Lots has been written about the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty, the gift to America from France, but little was noted about the original concept which may have been based on an earlier design the sculptor did of an Arab woman in Egypt
By Ray Hanania
Americans have short memories, usually driven by politics these days. They forget how much others have done to help them.
One of the biggest victims of this politically-driven mental lapse have been the French people, who have done so much for America. France partnered with America in its war of independence and sacrificed much to help bring Liberty to the new America. And they gave us the Statue of Liberty to celebrate the cornerstone of American Democracy, freedom and the end of slavery.
Relations soured when France refused to support the illegal American invasion and war against Iraq in March 2003. Americans were rallied to hate France. American lawmakers threatened sanctions against the French people and they were regularly libeled in the mainstream American news media, which is the fuel for much of the hatred and racism that soaks the 50 American states.
Fast food restaurants that thrive on selling unhealthy junk food to the mainstream American consumers, and target American kids, renamed their primary revenue driving food product, “French Fries” to be called “Freedom Fries” as a snub against the French people.
But the story behind the Statue of Liberty, designed by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, is that it may have been a concept that grew out of an earlier effort to design a similar statue years before to stand at the Suez Canal in Egypt.
According to the American National Park Service, Bartholdi, only 21 at the time, traveled through Egypt in 1855 and 1856. It was a life-changing trip that he took with other artists of his generation and he was awe-struck by the magnificence of the pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx.
Years later after learning that Egypt wanted to erect some sort of a monument at the Suez Canal, in 1869, entertaining the idea of a lighthouse, Bartholdi came up with his own design, that of an Egyptian woman holding a torch. The statue would be the lighthouse, he said. It would symbolize the opening of commerce and travel through the canal to Asia.
“When they visited the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, Bartholdi discovered his passion for large-scale public monuments and colossal sculptures,” according to the American National Park Service.
“In 1869, the Egyptian government expressed interest in designing a lighthouse for the Suez Canal. Eager and excited, Bartholdi designed a colossal statue of a robed woman holding a torch, which he called Egypt (or Progress) Brings Light to Asia. When he attended the canal’s inauguration, however, Bartholdi was informed that he would not be able to proceed with the lighthouse.”
Many since have written that the woman would have depicted a Muslim woman, but while the statue was garbed in early drawings, her face was not covered. Egypt (which means “Black” in reference to the dark skinned inhabitants of the North African country) was a strongly secular nation, a tradition that is cemented in its culture and history that survives today despite the pressures of rising Islamicism in the surrounding region.
The idea for the Statue of Liberty as a gift to America began in France in 1865, a few years before Bartholi began thinking about the proposal for Egypt.
That year, Edouard de Laboulaye, a French political activist proposed that a monument representing freedom and democracy be created for the United States. Laboulaye is described as “a leading expert on the U.S. Constitution, and an abolitionist and supporter of President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.” He opposed slavery and he conceived of the statue as a gift to America which he believed would mark America’s commitment to freedom following the Northern victory over the South and the abolition of slavery in America.
The Statue of Liberty was completed and presented to America in October 1886, with the United States government paying the $300,000 to erect the foundation platform on which the statue stood, at Bedloe Island in New York City.
Although the concept for the Statue of Liberty may have come from the sculpture’s memories of his exciting travels through Egypt and the Arab World, it is rumored that the face of the Statue of Liberty is of Bartholdi’s mother.
A replica of the Statue of Liberty which faces west (supposedly in alignment with the Statue of Liberty in New York) stands in Paris on the Ile aux Cygnes, a small artificial island in the Seine River in Paris, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. It was erected three years later in 1889 after the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York City.
The idea of whether or not the “woman” conceived of by Bartholdi was in fact a representation of a “Muslim” or an Arab woman was downplayed over the years to coincide with the growing American animosity against Muslims, Arabs and the Middle East.
Yet, when I see the Statue of Liberty, I see the true inspiration coming from the Arab World. And when I read the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty, a poem called “New Collasus” written by poet Emma Lazarus and placed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty int he early 1900s, I wonder where our humanity in America escaped.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
There are many reasons to remember those lines, only five from the entire poem itself. As we fight against terrorism, we should remind ourselves that it should be driven by a desire to reinforce freedom and liberty, not strengthen political agendas.
The same people cheering for France in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks by ISIS (Daesh, ISIL) were attacking France over the American-led invasion and eventual destruction of Iraq. Many of them are doing it not because of a love for freedom of France, but because of their hatred of Arabs and Muslims.
America is a nation of immigrants built by immigrants for immigrants. It should stay that way.
And, we should also remember that much of what is today the foundation of America in fact has the essence of its diversity, a diversity in heritage, culture and origins that includes Arabs, the Arab World and Muslims, too.
Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. He began writing in 1975 publishing The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues as Special US Correspondent for the Arab News ArabNews.com, at TheArabDailyNews.com, and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday, the Orlando Sentinel, Houston Chronical, and Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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