The Head Heeb : Knocking Down 4000 Years of Icons

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

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Saturday, August 16, 2003
The good die young

Idi Amin is dead at 80.

Fine dining goes Zambian

One of Lusaka's new restaurants, Chile's, is a traditional Zambian place - a relatively recent development in Africa, where most upscale restaurants still prefer European to local cuisines. The featured ingredient at Chile's is of course nshima, a cereal staple similar to West African fufu that is served with a variety of meats and vegetables.

More nativism in Botswana

As a follow-up to my earlier discussion of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in Botswana, an article in this week's Mmegi points to increasing anti-immigrant sentiment.

Friday, August 15, 2003
Chronicle time

The Oriental Music Conference - the Middle East was evidently still considered "oriental" at the time - took place in Cairo from March 28 to April 3, 1932. As with everything else in Egypt at that time, the discussion of music was tinged with nationalism and calls to purge foreign influences as well as serious academic debate. Naturally, Oum Kolsoum was there for the finale.

Feelin' groovy

Well, what can I say? I was in the office when the blackout hit; I made my way down ten flights of stairs, milled around outside until I got some idea of what was going on, and walked home. I live about nine miles from the office, so it was no big deal; a few of the people I met on the road had to walk all the way to Nassau County.

My first thought, like everyone else's, was that it was a terrorist attack; I never thought I'd be relieved to hear that the East Coast had been fried by an ordinary power plant failure, but I was. Once it became clear that terrorism wasn't involved, I actually began enjoying the trip, and I was far from the only one. I resisted the temptation to start belting out Simon and Garfunkel while crossing the 59th Street bridge, but the mood was more a party than a disaster area. Kids outside apartment buildings in Queens handed out water for free; people joked with strangers met on the road and cheered the pickup trucks that passed by full of passengers. It was New York all over; we piss and moan about ordinary things, but when it hits the fan, we show the world how it's done.

As I write this, the lights have been on in my neighborhood for about half an hour, and a spot check of friends around the city indicates that most of them are also back up. I suspect that the last of the blackout won't end for another day or two, but the worst is over. Should be fun to watch the finger-pointing.

UPDATE: According to Mapquest, my commute is exactly 10 miles. Evidently, the Queens Boulevard stretch was longer than I thought.

Thursday, August 14, 2003
Timely flight

Chris Uba, the political godfather who was allegedly behind the Anambra State coup, has reportedly fled to the United States to avoid prosecution. The sudden flight of Uba, who is well-connected and no doubt has many back-channel sources of information about planned government activities, may be a sign that the call for judicial inquiry is about to bear fruit.

The festival of love

Imshin points out that today is Tu b'Av, a holiday of which I was not previously aware. Tu b'Av, which falls on the fifteenth day of the month of Av, has been described as "Jewish Valentine's Day," because one of its attributes is the festival of love:

The Mishna (Ta'anit 4:8), surprisingly enough, proclaims, "There were no greater holidays (yamim tovim) for Israel than Tu B'av and Yom Kippur, for on them the girls of Jerusalem used to go out in borrowed white dresses ... and dance in the vineyards. What would they say? 'Young man, lift up your eyes and see what you choose for yourself ...' "

In earlier times Tu B'av was a festival dedicated to young Jewish men and women finding their mates. Even today, the wall posters of Jerusalem announce special Tu B'av prayers for finding a match.

Tu b'Av also occurs six days after the major fast of Tisha b'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the Temple and other calamities. Tisha b'Av, moreover, is the culmination of a three-week period of mourning beginning with the Fast of Tammuz. Tu b'Av, which comes soon after the completion of this period, is thus a holiday of release - an acknowledgment that "the worst is behind us."

For me, naturally, a festival of love calls to mind one person only. The worst was behind me the day I met Naomi, and the years of friendship and marriage that followed are cause for celebration not only today but every day. Today may be Tu b'Av in Jerusalem, but I will call it Naomi's day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Swazi strike

Two months after a general strike failed to bring down Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe, a similar protest is taking place in Swaziland against the autocratic rule of King Mswati III. Unfortunately, Mswati seems to be responding in much the same way Mugabe did; a 5000-person demonstration in the capital was broken up by security forces, and at least one person was reportedly killed by the police. The three-day strike is supported by the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has shut down the Swazi border crossings in solidarity.

Cooperation across boundaries

Via Israel21c: Israeli scientists have cooperated with Saudi and Kuwaiti researchers in identifying the gene that causes HRD, a rare and often fatal genetic disease that affects Arab children. The research was coordinated by American scientist George Diaz, thus allowing the Israeli and Arab scientists to maintain technically separate projects while pooling their research data:

Knowing that scientists from the Arab countries were not permitted to be in contact with Israelis, even by e-mail, Diaz volunteered as coordinator of the project that found the exact location of the gene. Putting all of the findings together was crucial, since the larger number of individuals who took part in the genetic study increased the accuracy of finding the exact section of the chromosome where the gene is located.

It is hoped that the project will eventually lead to a cure for HRD, which affects at least 35 Israeli Arab families.

Closer to a schism?

The Primate of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria has indicated that the Nigerian church might break its ties with the Episcopal Church in the United States of America over the latter's ordination of its first openly gay bishop.

Justice at the bar

A few years ago, paleoconservative columnist George Szamuely became a minor cause celebre when he was arrested for hoarding 570 overdue books belonging to the New York University library. Szamuely, a former NYU graduate student, eventually copped to a misdemeanor and received a $4000 fine and 200 hours' community service - a punishment about which he complained in his New York Press column.

Szamuely's fate, however, pales in comparison to the punishment meted out to Henry Justice at the Old Bailey in 1736. Justice was tried for simple grand larceny - possibly the most common offense charged in British courts at that time - but he was far from the ordinary thief. He was an attorney and a Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge, and his crime, like Szamuely's, was theft of "divers Books" from the university library.

Justice was obviously a lover of learning; the indictment against him listed almost 70 books in English, French and Latin, concerning subjects ranging from history and law to the works of Virgil. Even before the indictment was read, Justice made clear that his concern was for his books, stating that "there have been many Books seized at my Chambers, which can be proved not to belong to Trinity College, I hope your Lordship will order them to be restored me."

Unlike most defendants, Justice was represented by counsel, and he made a vigorous defense. He admitted to possessing the books, but argued that, as a Fellow Commoner and a member of the Trinity corporation, he had the right to borrow them:

I acknowledge, as I always did, and have now done, that I had the Books. I apprehend, I had Authority to take them. First, a General Authority to take what Books I wanted, out of the Library. Secondly, An Authority in my own Right, as a Scholar of the College; and if this appears, this Matter will be so far from being Felony, that it can't be a Trespass. I intended to return them, and this may appear from my declaring that I had them, delivering up my Keys, and packing them up before the Warrant for the College-Books was granted.

His attorney wrung from the librarian an admission that "any of the Fellows have Liberty to borrow a Book," but that worthy later explained that this privilege did not apply to Fellow Commoners:

Justice. What are the Privileges of Fellow Commoners?

Wilson. They sit at the Fellows Table, and take the other Advantages that Fellows have; they have no Right to take Books ad libitum. You have a Right to take a Book if your Tutor gives leave, and 'tis placed to his Account. Fellow-Commoners we look on as Boarders; they are no part of the Corporation, and have no Right to take Books without this Licence.


Justice. In relation to a Fellow Commoner, I would ask whether they have not more Privileges than other Graduates.

Wilson. We allow you to go into the Library to study there, not on any other account.

Justice. Are not Fellow Commoners looked upon as superior to Scholars?

Wilson. Yes. -

Justice. What do you mean by a Fellow Commoner?

Wilson. One who sits at the same Table with Fellows, and enjoys their Conversation.

Justice chipped away at this testimony by pointing out that the rule against Fellow Commoners borrowing books was often neglected in practice, and that other students had kept library books for as long as 30 years. He called his tutor, Professor Taylor, to testify that he had leave to borrow books at will - a privilege that was "not very common; but as Mr. Justice was a Gentleman, I indulged him" - and blamed the young assistant library keeper for not recording the books he had taken. This argument, however, was unavailing; the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and Justice was sentenced to seven years' transportation to America. He begged for leave "to transport himself, or that a worthy Gentleman of the City of York might contract for him," but the judge's class solidarity would not go so far, and "the Court would not grant him such Liberty."

On May 17, 1736, Justice - who had spent six months in jail awaiting trial - was ushered out of Newgate prison to begin his life abroad:

A hundred felons-convict walked from Newgate to Black-fryars, and thence went in a close lighter on board a ship at Blackwall. But Weathercock the attorney, Messrs. Ruffhead, Vaughn, and Bird went to Blackwall in two hackney coaches, and Henry Justice, Esq., Barrister at law, in another, two hours after the walking felons, attended by Jonathan Forward, Esq. These five gentlemen of distinction were accommodated with the captain’s cabin, which they stored with provisions, etc., for their voyage and travels.

He disappears from history after this point, although he is believed to have settled in Maryland and James Davie Butler specifies that he might have been bought as a tutor for George Washington. If anything is clear from Justice's fate, however, it's that George Szamuely got off easy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003
Closer to statehood

Jean-Jacques Cornish reports on a memorandum from the South African Department of Foreign Affairs supporting Somaliland's case for independence:

"It is undeniable that Somaliland does indeed qualify for statehood, and it is incumbent upon the international community to recognise it," read the report that was recently commissioned by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma.

The government’s lawyers agree that "any efforts to deny or delay would not only put the international community at the risk of ignoring the most stable region in the Horn [of Africa], it would impose untold hardship upon the people of Somaliland due to the denial of foreign assistance that recognition entails."


"The interest of world peace and stability require that, where possible, the division or fragmentation of existing states should be managed peacefully and by negotiation. But where this is not possible, as is the case with Somalia, international law accepts that the interests of justice may prevail over the principle of territorial integrity."

The South African memorandum follows a report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group recommending that Somaliland be granted observer status on the UN and African Union pending a final determination as to recognition. In addition, other signs of cooperation between South Africa and Somaliland have emerged recently, including a visit to Hargeisa by South African businessmen and an exchange of senior officials.

Cornish theorizes that these moves might ripen into recognition in the near future now that South Africa has "vacated the chair of the African Union... [and is] freer to step out of line on controversial issues on the continent." If South Africa recognizes Somaliland, then it is likely to be followed quickly by Ethiopia, which already has extensive unofficial relations with the breakaway republic but is unwilling to be the first to grant it formal recognition. This might, in turn, result in a domino effect, particularly in light of South Africa's leading role in African politics and diplomacy; recognition by South Africa will carry credibility that other nations will find difficult to resist.

Turning tide?

Richard Calland discusses the growing anti-Mugabe groundswell on the South African left, even as the government continues to equivocate.

Managing traditional medicine

Mmegi has an interesting article about the Botswana government's proposals to regulate traditional medicine and bring it into the national health care system. Most attempts to regularize traditional medical practice, as recorded by the WHO, have been made in Asia or countries with large Asian communities; there have been relatively few such attempts in Africa despite the fact that up to 80 percent of the population makes use of traditional medicine.

The Botswana proposals may be the beginning of a regional trend; South Africa is also working in cooperation with China to develop regulations for traditional healing. The government of Botswana is formulating its regulatory plan in cooperation with an umbrella association of traditional medical practitioners - a strategy that has led to some success in British Columbia, where a traditional Chinese medical association has been authorized by statute to license herbalists and acupuncturists. Botswana is also receiving technical assistance from international health organizations, many of which no doubt hope that its regulatory framework will be a model for the rest of the continent.

The failure of co-option

Two Israelis were killed today in suicide bombings in Rosh Ha'ayin and Ariel. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a wing of Fatah, have reportedly claimed responsibility for the Rosh Ha'ayin attack, and Hamas says that "one of its activists" committed the bombing in Ariel. The Palestinian organizations are, of course, blaming the Israelis while reiterating their commitment to the cease-fire - in other words, doing exactly what they have done after previous attacks. I've had more patience than most with respect to allowing the Palestinians time to work the kinks out of the cease-fire, but this excuse is wearing very thin.

Today's attacks, like the others that have occurred since June 29, point up the flaws in the Palestinian Authority's strategy of co-opting militant groups. As long as fringe groups or "rogue cells" are able to reject the cease-fire with impunity, then organizations such as al-Aqsa or Hamas can carry out attacks while maintaining plausible deniability. This deniability is growing less plausible by the day, but it's likely to continue as long as it works.

Co-option isn't necessarily a bad strategy. I've seen comparisons between the PA's tactics and Ben Gurion's co-option of the Irgun (and no, I'm not saying that the Irgun and Hamas are morally equivalent, only that the strategic considerations are similar). Groups like Hamas are too strong to ignore; they will inevitably have some say in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whether as parties in a coalition government or terrorist groups outside it. Indeed, subjecting Hamas to the constraints of political participation might be the first step in defanging it.

The problem is that co-option must begin with an assertion of authority by the state, and the PA has not done this. Not only has the PA not acted to discipline Hamas, Islamic Jihad or al-Aqsa, but it has not even demanded that they discipline themselves. The central organizations have not been held responsible for attacks by "rogue cells," and the PA has not demanded that such cells be reined in. In effect, the Palestinian factions have gained most of the benefits of co-option but few of the responsibilities - a situation that practically guarantees that attacks will continue.

Those who blame today's bombings on the recent IDF raid in Nablus are, I think, missing the point. For one thing, the amount of time and logistical planning required to carry out a suicide bombing makes it likely that the attacks were planned before the Nablus raid. More importantly, however, the activities of the "rogue cells" are the reason the raids are occurring in the first place. Although violence has decreased since June 29, there are still 15 to 20 terror alerts each day, and the IDF has thwarted ten attempted suicide bombings. If there were no "rogue cells" planning attacks, there would be no raids and the withdrawal from other West Bank cities could proceed on schedule.

No amount of security cooperation between the PA and Israel can substitute for imposing some form of discipline on the armed factions. I've frequently criticized Israeli policies on this blog, so it's only fair to point out that Israel has little incentive to act as long as "rogue cells" can carry out attacks without consequences. If the PA is serious about being a partner in peace negotiations, then it will have to stop playing this double game and meet Israel halfway.

Monday, August 11, 2003
A catalyst for change?

A magistrate's court in Botswana has ruled that there is no such thing as marital rape:

The magistrate... dismissed the case because "a husband can never rape his wife. Not under our laws." According to the reports, the magistrate also questioned how the police prosecutor decided to charge the husband with rape because consent for sex is given at the time of the marriage contract.

In making this ruling, the Botswana court used almost the same reasoning as Sir Matthew Hale in his History of the Pleas of the Crown, written in 1736 - "the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto the husband which she cannot retract." This common law approach was the rule in most British and American jurisdictions until recently, and was evidently exported to southern Africa during the colonial period.

In recent years, the southern African countries have begun to follow Britain and the United States in criminalizing marital rape. South Africa was the first to do so, soon after the end of the apartheid era; since then, Namibia and Zimbabwe have also eliminated the marital exemption. This magistrate's ruling may be the catalyst that leads Botswana to do the same.

Further exploration of the Old Bailey

Yesterday, my journey through the records of the Old Bailey Online turned up the trial of Moses Moravia, a Sephardic Jew who was accused of perjury in 1744. In modern terms, the Moravia trial was a "swearing contest" - i.e., it was his oath against the accuser's, without physical or documentary evidence to support the charge. The record shows a closely fought and acrimonious contest, but the most remarkable thing about the trial is not the testimony but the jury.

Moravia is one of the few British defendants during the eighteenth century, and quite possibly the only Jew, to request a jury de medietate linguae - that is, a jury of six Englishmen and six foreigners. This is all the more ironic since the jury de medietate linguae was a right originally given to Jews only, in a charter granted by King John. This charter allowed all Jews - who were considered resident foreigners rather than British subjects - to be tried before a half-Jewish jury when charged with crimes or sued civilly. The reason for this measure is uncertain, but it was likely intended to prevent all-Christian juries from finding against Jewish litigants due to religious prejudice and thereby impairing the Jews' ability to pay heavy taxes to the king.

In 1303, the jury de medietate linguae was extended to all foreigners, but by that time, Jews had been expelled from England. In 1656, Cromwell permitted Jews to return, and a community of thousands existed by the opening of the Old Bailey database in 1714, but only Moravia availed himself of the ancient right to a mixed jury.

The reason for this might lie, in part, in the declining popularity of juries de medietate linguae in general; only two others besides Moravia, both Frenchmen, are recorded as requesting one. It would be more than a century before mixed juries were formally abolished by the Aliens Act of 1870, but they were clearly on their way out by the eighteenth century. In addition, not all Jews were eligible for mixed juries at that time; it was still very difficult for foreign-born Jews to become naturalized in 1744, but native-born Jews were considered British subjects.

Another clue lies in the composition of Moravia's jury - specifically, in the fact that the six non-English members were Dutch rather than Jewish. Like most Sephardic Jews living in London at the time, Moravia no doubt arrived by way of Amsterdam, and when he requested a jury de medietate linguae, he was treated as a Dutchman. In a way, this represents a more enlightened view of Jews than prevailed in King John's time - rather than being considered members of a stateless and debased nation, they were regarded as subjects of the countries in which they were born. From Moravia's point of view, however, a jury of six Englishmen and six gentile Dutchmen held little advantage over an all-English jury in terms of alleviating religious prejudice.

Moravia himself apparently learned this lesson after 1744. He walked on the perjury charge due to a technicality, but was charged with insurance fraud eight years later. This time, he went to trial before an all-English jury, was convicted and sentenced to a year in Newgate.

End of the line

Charles Taylor has kept his promise to step down, and the main LURD rebel faction has pledged to cease hostilities if he leaves Liberia. Now all that remains is rebuilding the country.

Sunday, August 10, 2003
Countdown to Arrival Day, Week 3

This post continues the countdown to Arrival Day 2003. Arrival Day is a non-religious celebration of the founding of the American Jewish community, which occurred with the landing of the first Jewish immigrants in New Amsterdam on September 7, 1654. Every Sunday until September 7, I will post an essay on American Judaism from a historical, contemporary or personal perspective. Both Jews and non-Jews are invited to participate in the Arrival Day Blogburst on September 7; if you're interested, let me know via e-mail or in the comments.

Once colonial Jews obtained burghers' rights, it was not long before they became involved in politics. Just as Asser Levy of New Amsterdam [1, 2] was the first American Jewish soldier, the first Jewish elected official was also from New York and was also named Levy. The minutes of the New York Common Council, as reported in Morris Schappes' Documentary History of the Jews in the United States, record that on October 14, 1718, Samuel Levy was sworn in as constable for the North Ward of New York City. On the same day, Nathan Simson, who was also Jewish, took office as constable for the South Ward.

The annals of colonial New York contain numerous references to Jewish constables, with two or more often serving at the same time. There is evidence, however, that this office may not entirely have been an honor. The position of constable was much more labor-intensive than other elected offices and, as such, was unattractive to many of those who satisfied the property qualifications for office-holding. One Jewish merchant, Moses Levy, is recorded as having declined the position of constable - a decision that resulted in his being held liable for a fine of 15 pounds - because a constable's yearly salary was less than he earned from his trade in a day. Still, the willingness of colonial New York voters to elect Jews to office was a token of some esteem; their reputation as a sober and law-abiding community convinced many of their neighbors that they were suitable for the job of enforcing the law.

Jewish office-holders were unique to New York during colonial times. There were few other colonies where Jews had political rights; many specifically restricted voting and office-holding to Christians, and often to Protestants only. It is likely that Jews could vote in colonial New Jersey and South Carolina, but there is no record of a Jew being elected to office in either place prior to the 1770s.

Even in New York, the political rights of Jews were not always secure. This was demonstrated most dramatically in 1737, when Jewish voters provided Adolph Philipse with the margin of victory in a close Assembly election. His opponent, Cornelius Van Horne, challenged the election results on that basis and, after an argument by Van Horne's counsel in which the Jews' alleged responsibility for the Crucifixion was emphasized, the assembly (including some of Philipse's partisans) passed a resolution nullifying the Jewish votes. The resolution was evidently not permanent, because Jews voted in subsequent New York elections, but it underscores the vulnerability of colonial Jews' social position in the absence of constitutional protection.

Things began to change for the better in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, as the currents of revolution began to flow throughout the American colonies. 1774 saw the election of revolutionary firebrand Francis Salvador, who had emigrated from London only the year before, to the South Carolina General Assembly. He was also a member of South Carolina's Provincial Congresses of 1774 and 1775, in which he chaired the ways and means committee and played a part in drafting the state's bill of rights. Had Salvador survived the revolution, America might have had a Jewish Founding Father, but his career was tragically cut short by his death in battle on July 1, 1776.

No account of Jews in eighteenth-century American politics would be complete without mentioning Benjamin Nones. Nones, who was born in Bordeaux in 1757, enlisted under Pulaski at the age of 20 and fought in the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of major and distinguishing himself at the battles of Savannah and Camden. After the war, he became a naturalized American citizen and was appointed an interpreter of French and Spanish for the United States government. He became active in Philadelphia politics as a supporter of Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party, and was the subject of a mocking editorial published in the Gazette of the United States by a "Mr. Wayne." His response, which was published in the Philadelphia Aurora on August 11, 1800, remains a classic defense of Jewish equality and democratic ideals:

I am accused of being a Jew, of being a Republican, and of being Poor.

I am a Jew. I glory in belonging to that persuasion, which even its opponents, whether Christian, or Mahomedan, allow to be of divine origin - of that persuasion upon which Christianity itself was originally founded, and must ultimately rest - which has preserved its faith secure and undefiled, for near three thousand years [...] To be of such a persuasion, is to me no disgrace; though I well understand the human language of bigotted contempt, in which your reporter by attempting to make me ridiculous, as a Jew, has made himself detestable, whatever religious persuasion may be dishonored by his adherence.

But I am a Jew. I am so - and so were Abraham, and Isaac, and Moses and the prophets, and so too were Christ and his apostles, I feel no disgrace in ranking with such society, however it may be subject to the illiberal buffoonery of such men as your correspondents.

I am a Republican! [...] I am a Jew, and if for no other reason, for that reason I am a republican. Among the pious priesthood of church establishments, we are compassionately ranked with Turks, Infidels and Heretics. In the monarchies of Europe, we are hunted from society - stigmatized as unworthy of common civility, thrust out as it were from the converse of men; objects of mockery and insult to froward children, the butts of vulgar wit, and low buffoonery, such as your correspondent Mr. Wayne is not ashamed to set us an example of. Among the nations of Europe we are inhabitants every where - but Citizens no where unless in Republics. Here, in France, and in the Batavian Republic alone, we are treated as men and as brethren. In republics we have rights, in monarchies we live but to experience wrongs [...]

But I am poor. I am so, my family is also large, but soberly and decently brought up. They have not been taught to revile a Christian, because his religion is not so old as theirs. They have not been taught to mock even the errors of good intention, and conscientious belief. I hope they will always leave this to men as unlike themselves, as I hope I am to your scurrilous correspondent...

Nones died in Philadelphia in 1826 and was survived by 14 children, the founders of a distinguished family of diplomats, merchants and military officers.

Tsvangirai still on the hook

From Zimbabwe comes the news that High Court Judge Paddington Garwe has dismissed treason charges against Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela, both high-ranking figures in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The judge declined to dismiss the charges against MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, however, and ruled that he would have to present his defense. The ruling in Tsvangirai's case concerned a motion to dismiss and it is still possible for him to be acquitted at the close of the trial, but the judge couched his opinion in ominous terms: "I am satisfied that there is no basis upon which accused number one can be acquitted." Those words can hardly seem comforting to Tsvangirai, who also faces treason charges as a result of the failed general strike in June.