Rohingyas: Pawns in the geopolitical chessboard

April 19th, 2018


“Rohingya Muslim children, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wait squashed against each other to receive food handouts distributed to children and women by a Turkish aid agency at Thaingkhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, in October.” PHOTO/Dar Yasin/AP/NPR

The protracted Rohingya refugee crisis and in particular the latest cycle of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing the massive military crackdown on an un-armed minority community should not be viewed as an isolated event. It should be examined in the context of the rivalry between China and the US, the West and India for control over Myanmar’s economic and mineral resources. In September 2017, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, did not mince her words in condemning the Myanmar military’s brutal crackdown that had forced Rohingya Muslim refugees to stream across the international border of Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh. In her speech she had said, “The time for well-meaning diplomatic words” had passed and that “we must now consider action against Burmese [Myanmar] security forces who are implicated in abuses and stoking hatred among their fellow citizens.” She also called on Myanmar to “immediately remove and prosecute those accused of abuses.”

More than a year has passed. The USA and the West and the United Nations have done little more than, issue stronger words of condemnation and donate a few million dollars for housing and feeding the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Despite the recent statement of United Nations Special Advisor on Genocide that the intent of the Myanmar army “was to cleanse northern Rakhine of the existence of Rohingya, possible even to destroy the Rohingya as such, which if proven would constitute Genocide” and his call for “immediate action”, it is extremely unlikely that the international community will initiate punitive action against Myanmar.

While the West had criticized Myanmar, China had praised Myanmar’s army for its tough and prompt actions for maintaining stability in Rakhine state. It is interesting to note that while the US Secretary of State labeled the military actions against Rohingyas as “ethnic cleansing”, India, USA’s strategic partner in South Asia, was on the same page with China, when it defended Myanmar military’s crackdown against the Rohingya as war against “terrorism”.

We are told that it is the fear that China might take advantage of this humanitarian crisis and regain its influence over Myanmar which the US and the West has been trying to lessen since the re-establishment of so-called democratic governance in Myanmar. Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi during his visit to Myanmar in September 2017 used the USA’s grand narrative of “War on Terror” in an attempt to link the so-called concerted attack by ARSA on 30 border police stations with “Islamic Terror”. Seeing a link between Myanmar military and the Bamar-Buddhist terrorist attacks on Rohingyas with the US and West sponsored global campaign against Islamic terrorism, will seem farfetched today, yet looking at India’s support of the ruthless Myanmar army, which has been leading genocidal attacks on the Rohingyas and the virulent anti Muslim propaganda by the Barmar-Buddhists, describing Muslims as dogs, one wonders whether keeping this region, and particularly Rakhine, in turmoil, is in the interest of the US and the West, which is keen to contain China’s growing economic and strategic influence in this region.

The right-wing Hindu government of India exposed itself when in a sudden volte face it singled out the forty thousand Rohingya refugees living in India for more than a decade for deportation on the ground that they were a potential threat to its nation security. The Indian government asserts that the Rohingya refugees are connected with “terrorist” organisations and claims that it is in possession of secret intelligence information on links with ISIS and Pakistani militants. No evidence has been produced. Many Indian and international analysts believe that Indian government’s treatment of the Rohingya stems from the ruling BJP’s “Islamophobia” as well as domestic political calculations that a tough line on Muslim refugees will play well with the party’s Hindu nationalist base.

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This language was used by only women in China

April 19th, 2018


He Jingua, writing the phrase “mysterious scripts through the ages” in Nüshu characters (UNESCO)

Nüshu was taught mainly by mothers to their daughters in a feudal society that lacked access to education in reading and writing.

Nüshu is considered to be the world’s only writing system that is created and used exclusively by women in China.

Originating in China’s Jiangyong county in the nineteenth century, it is endangered today but the country’s local and national authorities are working to revive it.

Nüshu literally means “women’s writing” in Chinese. Today it is the world’s only script designed and used exclusively by women and was developed among the rural women of the Xiao River valley, in the Jiangyong county of China’s Hunan province, where there is a mixture of Han culture and Yao folkways.

The earliest known artefact in the Nüshu script is a bronze coin discovered in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. It was minted during the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a rebel kingdom in China from 1851 to 1864, which introduced important social reforms and adapted to a certain extent several policies regarding gender equality. The eight characters etched in Nüshu on the coin mean “all the women in the world are members of the same family”.

A culture among women

Nüshu was taught mainly by mothers to their daughters and practised for fun among women. It was used by women in a feudal society who lacked access to education in reading and writing.

This syllabic script was generally used for writing autobiographies, letters between sisters, and sanzhaoshu – “third-day missives” of good wishes, presented to a bride by her closest friends, three days after her wedding. It was also used to record folk songs, riddles and translations of ancient Chinese poems, and to compose songs for farm women that promoted morality and encouraging frugality in household management.

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28 of the most dangerous things science has strongly linked to cancer

April 19th, 2018


PHOTO/Elaine Thompson/AP

Cancer is the No. 2 cause of death in the US, second only to heart disease.

It fundamentally affects the way our cells grow and divide, changing them in perverse ways. All cancer is a result of damage or genetic mutations in our DNA. The nasty, debilitating class of diseases spreads through a body like an invading army, as toxic cells grow relentlessly into unruly tumors.

Some cases of cancer are out of our control, determined by genetic defects and predispositions passed down from one generation to the next, or spurred by genetic changes we undergo through our lifetime.

But we also know that breathing in certain substances, eating specific things, and even using some kinds of plastics ups the risk of developing some deadly cancers.

Here are some known carcinogens (cancer-causers), as well as a few more things scientists are zeroing in on as prime suspects.


Scientists now know that eating too much sweet stuff can not only lead to diabetes, but actively damage your cells and increase your risk of developing cancer.

But that’s not all.

New research suggests that sugar may fuel tumor growth in the body — because cancer loves to use sugar as fuel.

“The hyperactive sugar consumption of cancerous cells leads to a vicious cycle of continued stimulation of cancer development and growth” Johan Thevelein, a Belgian molecular biologist, said in October after the release of his study.

Scientists say that the groundbreaking research gives us a better understanding of how sugar and cancer interact and that it could one day help create targeted diet strategies for patients.

Processed foods

Any food that comes in a crinkly plastic wrapper, is industrially sealed, and is designed to last for months without spoiling may be a quick on-the-go fix for a hunger pang, but it’s also most likely increasing your risk of cancer.

Scientists in France recently zeroed in on a link between people who eat more processed foods and those who develop cancer.

They’re not sure yet whether the problem is the shelf-stabilizing ingredients, the plastic packaging, or some combination of the two. And because their study was correlative, it’s possible there’s some other hidden factor at work.


Tanning and unprotected sun exposure

Toxic chemicals at work

Some people work with cancer-causing substances daily.

The CDC has a full list of occupational cancer hazards.


Charred meat, and grilling over an open flame


Diesel exhaust

Diesel oil has more than 30 components that can cause cancer, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Salt-cured meat or fish and pickled foods


Processed meats like ham, bacon, and sausage


Birth control and estrogens


Your family



Air pollution



Chronic, long-term, DNA-damaging inflammation

Some plastics


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American Carnage

April 18th, 2018


The road out of My Lai, littered with dead bodies. Son My, South Vietnam. March 16, 1968. PHOTO/Wikimedia Commons

Americans have a remarkable tolerance for child slaughter, especially the mass murders of the children of others. This emotional indifference manifested itself vividly after the disclosure of the My Lai Massacre, when dozens of Vietnamese infants and children were killed by the men of Charlie Company, their tiny, butchered corpses stacked in ditches. After the trial of Lt. William Calley, more than 70 percent of Americans believed his sentence was too severe. Most objected to any trial at all. In the end, Calley served less than 4 years under house arrest for his role in the execution of more than 500 Vietnamese villagers.

Twenty-five years later, American attitudes toward child deaths had coarsened even harder. When it was revealed that US sanctions on Iraq had caused the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, icily argued that the deaths were “worth it” to advance US policy in the Middle East. Few Americans remonstrated against this official savagery done in their name.

Now the guns are being turned on America’s own children and the rivers of blood streaming out of US schools cause barely a ripple in our politics. If the Columbine shooting (1999) was a tragedy, what word do you use to describe the 436th school shooting since then?

Don’t look for an answer or even solace from any of our political leaders. All you’ll get is cant, hollow prayers and banal vituperations of the sort we’ve been hearing for two decades from the likes of Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s most restrictive gun control proposals wouldn’t have stopped any of the recent shootings. She plays politics with the blood of children as cynically as the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre. Both are adept at fundraising off the bodies of the dead.

Even the RussiaGaters seized the opportunity to turn Vladimir Putin into one of Nikolas Cruz’s co-conspirators. Democratic blowhard Eric Boehlert, formerly of Clinton defense team Media Matters, tweeted: “key Q: how much $$$$$ did @NRA accept from Russia in 2016?”

In these moments of national trauma, Donald Trump can be counted on to open his mouth only to extract one foot and insert the other. This week his creaky mandibles got quite the workout. First, he was goaded into mumbling his generic opposition to wife-beating. Then only a day later he had to summon the energy to sputter out scripted condolences for the victims and families of the mass shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

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Why the Aurat March is a revolutionary feat for Pakistan

April 18th, 2018


When society is against the mere idea of women gathering outside the home, pulling off such an event is no easy task.

When news of the Aurat March flooded my social media in the days leading up to March 8, I squealed in joy every time I saw a mention of it.

I couldn’t help but think about my younger sister zealously informing me, “the etymology of the word ‘aurat’ is misogynistic.”

The etymological roots of ‘aurat’ give us meanings that range from ‘vulnerability’ to ‘genitals’, and later, to ‘wife’, thus reducing women to, of course, their weakness, reproductive organs and their relation to husbands.

I was not surprised at the revelation, but definitely amused, for the phenomenon is not unique to our language. The word ‘woman’ can also be traced back to the meaning ‘little man’. And ‘woman’, too, later became used to indicate ‘wife’.

Building our vocabulary

When I saw that the mobilisers were using ‘aurat’ instead of ‘women’, the distinction meant everything to me. While the choice to label what is obviously a women’s march in local terms may seem pedantic to some, it has strong bearings on how South Asian activists and feminists can and will vernacularise the fight for women’s rights.

It is no secret that feminism is often co-opted by many to be viewed as a Western construct which marginalises non-Western identities. Western hegemony over feminist movements then feeds into a repulsion towards feminism that is found in countries such as Pakistan.

We have grassroot feminist efforts working on the question of gender, yet we still lack a vernacular that can be used to refer to issues of gender inequality.

While our languages are extremely evocative in expressing the full range of human emotion, it is a shame that we still have to rely on words such as ‘zyadti’ (excess) or ‘zina-bil-jabr’ (adultery by force) or ‘asmat-dari’ (defloration) to refer to incidents such as rape.

With the Aurat March, terms such as ‘pidar shahi’ (patriarchy) and ‘aurat march’ are being circulated and created.

Slogans such as “ghar ka kaam, sab ka kaam”, “khud khana garam karo”, “consent ki tasbeeh roz parhein” and — my favourite — “paratha rolls, not gender roles” give a local flavour to the ways we can talk about feminism and gender.

A visual repertoire

I understand that the need to ask for consent and examine gendered roles may not be part of public discourse in Pakistan, which is why this is definitely a step in the right direction.

The crowdsourced production of vocabulary, with signs and slogans, that can be used to speak of women’s rights and issues, is part of the revolutionary impact that the Aurat March has.

Even on the level of visual aesthetics, the March broke through conventions in the best ways. In Karachi, brilliant women were seen escorting “pidarshahi ka janaza” (the funeral procession of patriarchy).

Dawn for more

What Students Are Taught About Slavery

April 18th, 2018


“Nearly half of the teachers failed to teach their students that protections for slavery were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.”

Just eight percent of American high school seniors can identify the cause of the Civil War; less than a third (32 percent) know which amendment abolished slavery in the U.S.; and fewer than half (46 percent) know that the “Middle Passage” refers to the harrowing voyage across the Atlantic undertaken by Africans kidnapped for the slave trade. These are only a few of the more unnerving findings from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which concludes that in classrooms across the country, the subject of slavery is as mistaught as it is misunderstood.

Drawing from online surveys of 1,000 12th-graders and more than 1,700 social studies teachers, along with an exhaustive analysis of the 10 most widely read U.S. history textbooks, the SPLC’s latest report attempts to assess how well the country understands its original sin. In a word, the results are “abysmal.”

“Slavery is as mistaught as it is misunderstood.”

“[Students' misconceptions] extend beyond factual errors to a failure to grasp key concepts underpinning the nature and legacy of slavery,” writes Melinda D. Anderson of the Atlantic. “Fewer than one-quarter (22 percent) of participating high-school seniors knew that ‘protections for slavery were embedded in [America’s] founding documents’—that rather than a ‘peculiar institution’ of the South, slavery was a constitutionally enshrined right. And fewer than four in 10 students surveyed (39 percent) understood how slavery ‘shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness.’”

The teachers fared almost as poorly. Despite 92 percent claiming that they were “comfortable discussing slavery,” most implemented a course of study that could be described as incomplete at best and negligent at worse. Nearly half of the teachers failed to teach their students that protections for slavery were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, while only a fraction more (54 percent) explored the institution’s legacy on American society today.

“Most teachers implemented a course of study that could be described as incomplete at best and negligent at worse.”

What exactly are they teaching? Incredibly, dozens of teachers rely on “simulations,” or role-playing games, which Teaching Tolerance cautions can “do as much harm as good.” This method recently incited outrage in Cerritos, California, when instructors bound their students’ wrists and made them lie on the floor in the dark as part of a slave-ship reenactment.

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Senegalese returnees from Libya, Niger face uncertain future

April 17th, 2018


New arrivals receive assistance in Senegal. PHOTO/IOM/Lucas Chandellier

Bouba Diop looks in delight at his uncle’s newly refurbished food canteen in the poor township of Keur Massar on the outskirts of the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Since returning to Senegal from Algeria and Libya, where he was working in the construction sector, he has been wondering how to rebuild his life after spending two years in North Africa trying to get to Europe by sea. But now, his uncle has given him back his manager job.

“We have to tackle the roots and ask ourselves the question: why are we ready to lose our lives to find work elsewhere?” –Florence Kim of IOM

Home sweet home

“I’m happy to be back after living in the North African hell, but I’m angry with myself for not making my dream come true. Well, it’s destiny. Now I must look forward to the future,” Diop, a 22-year-old man who attended a Darra (religious school), added.

While Diop reflected on what he called a shattered dream, at the same time in Kolda in southern Senegal, another returnee from Niger, Ibou, pondered his future, which he described as uncertain and complicated.

Unlike Diop, who has found solace in his uncle’s shop, Ibou is wondering what to do next after selling all his livestock to hit the road, crossing the Sahara desert on his way to the European El Dorado. But he never made it even to war-torn Libya.

“I was robbed in Niger of all my money (2,800 dollars) and belongings by people posing as smugglers who promised to take me to Tripoli, and finally to Italy,” the 25-year-old man said, adding that he was stranded for several months in Agadez (northern Niger, ‘door of the Sahara’), where he almost died of hunger and malaria.

“Somehow, I’m ashamed to return because I have become another burden on my family. I was born in a poor family. They all pinned their hopes on me, thinking that I would reach Europe and get a well-paying job to start sending them money,” he said emotionally.

Sad tales

Diop and Ibou’s stories are just the tip of the iceberg in Africa, where hopeless young sub-Saharan Africans, including unaccompanied children, leave their poverty-stricken or war-torn homelands to travel to North Africa in the hope of getting a job to fund their onward and dangerous journey to Europe.

While 150,982 ‘lucky’ migrants – from Africa and elsewhere – managed to reach Europe in 2017 by the Mediterranean Sea, more than 15,000 have died trying since 2014 (3,139 last year), according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

However, for those who, for whatever reasons, were stranded either in Niger or Libyan jails (20,000 last year) or sold as ‘modern slaves’ in Libyan markets, the only way to solve the crisis seems to be assistance for voluntary return to their home countries.

Inter Press Service for more

How Japanese student radicals became juche believers in North Korea

April 17th, 2018


Public debut of the independent Red Army Faction at the National Zenkyoto convention, Hibiya Park, September 5, 1969. Red Army Faction members (right) battled with members of Bund (left) outside Hibiya Outdoor Amphitheatre. Takazawa, Koji, author and editor, Zenkyoto? Gurafuitei. Tokyo: Shinsensha, 1984, p. 55.

Excerpted and adapted from the English translation of Destiny: the Secret Operations of the Yodog? Exiles, by Takazawa Koji, edited by Patricia G. Steinhoff.


During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japan had a New Left protest cycle that paralleled those in western Europe and the United States. The Japanese New Left was separate from the parliamentary Japan Communist Party and drew many of its ideas from Japanese translations of the latest revolutionary New Left literature including works by Regis De Bray (1967), Che Guevara (1968, 1969), Rudi Dutschke (1968), Daniel Cohn-Bendit (1968), Howard Zinn (1968), Stokely Carmichael (1968), Eldridge Cleaver (1969), Alberto Bayo (1969), and Carlos Marighella (1970). Japanese New Left groups identified with student movements in the west and protested about similar issues, including opposition to the Vietnam War and American military bases in Japan, as well as tuition increases, overcrowding, and authoritarian regulations at universities. Frustrated by the Japanese government’s intransigence in the face of huge protest demonstrations, they despaired of change through either electoral or street politics, and instead saw revolution as the only alternative. New Left street demonstrations steadily escalated into violent clashes resembling medieval battles. The students wore color-coded crash helmets emblazoned with names of their organizations, carried long fighting poles, and threw paving stones or firebombs at the police. They confronted squads of riot police wearing medieval style helmets, who battled the students with tall aluminum body shields and police batons, supported by water cannon trucks that sprayed fire hoses of water laced with tear gas at the students. At the peak of the protest cycle in 1968-69, Japanese authorities suddenly cracked down with mass arrests and prolonged incarcerations of thousands of students. This turned the tide, in part by producing splits within New Left groups.

One major national New Left protest organizations nicknamed Bund expelled its radical Red Army Faction for advocating urban guerrilla warfare with guns and improvised explosives to incite a revolution in Japan, as part of the simultaneous worldwide revolution that their leader Shiomi Takaya believed was imminent. As the newly-independent group experimented with explosives in fall 1969, heavy police pressure pushed them underground. In March 1970 nine students from the Red Army Faction hijacked a plane to North Korea. Two years later they renounced the Red Army Faction’s ideology of simultaneous world revolution and converted to Kim Il Sung’s juche ideology. Little was heard from them until they re-established contact with supporters in Japan in 1988. After one Yodogo member was arrested in Japan, his lawyer and the leader of a support organization began visiting the group in North Korea. Takazawa Koji knew the group’s leader Tamiya Takamaro from his days as a student activist, first in Bund and then on the fringes of the Red Army Faction, where he helped publish Red Army Faction publications and provided support when people were arrested. He became an editor and authority on the New left, and first visited North Korea in 1990 at the group’s invitation. In this excerpt from chapters 5 and 6 of Destiny, he uses manuscripts they gave him for publication in Japan to examine their conversion process. As he explored their experience in North Korea, he found disturbing parallels to the United Red Army Incident in Japan that happened at almost the same time.

The Asia-Pacific Journal – Japan Focus for more

Revealed: Princess Diana visit linked to Bahrain crackdown

April 17th, 2018


Britain’s ‘Butcher of Bahrain’, Colonel Ian Henderson, behind Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Illustration by Sophie Mo for New Internationalist

Secret documents show that the regime’s massive crackdown on opposition groups paved the way for the Royal visit and that Britain’s own ‘Butcher of Bahrain’ approved of the situation.

Security for a visit to Bahrain by Prince Charles and Princess Diana back in 1986 was overseen by the country’s notorious spy chief, ‘the Butcher of Bahrain’, to stop regime opponents causing trouble, a newly declassified file suggests.

Shortly before Princess Diana arrived in Bahrain, Britain’s ambassador Francis Trew wrote a secret telegram about ‘Royal tour: Security’. He said that the opposition group, the left-wing National Liberation Front (NLF), was ‘thoroughly demoralised following the recent arrest of their entire leadership’.

Bahrain’s autocratic Amir and staunch British ally, Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, had spent the year arresting around 100 members of the NLF. It was the eighth crackdown on their movement in 20 years.

Britain’s ambassador described the arrests as ‘devastating blow’ to the NLF ‘from which their recovery will be cautious, painstaking and long term. They are not considered a threat in this context’.

Two Bahraini opposition activists, Radhi Mahdi Ibrahim and Dr Hashim al-Alawi, were allegedly tortured to death as part of the crackdown, in the months before the royal couple visited Bahrain.

‘They killed my husband and gave us a death certificate saying he committed suicide … [but] I know that he was tortured to death,’

said Iman Shweiter, the wife of Dr al-Alawi, in a 2016 interview with the BBC. ‘The loss of my husband, who was killed in prison, will affect me forever.’

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, said, ‘The stories of the Bahrainis who were tortured during the 1980s are a painful reminder of the awful abuse endured by victims of the British government’s unconditional support for the Bahraini regime, at a time when people were tortured to death in the Gulf state. Despite the passing of decades, the survivors are yet to recover from their ordeal.’

At the time of these deaths, the UK Foreign Office told campaigners that the men died of suicide and natural causes. The allegations of foul play were awkward for Whitehall, because Bahrain’s security apparatus was run by an expatriate British officer, Colonel Ian Henderson.

Human rights groups have dubbed Henderson ‘the Butcher of Bahrain’, alleging that he personally tortured opposition activists during his decades in charge.

The secret file reveals that after Bahrain’s crackdown on left-wing activists, Britain’s ambassador ‘reviewed security for the [Royal] visit with Henderson’, who felt that ‘the internal situation was “about as good as it could be”.’

The file also notes that ‘Henderson has now had what he regards as a thoroughly satisfactory meeting with his Bahrain Defence Force counterpart and is much happier about coordination.’

Crucially, the file shows that the British government supported Henderson’s role. When the Amir was worried that Henderson might retire (‘Bahrain could not afford to lose him’), the British ambassador said he ‘shared this hope’ that Henderson would stay – adding that Henderson had been ‘grossly overworked lately, largely on personal protection duties’ – a possible reference to the Royal visit.

New Internationalist for more

The Islamic pirate queen

April 16th, 2018


The sovereign woman PHOTO/Creative Commons

The Barbary corsairs didn’t have to work very hard to capture their prey. Most ship crews were so afraid of the vicious pirates that they threw down their weapons rather than fight. Aligned with the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century, the privateers targeted primarily Christian vessels, plundering them mercilessly, and robbing and enslaving those aboard — a modus operandi that appealed nicely to a young Muslim woman who had been forced into exile when the Muslim kingdom of Granada fell in 1492.

Sayyida al-Hurra and her family fled Spain for Morocco, where, after marrying and burying her first husband, she succeeded him as the governor of Tétouan before remarrying — this time into royalty. When Sayyida wed Ahmed al-Wattasi, the sultan of Morocco and ruler of Fes, she became queen of Morocco. Holding a grudge, and feeling a great deal of shame over her fallen childhood homeland and its takeover by Ferdinand and Isabella, Sayyida became hell-bent on revenge. She reached out to the famed Barbarossa, an Ottoman admiral and among the most successful corsairs, to ally with the pirates in seizing control of the nearby seas. Sayyida and her privateers would eventually take over the Western Mediterranean during the corsairs’ and Ottomans’ reign in the early 16th century.

She spearheaded the alliance that helped the Muslims unite in defiance against the European colonization of Morocco.

The corsairs sailed under the jurisdiction of local rulers on the Barbary Coast, pirating European ships and bringing a share of the treasure home to their cities. According to Laura Sook Duncombe, author of Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas, they were seen as “brutal, terrifying pirates, but that reputation was probably largely based in xenophobia.” After all, as Duncombe points out, “they were enslaving Christians.”

Christians were doing similar things, but while enslaving Africans to work on sugar plantations was seen as fine by many Europeans, they took a dimmer view on being enslaved themselves. The marauding pirates, in turn, were labeled “monsters,” and this reputation was transferred to their ally Sayyida, making her both an alluring and terrifying pirate queen in the annals of history.

As Sayyida bent a sultan to her will, she was spoken of with awe and anxiety by contemporary European chroniclers who did business with her in Spain and Portugal, Duncombe says. Her unrivaled succession following her first husband’s death demonstrated that she had a capacity for ruling, and that the culture of the time and place accepted female leaders, Fatima Mernissi relates in The Forgotten Queens of Islam. Sayyida spearheaded the alliance that helped the Muslims unite against the European colonization of Morocco, and the Barbary pirates would rule the Mediterranean for three centuries.

While Europeans saw Sayyida and the pirates as nothing more than thieves and murderers, the Ottomans, says Tom Verde, an expert in Islamic and Middle Eastern history and writer for AramcoWorld magazine, viewed them as “freedom-fighting patriots who stood on the front lines of European attempts to invade and dominate the Maghreb.”

OZY for more