Social Change

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Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics Cover Image
ISBN: 9781620975923
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Published: New Press - February 16th, 2021

As a lover of history, I am obsessed with facts. Sometimes I cannot help myself from rambling off a list of semi-useless facts when trying to make an argument. By this can be self-defeating, by describing a plethora of facts why you are right, or more importantly why they are wrong, your argument deteriorates. To quote Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins, “Do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts. One fact and one fact alone is crystal clear.”

That one fact is quite clear when it comes to Palestine, Israel is using violence to occupy Palestinian lands. I do not understand why this is such a radical statement, that some consider to be anti-Semitic. Wanting Palestinians to have the same rights as Israelis should never be considered anti-Semitic.

One of the authors of this book, Marc Lamont Hill, was blacklisted from CNN for saying that Palestinians should be free from the river (Jordan) to the sea (Mediterranean). I don’t have any idea why it is wrong to state that people of different religions and ethnicities should be equal in the eyes of the law. How dare someone insist that indigenous people should have the same freedoms as their colonizers, what impudence!

I would encourage people to read this book to understand the difference between being anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli. It is incredibly important to understand this difference in order to fight against those who are actually anti-Semitic. Unfortunately, in the world today various minority groups are being discriminated against and it is necessary for everyone to stand together in unison.

Some of the closing statements from this insightful work accurately sum up the situation, “With the rise of anti-Semitism in the United states, Europe, and elsewhere, Jewish people everywhere need and deserve solidarity with liberals to survive. But if that solidarity comes at the expense of another people, it is ultimately self-defeating.”

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Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes Cover Image
ISBN: 9781586488130
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Published: PublicAffairs - April 27th, 2010

"The Conflict wracking the modern world is not, I think, best understood as a “clash of civilizations,” if that proposition means we’re-different-so-we-must-fight-until-there’s-only-one-of-us. It’s better understood as the friction generated by two mismatched world histories intersecting.”  

Growing up in America, my first exposure to the Islamic world was watching the Disney animated movie Aladdin. In school, I was taught little to nothing about Islamic history, religion, or culture. I just assumed everyone traveled on either camels or flying carpets, and that there were magic lamps with genies inside that could grant you three wishes. (Or at least there was Christina Aguilera)

Besides these racist stereotypes, there were mostly negative things spoken about Islam. Commentators focused on how different and foreign the Islamic World is, how women are subjugated, and that Muslims hate our freedoms.  

Tamin Ansary does an outstanding job trying to fight against these naïve assumptions by providing a bird’s eye view of an over thousand-year-old history that both educates the reader about the cultural and scientific advances that the Islamic world has provided, and entertains the reader with remarkable stories about the spread of Islam from a tiny cave in the Arabian desert to becoming one of the World’s biggest religions.

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Silencing the Past (20th anniversary edition): Power and the Production of History Cover Image
ISBN: 9780807080535
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Published: Beacon Press - March 17th, 2015

This groundbreaking achievement by Michel-Rolph Trouillot forces the reader to see history through a different lens.

Trouillot doesn’t focus so much on what is being recorded in history, he is more focused on what is not being said. The author identifies the Haitian Revolution as being a great example of one of the “silences” in history. The World barely even acknowledges the importance of the Haitian Revolution as the only successful slave revolt in history. Its greatness is often diminished as other revolutions like the American and French have a much greater focused.

Trouillot challenges the reader by questioning whether this silence of not acknowledging the significance of the Haitian Revolution exposes the racism of the American and French Revolutions, “In 1791, there is no public debate on the record, in France, in England, or in the United States on the right of black slaves to achieve self-determination.” The Haitian Revolution challenged the status quo of wealthy white Nations using racism, white supremacy, and slavery to enrich themselves at the expense of non-white people. These European Countries, that claimed to support the freedom and liberty of all men, ostracized Haiti from the World for having the nerve to rise up against a “superior race.”  

The author points to the racist omittance of the Haitian Revolution from the historical record has led to the decline of Haiti’s well-being, “Ostracized for the better part of the nineteenth century, the country deteriorated both economically and politically as a result of this ostracism. As Haiti declined, the reality of the revolution seemed increasingly distant, and improbability which took place in an awkward past and for which no one had a rational explanation.”  

The failure of the world both past and present to recognize Haiti has contributed to the country’s deterioration, the first place it reverse this is to educate the people on the remarkable achievement that former Haitian slaves both Creole and African accomplished against all odds.

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The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307278708
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Published: Anchor - June 1st, 2010

Remember back in 1999, there was all of that hysteria surrounding Y2K? Yeah, it was the same in the year 999, humanity supposedly progressed in those thousand years yet people in both the years 999 and 1999 believed that the new millennium would bring in the apocalypse.

Tom Holland expertly captures that hysteria and combines it with an enlightening account of the key events happening. One of the key figures to feature in this book is Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, who helped spread Christianity across Europe.

Personally, I hate Charlemagne, he just reminds me of guys who act all macho, but cut in front of old women in the grocery line and steal candy from children. Charlemagne fought various Germanic and Slavic tribes for decades, murdering them, selling them into slavery, committing various war crimes that would be considered genocidal today. But worst of all, he chopped down their sacred trees, who else but a total scoundrel would do this?

Did anyone watching Avatar root for the military men who were destroying the sacred tree? No because they are the bad guys, yet Western Civilization has decided to choose Charlemagne as its hero. The part of this book I enjoyed the most, was the explanation of how the invention of castles transformed the land from public to private property. Before castles, the peasanty formed communities, where leaders were elected, rights were upheld, and people were able to hunt, fish, gather herbs and berries, and harvest crops whenever they liked. This was not beneficial to local lords, who wanted to increase their power and wealth.

Less people working the land meant smaller harvest which equals less for the lord to extort from the people. In the eyes of the landlords, “Peasants who insisted on sloping off from their fields to go rabbit hunting or blackberrying were wastrels, plain and simple, letting down their betters. What other purpose did the poor have, if not to deliver the full potential of their capacity?” The lords were able to tie the peasants to the lands with castles and knights. Castles were virtually impossible to attack, while knights were not the noble valiant men who we imagine them to be; but ruthless violent savages with armor, weapons, and horses to trample upon any peasant who dares to resist. The forest and rivers that peasants were once allowed to hunt and fish in, were now off limits, and those who attempted to do so were branded criminals.

The freedoms the peasants once possessed were stripped away by greedy landlords whose only concern was exacting as much wealth as possible from their land. The people were no longer free, they were now serfs bound to their lord and forced to labor for the benefit of the rich.

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The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250179821
Availability: Special Order
Published: Metropolitan Books - March 5th, 2019

This book focuses on America’s ability to constantly expand its border despite what any Native American, Mexican, or any foreign government has to say about it.

But what happens when America has extended to its limits? Erect a gargantuan wall, refuse to acknowledge the outside world and deny anyone else access to the spoils. I grew up in the suburbs where many people decide to put up giant fences and gates to block their eyes from the outside world. Seriously, is their anything more terrifying than making eye contact with your neighbor and having to say hello? Or god forbid having to make small talk with them?  

Greg Grandin perfectly captures the essence of what the border wall really means when he describes the wall as a, “Monument to disenchantment, to a kind of brutal geopolitical realism: racism was never transcended; there’s not enough to go around; the global economy will have winners and losers; not all can sit at the table; and government policies should be organized around accepting these truths.”

This situation cannot continue forever, America needs to acknowledge its role in creating the problems that its neighbors face, and find a way to help alleviate those problems. 

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The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250210869
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Published: St. Martin's Griffin - June 18th, 2019

Germany at the time, was a country full of educated people that were leading the world in science, engineering, and philosophy. In an instant, Germany transformed into a state of racism and insanity. This nation decided to turn its back on evidence-based reasoning, and then embraced a system of anti-Semitism and fear-mongering. Instead of accepting your own failures and owning up to how you lost WWI, a section of the German population felt it was easier to blame others for their problems.

This is a warning to anyone who believes they are able to control the worst elements of a society in order to further their own interests. One of the most bone chilling parts of this book is seeing the picture of Hitler sitting on trial, the way he is seated should remind all Americans of a recent wannabe dictator. It is horrifying to see how many elements of Germany a hundred years ago is so similar to America today. It is too easy to say that Hitler’s rise was inevitable and that this could never happen in the modern USA. Democracy needs to be protected in order to work, “No democracy can function or long, however, unless ultimately divided groups are willing to compromise with one another.”

Germany definitely took a couple wrong turns on their path to democracy but instead of taking a left, they took the third Reich sorry I mean right. (You can thank Mrs. Maisel for that joke)