Following a year-long buildup of tensions, Fascist Italy conquered Ethiopia between October 1935 and May 1936 in a brutal war that included the use of airplanes and chemical weapons. Its “success” came 40 years after Ethiopia had defeated Italian troops, making this ancient African center of Christianity a paragon of successful anti-imperialism. The war formed part of broader Fascist Italian aspirations in the Mediterranean and Africa, renewing Ancient Rome’s empire. European powers, including the French and British empires, and other countries condemned Italy’s attack, and at the League of Nations adopted some economic sanctions against Italy. After all, Ethiopia had become a League member in 1923. But those sanctions were feeble, exemplifying how inter-state power politics could bypass the League’s collective security engagements, doubly if an aggressed country was non-white. (In fact, France had signaled it would not react massively already before Italy’s attack.) Italy withdrew from the League and concluded separate deals with France and Britain, which above all wished to keep Italy content to deal with the emerging Nazi challenge of the post-World War I order in Germany and on the continent.
However, the war triggered massive protests around the world, most intensely by African and leftist organizations. It was the most serious proof to date of the threat posed by Europe’s extreme right-wing-ruled states, especially Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Arabs, too, commented extensively on this case, as Haggai Erlich’s Ethiopia and the Middle East (1994) has shown. People who like the Egyptian Yusuf Ahmad had Muslim sensitivities condemned Ethiopia for always having maltreated Muslims and opined that for them, Fascist rule would be preferable. Ahmad’s book, Al-Islam fi al-Habasha [Islam in Ethiopia] was financed by Italy and praised inter alia by Shakib Arslan (excerpts of a book of whose are included in this collection). Critique of Italy’s colonial war came mainly from liberal nationalists and leftists. Among the latter was Salim Khayyata.
The text printed here is a series of key excerpts from the introduction to his Arabic book Al-Habasha al-mazluma, aw fatihat akhar niza‘ li-l-isti‘mar fi dawr inhiyarihi [Oppressed Ethiopia, or The Start of The Final Fight Against Colonialism in the Period of its Downfall]. Born in 1909 in the United States to migrant parents, Khayyata returned with them to Tripoli, Lebanon, in 1922. He became a member of the Communist Party of Syria and Lebanon (CPSL). As noted in Tareq Ismael’s The Communist Movement in the Arab World (2011), the CPSL was founded in 1924, following French North Africa (1919), Egypt (1922), and Palestine (1923). A writer, Khayyata published inter alia in the leftist journals al-Duhur and al-Tali‘a, both of which he also edited for some time in the 1930s. (This collection’s document on the 1939 Anti-Fascist Congress in Beirut is from the latter journal.) Torture in a French prison in Lebanon early on in World War II left him very impaired mentally. He passed away in 1965.