Native American Poli-techs

Note: This article was originally published on February 18th, 2013 on the blog The Lighthouse.

The most accessible accounts of the arrival of Europeans in the Americas are those of European conquerors and their men. In these accounts, which are the source of many stereotypes, Native Americans are often depicted as being ignorant, backwards and weak. Although the technology available

Great seal of the United States
Great seal of the United States. The 13 arrows representing the original 13 colonies are based on an Iroquois symbol representing the original Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee), which consisted of five nations instead of six.

to them in the 16th century was not as advanced as European technology, Native Americans were able to run empires and maintain political relations. Their social and political organization even influenced the politics of the modern United States. The United States owe their unification to the Iroquois League and the Inca’s political system, which was an early form of socialism, demonstrates the ability of Native Americans to run empires.

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The Syrian Chessboard

Note: This article was originally published on January 11th, 2013 on the blog The Lighthouse.

The Syrian civil war is often presented as being about rebels attempting to overthrow Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and skirmishes between these rebels and the Syrian army. Upon taking a closer look, we can see that that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Islamists factions such as the mujahedeen and the Muslim brotherhood are also involved. Why are these groups involved in the war and what do they hope to gain?

Iran has been predominately a Shiite Muslim country since the Safavid Dynasty. Middle-Eastern countries such as Bahrain that are near Iran and that oppress Shiite Muslims often fear that their Shiites citizens might turn to Iran for protection. However, oppressed Shiites are not the only ones who seek an alliance with Iran: Hafez Al-Assad, the father of current Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, formed an alliance with Iran during its war with Iraq. The Al-Assad family are Alawites, Muslims who follow a particular branch of Twelver Shiite Islam. Hafez Al-Assad was also a member of the Baath party, a secular party based on Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ideas of pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism and socialism. Because of these secular ideologies, the Baath party was fiercely opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood. The relationship between Iran and the Al-Assad family is a threat to the interests of the United-States, making Saudi Arabia inevitably involved in the Syrian civil war.

The modern Saudi state stems from two alliances: the one between Muhammad Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, and Muhammad ibn Abdel Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi movement, and the alliance between Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud. According to Wahhabist doctrine, Shiite Islam is heretical, hence the reason why Shiite Muslims in Saudi Arabia are oppressed by the Saudi state. The Saudis also oppress Shiites for practical reasons: they mainly live in the east of the Arabian Peninsula which is rich oil and near Iran. Since its tensions with Iran are rising, the United-States thought that burning bridges between Iran and its ally Syria would be an excellent way to weaken the Iranians: if the Al-Assad family were to be overthrown, then its alliance with Iran can be broken. The United-States and Saudi Arabia plan to do this by sending the Mujahedeen and allies of the Muslim brotherhood into Syria. After all, Saudi Arabia was a refuge for some members of the Muslim Brotherhood during the mandates of Nasser and Sadat. Having Saudi Arabia send Mujahedeen abroad to fight its enemies is nothing new to the United-States. Saudi Arabia had trained and sent Mujahedeen to aid Afghans fighting the United-States’ worst enemy of the 1980s, the Soviet Union. To both Saudi and Afghan Mujahedeen, the war against the Soviets was holy because they saw the Soviets’ atheism as a threat to Islam.

The Syrian civil war started out as the Syrian people’s struggle to overthrow the Al-Assad regime to obtain a better tomorrow. It has now turned into a game of chess between the Al-Assad family and Iran on one side, Saudi Arabia and the United-States on the other, and the Syrian people is caught in the middle.



Propaganda Superheroes

Note: This article was originally published on December 1st, 2012 on the blog The Lighthouse

Today, when we hear of Superheroes, we automatically think of American comic book characters from the 1940s and 1950s like Superman. Although stories of men in tights with super powers are from the late 1930s, stories of heroes with unusual powers who appear in propaganda stories can be traced back to eleventh century France. The Song of Roland (French: La Chanson de Roland), a “chanson de geste” (a kind of epic poem) and the first great work written in French, served as propaganda much like early issues of “Superman” and “Captain America” from the 1940s. The aim of these Superhero stories differed from that of The Song of Roland, but the symbols that the heroes and villains represent are quite similar.

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Open letter to the people of Egypt

Note: This article was originally published on November 26th, 2012 on the blog The Lighthouse.

The people of Egypt pushed their former president, Hosni Mubarak, to resign in 2011, motivating the countries that would become part of the Arab Spring to rebel against their leaders. Egyptians hoped for a better tomorrow, but many are disappointed by the current situation and believe the revolution was in vain.  They have voiced their opinion in movements such as “Egypt isn’t a ranch” in October and by shouting slogans such as “Morsi sold the revolution to become president”. Egyptians should not give up: revolutions do not solve a country’s problems overnight.

The goals of a revolution are not reached normally after one trial. The French Revolution in 1789, whose aim was to get rid of the monarchy and implement “equality, liberty and fraternity”, did not meet its objective initially. Although the French were successful in overthrowing King Louis XVI, the revolution was followed by a constitutional monarchy that lasted a year and the monarchy was later restored after the first French Empire. Even during the French Third Republic, an era in which the monarchy was long gone, Emile Zola showed in his book Germinal the inequalities in French society and how the rich exploited the poor. He even portrayed the bourgeois as the new monarchy. The aims of the French revolution were achieved over an extended period of time, although some might even argue that they have never been fully achieved. Still, France has come a long way since the time of the monarchy. The French strived for a better tomorrow and even though they had some failures, they did not give up. Egyptians must do the same so that their aspirations can be reached.

Demoralized Egyptians tend to believe that one person alone cannot change the world. They assume one should not attempt to change things in Egypt because the only possible outcome is failure. They are only partially right: no revolution was ever accomplished by one person alone. George Washington is often thought of as the symbol of the American Revolution, but the Founding Fathers and help from the French tend to be overlooked. They all worked together and to play their respective parts in the American Revolution. One of the key elements of the success of that revolution was the cooperation between powerful and influential individuals. That is not to say that people who were not of the stature of revolutionaries like Benjamin Franklin or George Washington did not have a part to play in a revolution: all people played a part, but those with power and assets needed to lead the charge, so to speak.

If Egyptians want their economy to recover, a functional government and to restore their country’s past glory, they must be willing to see the revolution through, gather all the resources they can and not despair. Over the past 100 years, Egyptians have shown great interest in the United-States, France and England. If there is one thing they must learn from these Western countries, it is how to lead a successful revolution.


Distorting Assassin’s Creed III

Note: This article was originally published on November 22nd, 2012 on the blog The Lighthouse

In its November 14th‘s editorial, The Globe and Mail accused Ubisoft Montreal of producing propaganda through its latest adventure game, Assassin’s Creed III, which is set during the American Revolution. The Canadian newspaper accused the Montreal-based studio of being biased towards American fans for economic reasons, of making false claims about the allegiance of Native Americans during colonial times, and of degrading the British, which is, according to The Globe and Mail, condescending towards Canada’s history. Most of the editorial is slander towards the game and Ubisoft Montreal.

The controversial Assassin’s Creed III Trailer

North American fans of the game can easily be lead to believe that Assassin’s Creed III is biased towards Americans because of Ubisoft Montreal’s North American advertising campaign. The game’s trailers do glorify the United-States, which is normal given the game’s historical context. Ubisoft Montreal had two advertising campaigns: one for North America and one for the United Kingdom. In the UK trailers, Connor Ratonhnhaké:ton Kenway, the game’s protagonist, can be seen killing American soldiers whereas the North American trailers were partially censored.  Long time fans of Assassin’s Creed know that the game is about a feud between the Assassins and the Templars. Connor’s goals are protecting his village and assassinating Templars and not winning the revolution for the Americans. Connor’s targets include both Brits and Americans.  Ubisoft Montreal may have censored their North American trailers to win over American fans, but the game itself does not favour the United-States.

The Globe and Mail claimed that First Nations fought side by side with the British during the war of 1812. That is irrelevant since the game is set during the American Revolution. Whether it was the war of 1812 or the American Revolution though, Native American tribes sided with European nations who could best serve their interests. As a result, some tribes were actually pitted against each other. The authors of the Globe‘s editorial probably made their bold claim because they were thinking of Joseph Thayendanegea Brandt, a Mohawk chief famous for fighting alongside the British during the American Revolution. Yet, Joseph Louis Cook (Akiatonharónkwen), an influential leader of African and Abenaki ancestry among the Mohawks, held a grudge against the British and fought them at Valley Forge. The rivalry between Brandt and Cook indeed divided the Mohawks. The Globe and Mail‘s argument is based on historical misconceptions and an oversimplification of history.

It seems that The Globe and Mail‘s editorial was more about boosting the popularity of the Queen of England and Canada’s British colonial past than pointing out historical inaccuracies. What better thing to do than attack a popular game developed in a popular studio based in Quebec, the province that has been most critical of England’s role in Canadian history?  If Canada wants to find its identity, it must, of course, remember its past, but it should not cling on to symbols that are contrary to its independence. Ubisoft Montreal worked with Mohawk consultants on the game and popular magazines and gaming websites have thoroughly reviewed Assassin’s Creed III. They did their homework: The Globe and Mail should have done theirs too.



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