Showing posts with label British Empire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British Empire. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Cleaning House-Amanullah Khan

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and near the bottom on the Human Development Index. Riddled with corruption and extremism, Afghanistan is struggling to join the modern world. However, for a brief time in the early 20th century, Afghanistan made huge steps forward under the leadership of King Amanullah.

Image result for amanullah khan
Amanullah and his wife, Queen Soraya. Soraya was
behind many of Amanullah's reforms, and served
as the public face of his reforms in women's rights.
King Amanullah started off his reign in 1919 by declaring complete Afghan independence from the British Empire in his coronation speech. Afghanistan had been under British rule in some form or another since 1838, and at that time, Britain had complete control over Afghanistan's foreign affairs and an outsized influence on its domestic affairs. The Afghans were, of course, not 100% down with this, and Amanullah's declaration of independence was greeted with enthusiasm. He started the Third Anglo-Afghan war on May 6, 1919. The fighting lasted for about a month, and at the end, Afghanistan emerged an independent country.

With the British problem taken care of, Amanullah set about a reform regime that would bring Afghanistan into the modern world and improve the quality of life for almost every citizen.

Government 


After throwing off the English, Amanullah set about attempting to unite a divided country. Some of his efforts were small, like encouraging government officials to wear Western dress in order to erase tribal and religious divisions; others were bigger, like creating a constitution and purging corruption from the highest levels of society.

The Afghan Constitution, ratified in April of 1923, introduced bicameral legislation, a secular court system, and a series of checks and balances in which the king became a constitutional monarch. The 1923 constitution was revolutionary. It offered freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the domestic press, and made it possible to not only present petitions to a court but appeal those decisions to a higher court. It declared that the king was accountable to the country and that he ruled Afghanistan at the leisure of the people. Some local government positions became elected, and warrants were required for arrest.

Image result for afghanistan map 1920s
Central Asia, 1920. Afghanistan was separated from British
India by the "Durand Line." The peace treaty with the
British said that Afghanistan had jurisdiction over the
Pashtun tribes on their side of the Durand Line, and that
Britain had authority over the Pashtuns on their side.
Afghanistan wasn't too keen on this arrangement and
claimed authority over all Pashtun tribes.
Amanullah revolutionized the Afghan budget by having one. Before the 1923 constitution, Afghanistan had run without a budget. Amanullah not only established a budget, but he also sought to improve the economy of the country by replacing the valueless rupee with the afghani and by selling farmland to poor farmers at only ten afghanis for a half acre.

There was also a significant improvement to infrastructure during Amanullah's time. He connected the entire country with "The Great North Road," which enabled people to get quickly from one part of the country to the other. He created a postal service and installed telegraphs and telephones. He also decided to build a new capital, Darul-Aman. 

All of this would be very expensive. To pay for it, Amanullah reformed the tax system, getting rid of archaic and arbitrary taxes (like the "Tax for the Queen's Hair Oil") and by levying higher taxes on land and livestock. During Amanullah's reign, the tax on land increased four-fold, and the tax on livestock increased five-fold.

In a series of decrees, Amanullah also revoked the special privileges that had previously been offered to tribal and Islamic leaders. He cut tribal subsidies and abolished traditional ranks and titles. Mullah's were no longer allowed to preside over court cases. This would, unsurprisingly, make him very unpopular with the upper classes.

Social


Amanullah formally abolished slavery in article ten of the 1923 constitution. The article read:
"Personal freedom is immune from all forms of violation or encroachment. No person may be arrested or punished other than pursuant to an order issued by a Sharia Court or in accordance with the provision of appropriate laws. The principle of Slavery is completely abolished. No man or woman can employ others as slaves."
This was one of Amanullah's many attempts to unify fractured Afghan society. Previously, slaves had come from religious minorities or rival tribes, and not only was slavery a gross violation of civil rights, it was dividing a country that needed more than ever to be united.

Image result for afghan women 1920s
Afghans, especially women and high-
ranking officials were encouraged to
adopt western-style clothing.
Amanullah was firmly of the opinion that education was vital to a prosperous society. He made elementary school mandatory for both boys and girls and opened up schools in rural areas. Furthermore, he secularized schools and significantly expanded the curriculum. Previously, schools had been run by Islamic clerics and had focused mostly on memorizing the Quran. While schools still taught Islamic law and principles, they also branched out into math, science, and reading.

Education wasn't just for children either. Literacy classes for adults were offered, with Amanullah sometimes making an appearance to teach them himself. Higher education was also encouraged, with many Afghan students being sent abroad to go to school with the expectation that they would bring their skills back to benefit their nation.

What Amanullah is perhaps best remembered for (other than throwing out the British for once and for all) was his promotion of women's rights and his reforms that gave women a degree of freedom that hadn't been seen in Afghanistan before or since. Veiling was no longer mandatory. Seclusion was discouraged. Women were not only allowed to go to school, but the law said that girls had to attend elementary school same as the boys did. Several women were sent to college in Turkey, and working outside of the home began to seem possible.

In addition to being able to receive an education, women were also granted the rights to seek a divorce, and have a say in who they married. A woman's consent to marry was just as important as a man's. Amanullah outlawed the practice of bride money and passed laws saying that a woman wasn't allowed to marry until after she hit puberty.

Amanullah also discouraged polygamy and passed laws that said to take a second wife, a man had to appeal to the courts. This caused a major backlash from the religious community.

Military


Image result for afghan army 1920s
Bacha-i-Saqao, the Tajik rebel who would eventually
overthrow Amanullah.
Amanullah's first major reforms in the army department was the creation of an air force. With help from the USSR, he assembled a small fleet of planes with a small force of Soviet pilots to fly them. Afghans were sent to France, Italy, and Turkey to learn to fly, and gradually, Afghan pilots replaced the Soviets.

His second major military reform was to turn the Afghan army into something that more resembled an actual army. Pre-Amanullah, soldiers for the army had been chosen by the tribal chiefs. This meant that soldiers were usually more loyal to their tribes then they were to the state. This was a particular problem any time a tribal uprising came around, and tribal uprisings came around more frequently than Amanullah would have liked. To counter this, Amanullah introduced universal conscription. All men would serve three years in the army when they turned 21. They would live in army-provided housing and be provided with food and clothing, as well as a very small salary.

This small salary was a byproduct of Amanullah's attempts to purge the Afghan army of its veterans. Many veterans, though experienced, were loyal to tribal chiefs and were resistant to the changes that Amanullah was introducing. To induce them to quit, Amanullah lowered their salary to four rupees a month. This was largely successful, and many of the more experienced soldiers left the service. 

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Amanullah shortly before his death in 1960.
After his abdication Amanullah fled abroad
and lived in exile in Switzerland.
Unfortunately, nobody thought to train the new soldiers that would replace them. Amanullah brought in officers from the Turkish army to train his army, but many Afghan soldiers resented the Turkish influence, and saw it as an insult that they were expected to learn from the Turks. This, combined with failure to provide sufficient food, clothing, and housing, led to the army becoming disillusioned with the king. 

While Amanullah made some undeniably good changes, the manner in which he went about it irritated and alienated his people. At the beginning of his reign, he'd been encouraged to introduce reforms gradually, but Amanullah disregarded that advice. He introduced 57 different reform laws in the first five years of his reign, which resulted in an uprising in 1924. He lacked a competent bureaucracy to enforce his reforms, and outside of Kabul, it was nearly impossible to enforce the new changes. By secularizing the laws and creating state courts, Amanullah alienated the mullahs, who declared him an infidel. His military reforms made it so that when the tribes rebelled in 1929, his armed forces were not only unable but were also unwilling to put it down, resulting in Amanullah's abdication and the reversal of his reforms.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.
More on Similar Topics



Sources
The Pitfalls of Protection: Gender, Violence, and Power in Afghanistan by Torunn Wimpelmann
"History Lessons: In Afghanistan's Decades of Confrontation with Modernity, Women Have Always Been the Focus of Conflict" by Christine Noelle-Karimi
"Abandoning the Wardrobe and Reclaiming Religion in the Discourse on Afghan Women’s Islamic Rights" by Leela Jacinto
Afghanistan-Reform, Popular Reaction, and Forced Abdication-Country Studies
Afghanistan-the Reign of King Amanullah. 1919-29-Country Studies
Reforms of Amanullah Khan and Civil War-California Polytechnic State University


Friday, December 22, 2017

Damn, Girl-Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa

It's 1896, and things are looking bleak for the Ashanti confederacy. King Prempeh I and his entire government have been exiled to the Seychelles, and the British have control of the capital city of Kumasi. English soldiers have been plundering the treasures of the Ashanti, and now their governor, Frederick Hodgson is demanding the Golden Stool¹, the symbol of Ashanti kingship. The men of the Ashanti are defeated, and ready to give in.

Image result for Yaa Asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa
However, Yaa was no man. She was the Queen mother of the Ejisu, and the grandmother to the exiled king. She was outspoken and fearless, and had been ruling Ejisu for years. Most importantly, Yaa hadn't given up. Her grandson was hundreds of miles away, her land had been ravaged, but she wasn't ready to give in. When all the men were talking about giving the British what she wanted, she stood up and told them that rather than give the British the Golden Stool, essentially admitting defeat, she and the Ashanti women would fight the English to her last breath.

Yaa was a powerful woman. Born in the village of Ejisu, she had ruled alongside her brother until his death. She was a skilled farmer and her years of fighting for the empowerment of Ashanti women had earned her respect. Though the men of the Ashanti hesitated to join her, the women did not.

In order to encourage their men to war, Yaa encouraged the women to refuse marital relations to their husbands until they agreed to rise up. Additionally, Yaa led the women of the Ashanti in victory marches and rituals around Ejisu on a near daily basis.

After the men had been browbeaten into joining her, Yaa set her warriors about building stockades and traps for the English. She also encouraged her soldiers in the use of psychological warfare via drum beats. She used these 'talking drums' to send signals to the English. One beat meant 'prepare to die' and three meant 'cut off the head'. This was a very effective tactic, and the sound of Ashanti drums instilled terror in the English.

In addition to drums and stockades, Yaa broke with tradition, and appeared on the battlefield herself. She dashed about the battlefield with a gun, fighting the same as the men under her command. Under her leadership, the Ashanti managed to reconquer Kumasi, as well as drive back the English.

Image result for ashanti empire map
Map of the Kingdoms of West Africa. The Ashante (or Asante)
Kingdom occupied the same area as modern Ghana.
Unfortunately, her success didn't last. The British brought in foreign soldiers from their vast empire, and they pushed the Ashanti back to the village of Offinso.

During the course of the war Yaa and her advisers were captured. Like her grandson, Yaa was deported to the Seychelles Islands. Yaa died there in 1921, and her remains were later brought back to Ashanti lands.

Today Yaa is remembered as one of the great heroes of the Ashanti empire. Her uprising against the English was the last major African uprising lead by a woman. There are schools named after her, and every year a prize in her name is awarded to an extraordinary Ghanaian woman. Many Ghanaians and people of Ghanaian descent name their daughters after her. Though the Ashanti Confederation may be no more, Yaa's fearlessness and bravery lives on.



¹The Golden Stool is, essentially, the Ashanti equivalent of the Stone of Destiny. It signified that the possessor was fit to rule, and surrendering it to the English would have been a sign of assenting to British rule.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
Yaa Asantewaa or the Ashanti Cry for Freedom
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa: 1840-1921
Yaa Asantewaa: Ghana's Queen Mother and Fearless African Warrior
Yaa Asantewaa-Queen Mother of the Ashanti Confederation
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa of West Africa's Ashanti Empire

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 Excellent Transgender Individuals Who Served Their Country

Image result for trans pride flag
The transgender pride flag
If you've been watching the news recently you're probably aware that a certain incompetent world leader has been casting aspersions on the ability of transgender people to serve in the military. Obviously I shouldn't be letting this nameless world leader get to me, but I'd reached the end of my rope. In a fit of anger over the aforementioned ignoramus' remarks, I did some digging into the history of transgender individuals in the military, only to find that transgender people have been serving in the American and other militaries from the Revolution on. Here are a few of their stories.

Albert Cashier

Born Jennie Hodgers in 1843, Cashier joined the Union Army at age 19. Born in Ireland, Cashier immigrated to Illinois, where he lived as a man, working as a shepherd for a local farmer. When the Civil War came around, Albert joined the 95th Illinois Infantry.

Now, getting into the army was significantly easier in Albert's day. There was no intense physical, or even a test for infectious diseases. According to Albert, all he had to do was show his hands and feet, and meet the height requirement. Sub-sequentially, the Union army was completely in the dark about Cashier's assigned gender.

Related image
Albert Cashier in his Union Army uniform.
While he was never decorated, Albert Cashier was known for his bravery and daring during the war. During the Siege of Vicksburg Albert was captured by Confederacy soldiers while on a reconnaissance mission. Albert grabbed the gun of his captor, and managed to run back to Union lines. 

After the war, Albert went back to Illinois, where he took up a variety of odd jobs. He lived privately, and kept to himself. In 1910, Senator Ira Lish, Cashier's employer at the time, accidentally hit Albert with his scar. His leg broke, and when he was taken to the doctor, his secret was discovered. However, Albert persuaded the doctor and the senator to keep quiet, and the senator arranged for him to relocate to the Soldier's and Sailor's Home, where he would be looked after.

In 1914, Cashier, suffering from dementia, was sent to the state asylum. It was only then that Cashier's assigned gender became widely known. The US government tried to convict him of fraudulently collecting a veteran's pension, but his comrades defended him, stating that Albert Cashier was a brave soldier who had every right to call himself a veteran. His comrades convinced the US government to back off, but were unable to convince the state asylum to let Albert continue to live as a man. After discovering Albert's assigned gender, the state asylum relegated him to the women's quarter, and forced him to wear skirts for the first time in 50 years. Albert's mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated, and ended up breaking a hip after tripping over his long skirts one day. The hip grew infected, and Albert died soon after.

Though he was forced to dress as a woman at the end of his life, Albert Cashier was buried in his Union Army uniform, and is listed as 'Albert Cashier' on his tombstone. He received full military honors at his funeral.

James Barry

Probably born Margaret Ann Bukeley, James Barry was one of the first surgeons to perform a Cesarean section where both the mother and the child lived. He insisted on hospital reform, prison reform, and certifying all medical practitioners. I'd say he was the surgeon version of Florence Nightingale, except the pair absolutely despised each other, and the comparison would undoubtedly infuriate both of them.

Related image
A contemporary painting of Barry.
Not much is known about Barry's early life. It is likely that he was born to a pair of Irish immigrants. His mother was sister to the original James Barry--a famed Irish painter, and they lived with Barry until his death in 1806. In 1806 with the help of the money left to him by his uncle, and help from his powerful friend, David Stuart Erskine, the Duke of Buchanan, Barry was able to enter medical school at Edinburgh University under the assumed name of his dead uncle.


Despite the fact that everyone thought he was too young to be a doctor, Barry joined the army as a surgeon in 1813. In 1816 (or 1817), Barry was sent to Cape Town, South Africa, where he would really start to make his mark.

Appalled at the conditions, James insisted on finding a way to bring clean water into the city. He insisted on hospital cleanliness for both white and black patients, pushed for prisoners to be treated humanely, and insisted that the families of both soldiers and prisoners be treated better. He drew the ire of the local medical establishment when he insisted that every doctor and nurse pass a medical examination. His reforms led to the Cape Town hospitals being some of the safest in the British Empire, as well as him being promoted to the medical equivalent of a Brigadier General.

Barry in 1862
Barry was widely unpopular, and it wasn't just because of his strict perfectionism when it came to medicine. He also had a notoriously short temper, and was insubordinate to his superiors. He challenged multiple people to a duel because they called him short, and during the Crimean War he publicly berated Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, for her attire. However, Barry was able to get away with this because he was a brilliant surgeon and hospital administrator.

He left Cape Town after being accused of a scandalous affair with Lord Charles Sommerset. From South Africa Barry went to the West Indies, then to Canada, not returning to England until 1859. He died in 1865, and, despite his request that he be buried in his clothing, and body not be washed the woman who prepared him for burial found out that James Barry had not been born a man.

James Barry is often counted among the great women doctors of history, despite the fact that Barry referred to himself as a man, and made no indication that he was female from the time he entered medical school. Barry exclusively referred to himself as male, and there is no evidence suggesting that he wasn't.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta, born Robert, Cowell is most noted for being the first transgender person to undergo the sex change surgery from male to female, but in addition to that she was a pilot in WWII, flying Spitfire and Tiger Moth airplanes.

Image result for roberta cowell
Roberta Cowell
Unlike Albert and James, Roberta's military service was undertaken while she still presented as the gender she was assigned at birth. Cowell expressed the sentiment that she did not develop her feeling and coming to terms as being transgender until after the war.

From an early age, Roberta showed an interest in planes and cars. She attended London University, earning a degree in engineering. In 1941 Roberta joined the Royal Air Force, despite the fact that she often got motion sickness when flying. Roberta flew several different missions into occupied Norway and France. In 1944 her plane was shot down, and she was captured by the Germans. She spent the last five months of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Roberta returned home to her wife and children. She built up a semi-successful business, and was an avid road racer. However, she began to feel depressed and purposeless. After seeing psychologists for three years, Robert decided to leave her family, and transition from male to female.

 In Summation

This is, obviously, in no way a complete list of amazing transgender people who have served in their country's military, there are many, many more. It is important to remember these people's contributions, and to remember that transgender people have contributed militarily to their countries just the same as cisgender people have. History is important, because it gives us the ability to make connections with and better understand the present. I hope that you'll keep Cashier, Barry, and Cowell's stories in mind, and stand up for them and the hundreds of thousands like them next time your transphobic uncle comes around for dinner, and take a moment to educate your friends and family about the excellent contributions trans people have made to their countries.

Sources
Albert Cashier's Secret
Jennie Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier
Jennie Hodgers
Remembering Albert Cashiers, Illinois' Civil War Hero, and Transgender Trailblazer
Albert D. J. Cashier: Woman Warrior, Insane Civil War Veteran, or Transman?
The Extraordinary Secret Life of Dr. James Barry
Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Secret Transgender Victorian Surgeon Feted by Historic England Society
Dr. James Barry and the Specter of Trans and Queer History
A Note on Dr. James Barry
The True Story Behind Britain's First Transgender Woman
Forgotten Women: The Life and Death of Roberta Cowell
'It's easier to change a body than change a mind': The Extraordinary Life and Lonely Death of Roberta Cowell
The Incredible Story of the Spitfire Pilot Who Became a Woman, And Fell In Love With The Female Student Who Became a Man (title is misleading, but the article contains good information about Roberta.)
Sex Change Spitfire Ace