occupied.

I first listened to this song in high school, I could not place why I was both attracted to it and it repulsed by it… interestingly enough as a young black teenager my frame of reference was limited but I still understood it. For me the song recalled nothing about the Crusades or even the beginning wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and everything about the other hooded crusaders draped as white destroyers in the prairies and fields of the Americans south…  I could understand it then in my own context as I’m sure many others can in theirs.

Songs in praise of murder like “the Bold Marauder” act as stronger expressions of protest to war than the usual “peace” chants that we are accustomed to. Songs in praise of murder condemn us to see ourselves as we really are and propel us into the most beautiful crisis of consciousness leaving us no choice but to accept our positions as murderers… or to change.

And Farina’s brilliant song echoes the words of another great American writer, Mark Twain, and his anti-war piece “The War Prayer” reminding us that although Americans and our government have long pursued imperial endeavors there remains among us a few voices that are unafraid to sing the songs of War as they really should be sung.

Below is the video and the lyrics:

Well it’s Hi, Ho, Hey…
I am a bold marauder.
And it’s i, Ho, Hey…
I am a white destroyer.

For I will show you silver and gold
and I will bring you treasure.
I will wave a widowing Flag and
I will be your lover.

And I will show you grotto and cave
and sacrificial alter.
And I will show you blood on the stone.
And I will be your mentor.
And night will be our Darlin’
And Fear will be our name.

And it’s i, Ho, Hey…
I am a bold maruder.
And it’s i, Ho, Hey…
I am a white destroyer.

For I will lead you out by the hand
and lead you to the Hunter.
And I will show you thunder and steel
and I will be your teacher.

And we will dress in helmet and sword
and dip our tongues in slaughter.
And we will sing the Warrior’s Song
and lift the praise of murder.
And Christ will be our Darlin’
and Fear will be our name.

And it’s i, Ho, Hey…
I am a bold maruder.
And it’s i, Ho, Hey…
I am a white destroyer.

For I will sour the winds on high
and I will soil the rivers.
And I will burn the grain in the fields
and I will be your mother.
And we will go to ravage and kill
and we show go to plunder.
And I will take a Fury to wife
and I will be your father.
And death will be our Darlin’
and Fear will be our name.

More -> Reno Nevada


Elaine Brown, first female head of the Black Panther Party

Elaine Brown is loved and hated. (I say this to explain the angry comments about how she destroyed the Black Panther Party you will inevitably see on her videos). She was a once rank-and-file member of the party that quickly rose the ranks to become its first female Chair after Huey P. Newton fled to Cuba. Admired in this sense as a model for revolutionary women with powerful positions she also made many contributions to the party in terms of leadership and challenging sexism.

However, it’s her background story that just demands that her life be made into an action-packed thriller espionage movie… Brown got her start in radical politics after meeting her Jay Richard Kennedy, a white music manager of many well-known black musicians. Brown describes Kennedy as her lover and inspiration. But the man who affected this Black Panther’s life so greatly was also in fact a FBI informant on the civil rights movement! Kennedy was submitting numerous reports to the FBI at a time when the FBI was practicing illegal and covert attacks against American, especially Black American civil rights activists. Kennedy sent memos to the FBI stating that the civil rights movement had become infected with “international communism,” he warned them about how Negros were aligning themselves against the war in Vietnam and U.S. foreign policy, and he encouraged the removal of “dangerous Negro” leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

Regardless of her the questions surrounding her love affair with Kennedy, Brown remains one of the most interesting and dynamic characters of the Black Panther Party.

But what is little known about this extraordinary woman is that she started out her career as a singer. She created the Panther’s anthem and wrote and sang numerous other songs for them. These songs encapsulate a people’s desperation and resistance to years of oppression. Her songs were a defiant retort at American society and fit perfectly with the Black Panthers call to armed self-defense and direct action. The song below, “The End of Silence” is poignant piano-led piece filled with the anger, the pain, and the pride of any people who faces oppression, death, and humiliation. The message of course is a simple but strong one: fight back.

More -> The Black Panther Anthem:

“Illiteracy is a hot topic in Egypt but the time has come for another conversation, the backwardness of the literate, those international school and university administrators who are always just one slip of the tongue away from advocating the genocide or the expulsion of people who just happen to be among society’s most marginalized and oppressed.”

There is a lot of talk about illiteracy in Egypt and in the Third World in general. Illiteracy is blamed for a whole host of problems in Egypt, from why “ordinary” Egyptians can’t really participate in electoral politics to why conservatism and close-mindedness seem to be on the rise. (I’m sure you heard it before Egyptians or [insert name of any developing country here] are just not ready for democracy). Illiteracy is primarily associated with Egypt’s poor who make up the majority of its population. Conversations on the “backwardness” of any particular country tend to point a finger at its poor and illiterate… but of late I’m seeing a need for another conversation… indeed one that ought to come sooner than it has and it should be the “backwardness” of the literate.

I’m talking about the high literate, those international school and university administrators who are always just one slip of the tongue away from advocating the genocide or the expulsion of people who just happen to be among society’s most marginalized and oppressed.

I’m talking about the literate ones in posh international schools, where I met one leading administrator who basically advocated for “euthanasia” on a mass scale for Egypt’s sick and poor.

“I mean, yes, during Ramadan and Christmas we should give them some charity,” she said dryly. “But the truth is there is just too many sick and poor people here and we can’t take care of them… I don’t think we should help them and they should just be left to die… and truthfully I think this is the way it should be…”

“Yes, who needs them! They don’t do us any good anyway,” another one chirped in cheerfully but somewhat nervously.

I’m talking about people who say these things while smiling and shrugging.

Sample File -- blockquotes-1Those who characterize Egyptian poor in this manner are, to be frank, calling for another dictatorship. They imply a brutal hand is needed to control, to intervene, and to subdue.”

And this incident makes me revisit another.

For a while I found myself regularly going to the house of one of the deans of Cairo University. He was also one of the Egyptian government’s advisers for their food and sanitation department and often went as a representative for them to U.N conferences. Once a week he and his wife would sit with me to improve their English.

After being handed a lavish dessert from one of their at-home servants, our discussion gravitated to the state of Egypt’s economy.  “إقطاعية” said his wife enthusiastically. “How do I translate this for her? What we want is إقطاعية.”

“Ok,” I replied encouragingly “why don’t you try to explain what that means to mean in English.”

“Well…” said his wife smiling “it’s when you have a king, one person at the top, and all the poor people work for him and he owns all the land and the poor people just work on it…everyone knew his place.”

“Wait a second, you mean feudalism?” I said, mouth agape.

“Yes! Feudalism! This was the best economy for Egypt. Everyone knew their place!”

Another time I went, the Dean told me he knew the exact cause of traffic in Egypt. Of course it was those “street people.” He even was kind enough to draw me a map. “You see here, my dear, are where the civilized people live. This is us right here, civilized part, like here in Dokki, but you have these other parts surrounding, these are the areas with the savages, the uncivilized areas I mean. The government needs to remove them, they are all illegal. They are always causing trouble and crime.”

Many of the other times I went, they spent their time lamenting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood while simultaneously chuckling at their dumb servants who voted for candidate Morsy and who they thought was going to “give them money!”

The business of razing down the houses of the have-nots, exploiting their labor, and violently policing them usually comes with a set of vocabulary and terms that make the job a lot easier. One needn’t look very far to see how easily words like “savages” and “uncivilized” accompany the destruction of homes of others and the degrading of their humanity. For Egypt’s literate elite this is no different.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard some members of the middle and upper classes openly advocate for the removal or the cleansing of the Egyptian poor. Sometimes I would hope that my dark face would prevent people or at least have them question themselves before divulging to me their fantasies of getting rid of the oppressed and marginalized of their societies… but alas I hear all the same…

Driving me home in her SUV to drop me off at my apartment in Sayeda Zeinab as she made her way on to Maadi, my German-Egyptian colleague and veteran ESL educator explained to me why so many Egyptians were really just “thugs” to her… “These people,” she started “are just not like us. They are not civilized.” I questioned her more about it. You’re Egyptian too I reminded her. “I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I was raised over there but this is just how I feel I can’t help it. Germans have order! They know the way things should be done. Egyptians don’t! You look at these people on the streets and you don’t see anything but thugs! Look at them!!”

Yes this is the backwardness of the literate.

A backwardness which promotes a vision of hierarchy, class, and Eurocentrism at the expense of any other view that can imagine that the economically marginalized in this country can too live lives of dignity if they weren’t robbed of opportunities. They have a “backward” view of the poor in this country as anything but seething masses of unruly subhuman thugs…

But ta3ban, these are what we can call the class of “Fulool”, they are the “remnants” of a time and a regime where autocracy was preferred so all this shouldn’t be at all unexpected.

The unfortunate thing is that it’s not just the expected literate, the fulool, who believe in the demarcation of the “civilized” and “uncivilized.”

Because it’s not uncommon to hear such things even from those Egyptian and foreign literate who call themselves liberal or revolutionary or socialist or leftist. Catch one off-guard in an informal conversation and you’ll see what I mean. The open disdain and contempt for anyone who doesn’t fit within their model of an “open-minded” or “modern” person (i.e. the “close-minded” and “traditional/religious” and poor) are treated as inept and unthinking pawns of a major power or the government if not demonized completely as “uneducated fools”.

Or take when they quote their favorite European or Western philosopher or ideologue, without even ever thinking to question the shades of orientalist and classist Eurocentric thought that is often present in the various philosophies, this situation occurs regularly.

What we see here is that despite our differing ideologies we all have the same degraded starting point… that says the masses of oppressed and poor illiterate in the “developing world” are the main problem all the while our eyes look away from the literate governing class…

But the cause for alarm here should not be the discovery itself that the literate in this country retain “backwards” notions about class and hierarchy but that it is these “backward” literate who will and are teaching the next generation of Egyptians.

It is with these administrators and educators that we are entrusting with the minds of Egypt’s youth… who despite however well-intentioned and earnest they are, are determined to preserve a paradigm of hierarchy that was passed down from colonialism and monarchy and sharpened under successive years of repression and dictatorship…

One searing example of this that will never quite leave my mind was a discussion I had with a class of fifth graders on what it meant to be “respectful.”

Now, my fifth grade class is extremely bright. They conquer readings that could easily be given to classes two years ahead of them and they speak two languages phenomenally better than most students their age in the United States could ever dream of. I actually have a lot of admiration for them.

Yet, during this particular day, being the hardass teacher I am to this class, I refused to give them a recess until they stopped screaming, hitting, and pulling each other as they usually do and stop treating each other and me with disrespect.

Instead, in a half-hearted Paulo Friero–esque way I urged us to sit down and discuss our dilemma. What I heard next lead me into a translation quandary that propelled me into a discussion of family and class that I’d never imagine I’d have with ten and eleven year-olds.

Here is the thing, generally contemporary English speakers use the word “respectful” to indicate whether someone is treating others with respect, treating others the way you want to be treated, the whole golden rule routine. But when I told them they weren’t being respectful to one another they took this in an entirely different direction.

Staring at me in disbelief they say:  “Teacher, are you calling us ‘mish mahtrum’?”

I paused not knowing quite what to respond.

Egyptian street children who are not "respectable"

Egyptian street children who are not “respectable”

Now the word ‘mahtrum’ in Arabic could be argued to mean “respectful” but it also carries many other connotations that the word “respectful” (in the context that I was using) doesn’t mean.

So I asked them define it themselves. I asked some of my brightest and talented students what they thought “respectful” meant and what “mish mahtrum” meant in Arabic they stated to me point blank: “In Arabic, Ms., ‘mish mahtrum’ means a street kid. It means people who don’t have two parents. The dirty people living in the streets. ”

Looking back, I think these words made my heart fall. But one shouldn’t be surprised we are all products of our surroundings…

So in this context “mish mahtrum” is closer to the English translation “not respectable” dealing more with the concept of “respectability” or the dominant society’s views of who is and isn’t worthy of respect and acceptance…

In this case, once again the poor, the “street people” are branded the only possible ones who can be “disrespectful” or “unrespectable.” My class was incredulous when I called their actions “disrespectful” because this was not a word to be attributed to people like them who lived in houses and were clean.


Teaching in an international school was certainly one of the most curious experiences – I found it was the little things that I encountered that showed the values and certainly the atmosphere which influenced my students… indeed, from the crazed almost orgasmic happiness exuded by any of the teachers or administrators when they acquired a new possession from some European country to the strange but the “it’s-not-racist-or-anything” policy which dissuades the hijabi teachers from showing their faces in the garden when the parents come by. (Because you know if we had hijabi teachers we wouldn’t be an international school duh!) Or else to the unusual weight that a Western passport carries in hiring decisions despite qualifications, to the yearbook that just happens to have the lightest of children’s faces plastered on the cover to represent this very brown skinned school…

On my side of the aisle, I am aware that when teaching, especially the English language, I am also teaching a set of political and social mores, transferring the prejudices, stereotypes and racism that come embedded in the language and bound with its history and doing my best to subvert them every now and then.

So for me these views of the Egyptian poor by Egyptian and foreign middle and upper classes are so disturbing not only because they are offensive, but also because I know they are implicitly (and explicitly) calling for something… Those who characterize Egyptian poor in this manner are, to be frank, calling for another dictatorship. They imply a brutal hand is needed to control, to intervene, and to subdue and they reject any vision that does not include the intellectual and rhetorical debasement of “ordinary” Egyptians.

I know some people will raise an eyebrow at me… don’t you think the honor-killing, the female genital mutilation, and the rampant sexual abuse, which are all facts of life in Egypt, are horrid enough that we can call “these people” thugs, savages, uncivilized etc…?

But the truth is words like these choke our imaginations. They limit our ability to relate to the most disenfranchised and oppressed in our communities and help blind us to the suffering of others. They placate and soothe our suspicions of economic injustice, suspicions that should very well not be placated, suspicions that should not be soothed.

Working here and in education for almost a year, I find it strange that it’s I who is doing a lot of the learning. It’s easy to say that it is the illiterate, with their sticks and their dirty clothes, who are the major causes of Egypt’s problems. It’s easy to say that the problem in Egypt is ignorance and that if we just “educate” people these issues will be resolved.  But the fact remains that ignorance and dissonance are also spread with literacy and high income rates not just poverty… and a lot of the problems that Egypt has lie with the educated and literate among us.

* Note: “Backwardness – Is itself a really discriminatory term. Of course I use it here in jest and to redefine it. But the general history of this word shows it tends to be attributed to countries and peoples that are not “Western” or are primarily the former colonies of Europe. Its use implies that while all Western countries are symbols of modernity or “forward” all non-western cultures and peoples are not… For example, Germany during the 1930s was still considered an “advanced” country at the time because of the military and technology it possessed. It generally wasn’t considered “backward” despite the fact that they it was in the process of systematically killing millions of people.

We can even use more contemporary examples where say a country like the United States that is famous for dropping bombs and drones on innocent civilians including children and imprisoning a mass amount of its population, is still considered “advanced” and would hardly ever find the adjective “backward” in a sentence with itself. However, Egypt, or say any other country on the continent of Africa, would be much more likely to receive the label “backward” because a percentage of the population continues to cut the genitals of women… The unequal distribution of the term should raise suspicions.

Picture source: