The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

Musings about politics, religion, law, art and marriage - what else is there?

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Saturday, May 03, 2003
Hidden victims

Political chaos and growing poverty in Zimbabwe have been accompanied by an increase in sexual abuse of children.

From Ha'aretz

Aviv Lavie summarizes a very interesting debate over journalistic ethics in conflict situations (which I will discuss at greater length later), and Dalia Karpel profiles Libyan-Israeli author Shva Salhoove.

Friday, May 02, 2003
Make up your mind

There's a well-known Swiss photographer named Christian Heeb.

Sidebar addition

Hasidic Rebel provides a perspective unique to the blogosphere. Read his call for tolerance of dissent within the Hasidic community.

Requiem for the lobster shift

The "lobster shift" in the New York County courthouse is a thing of the past. From 1968 through 1970, and again from 1982 until last week, the Manhattan courts were open around the clock to process arraignments. Recently, however, falling crime rates have made 24-hour operation unnecessary and budget cuts have made it untenable, so the 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. graveyard shift took place for the last time on April 22.

One question remains - why is it called the "lobster shift?" One might think that, with many nearby Chinatown restaurants open all night, the term would be derived from a common mid-shift meal. The time permitted for meal breaks, however, seldom if ever allowed for such lavish repasts. Abraham Abramovsky, writing in 1993, described lobster-shift cuisine thus:

Cold pizza, donuts and coffee are the fare of the night if you can afford them or venture out to get them. Under no condition can you obtain lobster.

Justice Robert C. McGann, who presided over the last lobster shift, stated that the term "derives from the early hours lobstermen keep to catch their nocturnal prey." In today's New York Law Journal, however, John Stackhouse has another theory, dating back to the turn-of-the-century newspaper business:

[The term] comes from the red hands the typesetters had after setting the morning "red banner" headlines. When they went for their coffee, with their red-stained hands, they were often heckled as "lobster men" by the early morning workers.

There has been at least one concerted attempt to discover the origin of the term, but the results of even this were inconclusive:

During newspapers' heyday in the early 1900s, a lobster trick named "the tour of duty after the morning paper went to press and before the day staff arrived," and its variant lobster shift became popular in the 40s.

In 1942, editors at Merriam-Webster asked the great newspaperman H.L. Mencken what he knew about the origin of the term. Mencken put in some late hours investigating, but the best he could come up with were guesses. "Perhaps," he said, "since the lobster is considered 'an extremely stupid animal,' the name lobster trick recognizes the fact that no intelligent person would want that shift." Alternately, Mencken speculated that back in the old days, anyone up and about at 2 a.m. must be a wily old dog who surely spent those hours cavorting in nightclubs and wolfing down lobster.

Other newspapermen provided more fanciful theories. They ranged from overnight typesetters in England whiling away idle time by reciting 17th-century poetry about lobsters and the moon to the overnight rewrite men of the New York Herald enjoying exotic breakfasts that included lobster.

It may be Jonathan Mandell's etymological speculation, however, that comes closest to capturing the frustration of night work. "I think they call it the lobster shift," he says, "because you come to a slow boil."

Fishy holiday

Fatemah Farag describes the Egyptian festival of Sham al-Nessim, which took place this week:

Some experts claim that at the time the festival was known as Shoum. Osiris, the god who taught Egyptians to plough the land, grow food and hunt and fish, was murdered by his jealous brother Seth, who went on to hide his remains. Osiris's wife Isis found her husband's remains and resurrected him from the dead. As a symbol of life, Isis then gave birth to Osiris's son Horus. The story, and the festival, symbolise the triumph of good over evil. It is typical that we forget the moral of the story and go for the food.

Sham Al-Nessim, in its present form, was established shortly after Christianity came to Egypt in 312AD. Thus, it falls on the first Monday following the Orthodox Easter. But Sham Al-Nessim is a festival that goes beyond history and religion -- and straight for the fish.

Despite the obvious Christian symbolism of the fish festival, it is now celebrated by Egyptians of all religions. Some areas, such as Port Said, have developed their own Sham al-Nessim traditions; "one day before the revelry begins, the inhabitants of this port city make a political statement by burning the effigy of the nastiest personality of the year." Given the current political climate in Egypt, this year's winner - George Bush - should be no surprise.

Thursday, May 01, 2003
A patriotic occasion

Congratulations to Randy McDonald for posting the 1776th comment. I will also give honorable mention to the authors of the 1789th (Factory), 1803rd (al-Muhajabah), 1865th (crg) and 1948th (me) comments.

Another step forward

Domitien Nzayideye, a member of the majority Hutu ethnic group, took office yesterday as President of Burundi in the second half of a transitional three-year power-sharing government. The August 2000 peace agreement reached at Arusha remains fragile, however, amid continued fighting and speculation that the Tutsi-dominated military might attempt a coup. Joel Frushone of the United States Committee for Refugees discusses possible scenarios based on the responses of the military, rejectionist Hutu groups and Hutu refugees living in Tanzania.

Empty threat?

The international tribunal for Sierra Leone has threatened Charles Taylor with prosecution for sheltering futivites wanted for war crimes, including former dictator Johnny Paul Koroma. This seems a little like charging Al Capone with tax evasion, and it's unlikely to result in either the prosecution of Taylor or the extradition of Koroma - the court has no way of enforcing its mandate in Liberia, and Taylor has much bigger problems. In any event, Taylor denies that any fugitives are in Liberia, and at least one of the suspects named by the court, Sam Bockarie, has reportedly taken over a militia in western Côte d'Ivoire.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003
The camps of Cyrenaica

Amiram Barkat reminds us that the Holocaust was not just a European phenomenon.

UPDATE: This site provides extensive background on the Jews of Libya.

Sharing space

Via the "Recent Islam News" section of al-Muhajabah's sidebar: The Muslim community of Andorra has asked the Spanish Bishop of Seo de Urgel, one of the country's two co-princes, to grant it space for a mosque:

[T]he local Imam, Mohamed Raguig, has decided to ask the Spanish bishop to grant grant the Muslim community a land plot belonging to the church or a space inside the church.

The Andorran government has refused to allocate a land plot for the mosque construction, citing as reasons the insufficiency of low-price lands.

This would not be the first time that a church would be transformed into a mosque or that Muslims would be performing their prayers in a space inside a church. The experience already exists in Paris.

Although two thirds of Andorra's 67,000 people are immigrants, the great majority are Roman Catholics from France, Spain and Portugal. The Muslim community numbers about 2000, and is primarily composed of Moroccan guest workers. There are two Muslim congregations in Andorra- the story doesn't make clear which one is requesting space from the bishop - and neither is large or wealthy enough to afford the country's soaring property prices.

Churches sharing space with congregations of other religions is not a new experience in the United States. A number of small, fledgling Jewish congregations have rented space in churches, often for years at a time. In at least one case, the situation has been reversed, with an established Reform synagogue in Westchester opening its doors to a newly formed Christian congregation. One San Francisco Jewish congregation has, in fact, rented space from a Baha'i center.

Space-sharing arrangements can sometimes be awkward, especially when calendars clash - the lunar calendars used by Jews and Muslims sometimes result in major holidays coinciding with Christian celebrations. With the right two congregations, however, space-sharing can evolve into a partnership involving joint social events and community action. In an era where European Muslims complain of discrimination and European Christians charge Muslims with failing to integrate, space- sharing between Andorran Muslims and Catholics may be the best thing that could happen to both religions.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Religion, politics and the Kenyan courts

Tensions are rising between Muslims and Christians in Kenya ahead of the constitutional convention that begins today. At issue is a demand by evangelical Christian groups that the provisions of the draft constitution dealing with Kadhis' courts be deleted, on the ground that they represent a back-door attempt to introduce shariah into Kenyan law.

The principal section of the draft constitution dealing with Kadhis' courts is article 200:

200. (1) The Jurisdiction of a Kadhis' court extends to

(a) the determination of questions of Muslim Law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, including matters arising after divorce, and inheritance and succession in proceedings in which all the parties profess Islam;

(b) the determination of civil and commercial disputes between parties who are Muslims, in the manner of a small claims court as by law established, but without prejudice to the rights of parties to go to other courts or tribunals with similar jurisdiction;

(c) the settlement of disputes over or arising out of the administration of wakf properties.

Under the draft article, decisions of District Kadhis' Courts can be appealed to two successively higher layers of Islamic courts, and the Supreme Court of Kenya would hold final appellate jurisdiction on constitutional matters.

It is clear from this that the Kadhis' courts will have no jurisdiction over non-Muslims. The power of the Kadhis is limited to Muslim family law, property owned by Muslim religious organizations and arbitration of business disputes between Muslims who prefer an Islamic forum. They have no constitutional authority to impose Islamic law on non-Muslims.

Nor are the Kadhis' courts anything new in Kenya. They have been part of the Kenyan legal system since independence, and are presently provided for by article 66 of the current constitution, which is essentially unchanged from article 179 of the 1963 constitution. The draft bill will expand the Kadhis' jurisdiction to include business disputes by Muslims - but on the other hand, it will provide the right of appeal to a secular court on constitutional grounds, which does not currently exist. If anything, the draft constitution will clarify that Islamic law in Kenya is subject to the bill of rights.

The current controversy over the Kadhis' courts has nothing to do with the creeping introduction of Islamic law. Instead, it is an attempt by increasingly powerful evangelical Christian leaders to limit the Muslim community's long-standing autonomy.

Two in one day

The Palestinian legislature has, as expected, approved Abu Mazen as prime minister by a 51-18 margin, and Tom Lantos, who's been acting as go-between for Sharon and Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, says Assad is ready to negotiate. Both of these are just glimmers of hope for the time being, but events have been moving in the wrong direction for so long that even baby steps are a welcome change.

UPDATE: And, as always, this glimmer of hope was followed by a statement from those who want to kill it.

This isn't good

The commander of one of the rebel factions in western Côte d'Ivoire, has reportedly been executed by his own mercenaries for suggesting that they lay down their arms:

The announcement that Sgt. Félix Doh, the leader of a ferocious group called the Ivoirian Popular Movement of the Far West, had been captured and executed on Friday morning appeared to illustrate the price of hiring seasoned fighters to stoke the many conflicts of West Africa.

The rebel group said the man responsible for the death was Sam Bockarie, an infamous West African warlord wanted by a United Nations-backed court for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

The group said Mr. Bockarie's men, whom Sergeant Doh had recruited, killed him because he had called on them to put down their guns and go home.

The execution of Sergeant Doh points up one of the most pressing issues facing Côte d'Ivoire in the wake of the recent power- sharing accord - getting the Liberian and Leonian mercenaries under control. The mercenaries have no stake in the peace settlement and, apparently, have no intention of letting it keep them from their loot. It is no accident that the peace has held in northern Côte d'Ivoire, where mercenaries were not used, but has failed to take root in the west, where both the government and the rebels recruited them.

Sergeant Doh's death is a disturbing sign that the western Ivorian factions are far along the transition from rebels to bandits. If this continues, then western Côte d'Ivoire will become an extension of Liberia.

Monday, April 28, 2003
Good news from Palestine, part 5

Palestinian-American Dolores Hishmeh has received an award from the Orange County Human Relations Commission for her volunteer work "helping young families find housing, doctors and schools." Hishmeh is also the co-founder of the Union of Palestinian American Women.

Israeli storyteller Limor Shiponi and Palestinian-American performer Emily Shihadeh "shared stories, humor and songs" before a Boulder audience.

The Palestinian Communications Company has delivered 320 scholarships to needy students to cover university tuition and fees for one semester. The company is also working, with foreign assistance, to make Internet connection free of charge in Palestine.

"Good News from Palestine" is an irregular column on The Head Heeb which highlights positive achievements of Palestinians in the arts, music, science, education, sports, business and humanitarian work. Please suggest articles for future columns by comment or e-mail; I will link to all articles that meet the above criteria and do not directly concern the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Positive thinkers may also be interested in visiting Good News from Israel and Israel21c, which provide similar news items about Israelis.

An inside perspective

Allison Kaplan Sommer of An Unsealed Room surveys the Israeli blogosphere on Israel21c, with quotations from some familiar voices. For those of you who were wondering what Allison looks like, there's also an author's photo, although you might have to squint to see it.

Mswati's clergy

Via Swamp Cottage: King Mswati III of Swaziland took advantage of an Easter celebration to argue that he rules by divine right - and the assembled clergymen supported him:

Most speakers quoted biblical passages they claimed condemned non-monarchial governments. A pleased Mswati endorsed their views: "It is good that you have quoted verses from the bible which do not support multi-party democracy." His comments were greeted by loud shouts of the royal salute, "Bayete!"

Mswati sat grinning or nodding in agreement during a debate hosted by the League of Churches, entitled "The Disadvantages of Multi-Party Democracy."

Reverend Khayeni Khumalo said citizens of democratic states are damned. "A king links a country with God. A president cannot communicate with God because God does not know how he was installed. Presidents are power-hungry people who are like rapists, they break in and rule. They are imposed. Many presidents are going to hell, together with their people, no matter how many they are," Khumalo said.

Noting "there is not a single verse in the Bible which says there should be a president ruling a country," the Reverend Mkhuluza Zwane was applauded when he told Mswati: "When people are given the right to choose, they always choose evil. There are people who are sponsored to dethrone you, Your Majesty, and these are the people who advocate for democracy."

The pronouncements of the compliant Swazi clergy seem to be of a piece with the South African churchmen who justified apartheid, or those in the Old South who preached that slavery was divinely ordained. And, like many such pronouncements, they only tell half the story. The Bible may not prescribe democracy, but it hardly endorses monarchy; King Mswati may benefit from rereading First Samuel chapter 8, in which Samuel warns of the oppression that kings will visit on the people. If that's too radical for him, he might wish to peruse First Kings chapter 21, which rather decisively makes the point that even kings are subject to the rule of law.

Mswati III may be the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in more ways than he realizes. In First Samuel 8:18, the prophet Samuel predicted that "ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen." Mswati, far more than most modern kings, has oppressed his people in the way that Samuel foretold - and the people are crying out.

A way forward?

The tiny National Democratic Party has broken ranks with the rest of the Nigerian opposition and acknowledged the PDP's electoral victory. It's too early to tell whether this is the start of a trend, and it isn't likely that the ANPP will follow suit. It is, however, entirely possible that the opposition parties with no realistic chance of victory - that is, all of them except the ANPP - will abandon their challenges to the national results and concentrate on local or statewide races where they might make concrete gains.

There are early signs of the post-election process playing out this way. The electoral commission has already ordered a do-over of the parliamentary elections in Anambra state, and court challenges have been filed with respect to other gubernatorial and National Assembly races. The ANPP is continuing to pursue its judicial challenge to the presidential election, but both it and the ruling party have backed off from their respective threats of mass action and crackdown. (Obasanjo has also promised to install a nonpartisan cabinet, although I'll believe that when I see it.)

It is doubtful whether a challenge to the entire election would even be successful. By now, it is apparent that there was widespread fraud, but it is unlikely that the irregularities were sufficient to account for Obasanjo's 30-point margin. The election may have been flawed, but it was a real election - with the possible exception of Ogun state, it wasn't a scripted routine resulting in the Glorious Leader winning 99 percent of the vote. Pre-election polls showed the PDP winning handily in both the presidential and parliamentary races; it is likely that the fraud merely added to its margin of victory rather than providing that victory. The real lesson for the opposition parties, in the words of one Vanguard commentator, is that "you can't beat something with nothing."

Judicial challenges, however, will serve two salutary purposes. First, if the electoral commission and the courts prove themselves capable of redressing fraud perpetrated by the ruling party, at least some of the damage done to the rule of law by the fraud itself will be repaired. In addition, challenges to individual races might erode the PDP's overwhelming dominance in the new parliament. The results thus far declared show the PDP with a two-thirds majority in the incoming Senate and nearly that in the House of Representatives - majorities that might enable it, either alone or in coalition with a few easily suborned minor parties, to rewrite the constitution. This has led at least one commentator to worry that "[i]nstead of evolving an enduring democracy like India, we seem to be headed in the direction of Mubarak’s Egypt or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe." If court challenges in the southeast succeed in strengthening the opposition, then they will also reinforce the rule of law and reduce the risk that 2003 will see a repeat of 1983.

UPDATE: Abiola (via Africapundit) has more to say about the effect of electoral fraud and the reasons why it occurred.

Sunday, April 27, 2003
Added to the sidebar

Daudi's Afrofile is a new Afrocentric blog based in the United States. The author provides intelligent and interesting commentary on a wide range of subjects; recent offerings include a critique of Western perceptions of Khoisan language and a response to Thabo Mbeki's admonitions to African journalists. Through Daudi, I also found African Tears, coming to you live from Zimbabwe; the author, Cathy Buckle, is from a commercial farming family and writes a weekly diary. Finally, I've put in links to more of the African newspapers from which I draw material.

Peace in Jerusalem

The Orthodox Easter celebration at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre has apparently gone off peacefully after Israeli police "brokered a last-minute deal" between feuding Greek and Armenian factions. Last year, "the Greek patriarch and [an] Armenian clergyman designated to enter the tomb began to exchange blows following a dispute over who should exit the chamber first." The dispute threatened to spill over into this year's celebration, with members of both congregations threatening violence. With the deal done, however, the estimate 6000 onlookers "whistled and cheered like sports fans" for their respective clergymen but refrained from fighting.

Untangling the vote

The Nigerian electoral commission has annulled the results of the parliamentary election in Anambra state. Anambra is one of the states in southeastern Nigeria where PDP victories were most lopsided and allegations of fraud most widespread. Similar petitions are pending with respect to a number of other states.

The opposition has also challenged the results of the nationwide parliamentary and presidential elections in court. In at least a partial step back from the brink, re-elected President Olusegun Obasanjo has announced that he will obey the courts if they annul the result of the presidential poll.

In the meantime, the Sunday Times of Johannesburg reports that Mugabe - who has been dropping increasingly specific hints of stepping down during recent weeks - may be ready to quit if his personal security can be assured.