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, December 28, 2002
Shinui, Teheran branch?

Courtesy of Israpundit: The Student Movement Coordinating Committee for Democracy in Iran, an umbrella organization of reformist students, recently responded to a government call for solidarity with the Palestinians by issuing a communiqué entitled "Leave Palestine Alone, Think About Us!" The original press release, which is here, contains the following:

The defense of peace and calm in the Middle East is not attainable through the support for terrorists and war-mongering groups; rather, it is to be attained through the pursuit of political dialog between the two sides while simultaneously removing the roots of fundamentalism, terror, and violence.

The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran believes that in accordance with international charters, both nations of Israel and Palestine have the right and the capability to live alongside one another as two free and independent states. This committee, while condemning the agitating acts of the Islamic Republic, requests that the freedom-loving and struggling nation of Iran, especially the youth and the students, [give] a crushing response to the promoters of antisemitism and terrorism by boycotting the sham and mandatory demonstration of the so-called World-Wide Day of Ghods.

These sentiments, actually, may not be all that surprising. Iran is a country where Farsi broadcasts from Israel Radio are popular listening, and where reformist newspapers get pro-Israeli letters to the editor when they run articles about Iranian-Israeli singers. I've met enough pro-Israeli Iranian Muslims to know that Iranian anti-Zionism is relatively soft. The sign-off of the press release, though, is something quite radical for Iran:

Long live Freedom!
Long live Secularism!

This may be what lies in wait for Ayatollah Khamene'i and the Iranian theocracy if they continue to block democratic reform. The reformers in the Majlis want an Islamic democracy, but an increasing number of students believe that democratization means a secular state. The more the theocrats push the envelope of the Iranian constitution, the more the idea of religion in government will be discredited.

Khamene'i's excesses may even discredit more than that. Politics can be surprisingly Newtonian, and religious repression often creates an equal and opposite reaction of anticlericalism. The same factors that are likely to give Shinui 15 seats in the next Knesset are at work in Iran - and, because the level of religious coercion in Iran dwarfs anything in Israel, the reaction will be that much stronger. If a secular revolution occurs in Iran, a best-case scenario for the theocrats would resemble post-Franco Spain; more likely, the aftermath of the revolution will look like Mexico under the PRI or even Kemalist Turkey. It's not impossible to imagine that, ten years from now, the Shi'a clergy in Iran might face actual persecution.

There are currently two ways forward for Iran - democratization within the Islamic constitution, or revolution. If the theocrats continue to thwart the reformers' efforts to create a more open society, then those two options will be reduced to one. The clergy's intolerance may, in the long term, lead to a society that is intolerant of the clergy.

Why there won't be peace in Côte d'Ivoire

A BBC article today about the landing of French reinforcements in Côte d'Ivoire (that's "Ivory Coast" for all you googlers) gives further details of Laurent Gbagbo's "peace plan." Gbagbo is offering a referendum on the controversial ivoirité policy that has disenfranchised many Muslims in the north, but - get this - only those who are already eligible to vote will be able to participate in the referendum. It isn't rocket science to figure out what the result of that referendum would be - and the rebels may not be rocket scientists, but they're nobody's fools. If this is the best that Gbagbo can offer, then he - and France - may be in for a long war.

(Article courtesy of Imshin.)

It's always the ones you least expect

Yesterday was another record-breaking day at The Head Heeb, far above the lousy traffic I usually get on Fridays. A look at the site meter made it easy to tell why - almost 100 hits came from Google searches looking for the B'Hadrei Haredim forum. When I tried the Google search myself, it returned just one site - me. Fortunately, Imshin tagged my message board with a link to the B'Hadrei Haredim site and her comment on it, so hopefully some of the searchers found what they were looking for.

Searches related to vampires and Malawi were also responsible for lots of hits, including one for "Malawi vampires alien gold." (The Swiss-extraterrestrial connection?) Someone also found me by searching for "Sharon vampire Zionist" - I don't know what he was looking for, but he sure didn't find it here.

Funny, though, how the articles that draw the most hits are usually the ones that get the fewest comments.

Friday, December 27, 2002
The limits of free speech

Zvi Bar'el wrote an analysis today of the closure of Sawt al Haq Wal Hurrieh ("The Voice of Freedom and Justice"), the newspaper of the Islamic Movement in Israel. I disagree with many of Bar'el's arguments, particularly that Israel is a state that inherently "conceives the minority as an enemy" and that Arab Israelis have the "status of political panhandlers." On the other hand, he had some cogent points to make about the closure of the newspaper that recalled some of the discussion on this forum about the petition to disqualify Balad:

...anyone wanting to make use of the principle of a democracy on the defensive against the Islamic Movement must also answer the basic question of what it is defending itself from. The fear that Israel could turn into a state in which Muslim law is the law of the land, or that the foundations of its regime might be undermined through incitement, is at such a distant remove from the definition of "clear and present danger" that only a state in which the "democracy" is so feeble and so jumpy would decide to fight the newspaper... Only enlightened democracies like Syria and Iran view the press as a genuine danger to the regime.

This seems like a fair issue to raise at a time when Israel appears to be cracking down on political expression as never before - when, despite the Attorney General's support for giving Ahmed Tibi, Abdelmalik Dehamshe and their parties the benefit of the doubt, there are indications that the Central Electoral Commission might disqualify nearly every Arab party. Are speech and political advocacy more dangerous now than previously? Has the rhetoric itself been taken to new heights that require tight control?

I don't buy the "Israel is at war" justification for restriction of free speech. With the exception of a few good years in the 1990s, Israel has always been at war, and its situation has sometimes been more desperate than it is now - for instance, on the morning of October 6, 1973. And the current political rhetoric, inflammatory and sometimes abhorrent as it is, is nothing new in Israel.

I recently had occasion to read Avi Weitzman's article in the Spring 2001 edition of the Emory International Law Review, A Tale of Two Cities: Yitzhak Rabin's Assassination, Free Speech and Israel's Religious-Secular Kulturkampf. Weitzman, a former law clerk to Israeli Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, points out that "speech in Israel has always been marked by hyperbole as well as ridiculous and obviously empty threats." He gives a few examples, starting with Menachem Begin's 1952 speech denouncing David Ben-Gurion for negotiating with Germany:

When you shot us with the gun [during the Altalena incident], I gave the order--no! [not to fire back]. Today I shall give the order--yes! This will be a war for life or death. . . . Today, . . . the Hebrew prime minister announces that he is going to Germany to take money that he is ready to sell the dignity of the people of Israel for graft, thereby bringing eternal damnation on the nation.

And some more recent examples:

Rabin was not the first to be called a "traitor," "a murderer," or compared to Marshal Philippe Petain. Coarse name- calling is not a new phenomenon, nor one that is limited to right-wing activists. Both the left wing and the right wing tossed personal epithets at Menachem Begin and his government in the 1970s. Left-wing activists referred to Begin and his Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon as "fascists" and "murderers" for their war campaign in Lebanon. Right- wing activists referred to the same government with equally harsh language during the negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords, suggesting that those who compromise with Egypt should be assassinated.


During the 1996 Ethiopian protest over the discovery that Magen David Adom was routinely destroying Ethiopian-Israelis' blood donations for fear of infectious diseases such as HIV-AB, typical placards read "remember what Hitler did!" and "stop the second holocaust!" Additionally, various demonstrators chanted "death to Racists! Death to [Minister of Health] Ephraim Sneh!"

This is, I think, an important thing to understand when placing the rhetoric of the left-wing Arab Israeli politicians in context. If Ahmed Tibi calls Shaul Mofaz a "fascist," then he's doing no more than the Beta Israel demonstrators did to Sneh - and, indeed, no more than Kahane Chai has done to him. If Azmi Bishara advocates armed resistance, he's saying no more than Menachem Begin said about Ben-Gurion. If the statements of a Tibi or a Bishara are aimed at the integrity of the Israeli state, then how are they different from Rabbi Shlomo Goren's when he urged IDF soldiers to disobey orders, or those of the many right-wing politicians who have advocated disobedience or violence against the courts? This sort of rhetoric, however distasteful, has been part of the raucous Israeli political scene for decades.

The current disqualification motions and newspaper closures must also be understood in the context of Israel's excellent track record of protecting freedom of expression. Weitzman discusses the history of the Israeli Supreme Court decisions finding that free speech is a fundamental right:

The stage for these decisions was set in the first half- decade of Israel's existence, with the famous Kol Ha'am case. In Kol Ha'am, the government attempted to suspend the Communist Party's Newspapers "Kol Ha'am" ("The People's Voice") and "Al-Ittihad" ("The Union") in response to articles denouncing Prime Minister Ben Gurion's government for allegedly volunteering Israeli soldiers to the United States should war break out between the United States and the Soviet Union. The articles accused the government of "profiteer[ing]" and "speculating" "in the blood of Israeli youth" and concluded that the Government is "dragging [the masses]--not only to unemployment, poverty and hunger, but even to death in the service of imperialism, feeding them as fodder to their war machine . . . ." The Israeli Court denounced the suspension and upheld the newspapers' free speech rights, basically adopting the now infamous Holmes-Brandeis free speech dissents. Kol Ha'am announced the balancing test that the Supreme Court continued to apply for the next fifty years. The test inquires into: first, the extent of the injury that justifies the restriction; second, the probability that the injury will occur if the speech at issue is not curbed. Only when the harm is "severe, serious and grave" and the danger of the harm rises to a "near certainty" will the government be permitted to suppress the speech.

In a more recent case, involving anti-Arab leaflets circulated by Binyamin Kahane, the court expanded the reach of the sedition law and held that statements that endanger public order could be restricted, but still required that the danger be clear, present and "nearly certain:"

In Kahane II, the Court, by a 5-2 decision, overturned its prior decision and held that Kahane could be convicted of sedition. The Court's decision greatly expanded the reach of section 133, holding that the statute's prohibition of sedition is not limited merely to damage to the democratic regime, such as orderly government. Rather, section 133 includes within its ambit damage to the "values of public order," including "social cohesion." Although unwilling to definitively decide which probabilistic test must be applied, the Court stated that it would apply a near certainty test in this case because Kahane's speech endangered, to a near certainty, the values of public order. Writing for the Majority, Justice Orr argued that Kahane's leaflets were not "infantile." Rather, his speech is likely, to a near certainty, to instill hatred between the Jewish and Arab populations of Israel, and further risks increased violence.

Consider, in this context, the statements of Azmi Bishara that are likely to disqualify him from running for Knesset. Certainly, these statements - praising Hezbollah and calling on Arab states to support armed Palestinian resistance - were both inflammatory and hateful, especially since Hezbollah may still hold Israeli citizens as prisoners of war. But did they pose a clear and present danger? Were statements made in Damascus, far from the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and made at an official ceremony rather than in front of a mob, "likely to a near certainty" to harm Israelis? Would Hezbollah and the Arab world have refrained from violence against Israel if not for Bishara? To ask that question is to answer it.

As for The Voice of Freedom and Justice, is the danger to Israel greater now than it was during the first precarious years of its existence, and is an Islamist paper more dangerous than a Communist one at the time of the Slansky trial? When the Kol Ha'am case was decided, international Communism had recently taken a devastating anti-Zionist turn, and the Soviet Union was already becoming a threat to the integrity of Israel. If the rights of a Communist newspaper which was decidedly hostile to Zionism were worthy of protection then, aren't those of an Islamic paper now?

The current wave of newspaper closings and political disqualifications are a disturbing sign that Israel is becoming a less tolerant place - and, just as tragically, a less confident place. Weitzman reminds us that the Israeli Supreme Court these days "relies heavily on the 'Weimar syndrome,' emphasizing the experience of the Weimar Republic's mistake of being so weak and so 'liberal' that it let illiberal groups and inciting speech bring about its own destruction and the rise of Nazism."

The "Weimar syndrome" can be a seductive rationale. It's worth remembering, though, that the Weimar Republic wasn't done in by political speech, but by political violence. The fault of the Weimar courts wasn't that they allowed too much free speech, but that they failed to step in when political infighting went beyond speech. Moreover, the extraordinarily lenient treatment given by Weimar judges to those who plotted against the state - particularly on the right - happened not because of the laws on the books but because the judges were loyal to the Kaiser rather than the republic.

Israel is not the Weimar Republic. As 2003 approaches, Israel has more than a half-century of democracy behind it, and is strongly committed to democratic government. The Israeli courts - whatever may be said about them - have historically been staunch supporters of democracy and the rule of law. And both the courts and security apparatus know how to draw the line between speech and violence. Israel is not a "democracy... so feeble and so jumpy" that it needs to censor political speech or restrict the freedom of the press. And if Israel were that feeble, would the danger from tolerating dubious political rhetoric be greater than the danger of excluding a substantial portion of the Arab electorate from the political process, and alienating them further from Israeli civil society?

I know that these aren't easy times. As I write this, I am fully aware that four Israelis have been killed today in a Palestinian shooting attack at Otniel. The test of a democracy, though, is how it responds to difficult times. Thus far, Israel has had an excellent track record. It shouldn't spoil that record now.

UPDATE: The Talking Dog takes on this issue.

Making comparisons, part 1

The following theme, or a close variation, has occurred in countless conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

A: Israel has a much better human rights record than any of its neighbors.
B: Who cares about its neighbors? Israel says it's a civilized democracy, it should act like one.

I'm with B up to a point. Israel is a civilized democracy, and it should act like one. However, on nearly every occasion when I've argued with some incarnation of B, there's been an implicit "peacetime" between "civilized" and "democracy." Most of the time, when people say that Israel should act like a civilized democracy, they mean that it should act like Sweden. But should Israel really be judged according to the same standard as a nation that has been at peace since 1814? Surely there are different standards for democracies at war.

The trouble is that, although Israel is not at peace, its situation also doesn't fit within traditional conceptions of war. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't a clash between armies, but something relatively new - a low-level terrorist campaign in which the primary targets are civilians. The proper standard by which Israel should be judged, then, is the one that applies to civilized democracies facing a terrorist threat of existential magnitude.

I'm not sure what this standard is, because there are few democratic countries that have faced such a threat. In fact, as far as I know, there have been only three others - the UK during the years of conflict with the IRA, Russia and Sri Lanka. The UK, for the most part, handled its troubles more humanely than Israel, but isn't really a fair comparison; the IRA wasn't out to end the UK, and the impact of IRA terrorism on UK civilians was at least an order of magnitude less in comparison with the country's population. (The same goes for the ETA in Spain, which is a possible fourth candidate.) Russia, which has been decidedly less humane than Israel, is probably also not a fair comparison, given that its claim to being a civilized democracy is rather tenuous.

That leaves Sri Lanka, which for the past two decades has been fighting a bloody low-level conflict against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE is among the most vicious terrorist groups known to exist, and has carried out more than 200 suicide bombings; in fact, it is likely that Tamil terrorists pioneered the technique. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in LTTE attacks, which have occurred without warning at houses of worship and public transportation. Among their successful attacks was one that killed 18 people at the World Trade Center - the one in Colombo, at any rate. The LTTE, like many Palestinian terrorist groups, also have the support of a population that dwarfs Sri Lanka's own - the 90 million people of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

There are some important differences between the Sri Lanka-LTTE conflict and the situation in Israel. The LTTE and the Sri Lankan armies are more evenly matched than the Israelis and Palestinians, and Tamil separatists have been able to score some conventional military successes against Sri Lankan regulars. However, the scale and methods of the terror attacks, combined with the element of ethnic separatism, render the threat to Sri Lanka at least comparable in magnitude to that against Israel. Also, Sri Lanka, like Israel, is a relatively stable democratic country. According to the the 2001 State Department human rights report, Sri Lanka is a multiparty democracy with a free press, and the government generally respects the rule of law and human rights in areas not directly affected by the conflict. While the two conflicts are not the same, it seems fair to compare them to determine the appropriate standard of behavior.

How does Sri Lanka's record compare with Israel's? Certainly, the number of people killed in the civil war - 60,000, most of them civilians - dwarfs the number of Palestinians killed during both intifadas, or even since 1948. (For comparison purposes, the population of Sri Lanka is approximately twice that of Israel plus the occupied territories, so Sri Lanka's casualty figures are proportionally equivalent to an intifada with 30,000 deaths.) The State Department human rights report for 2001 indicates that there have been several hundred extrajudicial executions committed by Sri Lankan security forces, more than 16,000 disappearances, human rights violations including torture and rape, disregard for civilian lives during military operations, and official tolerance of massacres of Tamils by Sinhalese villagers. Few if any of the perpetrators of these acts have been prosecuted, although the government has recently started to investigate them more aggressively. More than 800,000 people have been displaced in the fighting. If there's a standard of behavior for democratic countries facing serious terrorist threats, Israel seems to be setting it.

Don't get me wrong - I don't condone human rights violations by either Sri Lankan or Israeli security forces. However, those who insist that Israel should be judged by the standards of other civilized democratic nations should be aware that even democracies that generally respect the rule of law can commit atrocities when faced with an existential threat. As I sit here today, I have no idea how France might react if Corsican separatists suddenly began a campaign of suicide bombings with the enthusiastic support of the Corsican populace, but I don't think that the French or anyone else have the right to smugly assume that they would handle the situation better than Israel. They might, but then again they might not.

Another engagement

French soldiers have clashed again with rebel fighters in western Côte d'Ivoire. No word yet on who won, although the fact that no French soldiers were injured suggests that the rebels came off second-best.

Cyprus at the crossroads?

Associated Press reports that 30,000 Turkish Cypriots marched through Nicosia today to demand reunification of the island. The EU has given Cyprus until February 28 to come up with a reunification plan, or only the Greek half will be invited to join.

The interesting part of the AP article, though, was something mentioned in passing - that 60 percent of Turkish Cyprus' population (120,000 of 200,000) consists of settlers from mainland Turkey. I'd often wondered how Turkish Cyprus could maintain an open political system and free press despite being an occupied country, and now I know - it's the same reason that Morocco can talk seriously about holding a referendum on the status of Western Sahara.

Still, I wonder if Turkish Cypriot politics will be determined by demographics this time around. The mainland Turkish majority has kept Rauf Denktash in power since 1974, but is it now willing to forgo the benefits of EU integration, especially since continued association with Turkey won't get it into the EU anytime soon? With the Turkish military on its best behavior lest it jeopardize any chance of membership in the future, this might be Turkish Cyprus' chance to make a genuine political choice.

Thursday, December 26, 2002
Chutzpah redefined

Courtesy of Expat Egghead: Dow Chemical Sues Bhopal Survivors. As a result of a peaceful protest, the company is seeking $10,000 compensation for "lost work" (the few minutes an executive spent meeting with the protesters) and an injunction against further protests.

I guess Malawi isn't the only country with vampires.

Dienbienphu redux?

According to Reuters, President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire is preparing to offer a new peace plan that supposedly addresses many of the rebels' demands. Details of the plan were not revealed, so it's too early to tell whether the offer will be sufficient to move the Ivoirian civil war toward a settlement. It appears, however, that Gbagbo - who has the not unique honor of being a defendant in a Belgian war crimes case - is holding firm on his opposition to early elections, and that his proposals include putting certain reforms to a referendum rather than including them in the peace treaty. Given the shenanigans that can happen with referenda, especially if the party in power has a stake in the outcome, I doubt that the rebel factions will be impressed.

In the meantime, the French involvement in the civil war appears to have done what the rebel armies in western Côte d'Ivoire hadn't been able to do on their own - pushed them closer to an alliance with the faction holding the north. In a meeting three days ago, the three factions decided that the time wasn't yet ripe for a military alliance but issued a joint declaration that any further French military action would be considered an act of war. The northern rebels - who have been more disciplined and respectful of human rights than their western counterparts - have thus far been wary of a grand rebel alliance, but are apparently even warier of the French Foreign Legion.

They may have reason to be wary. Amara Essy, the interim chairman of the African Union suggested in his first public statement on the Ivoirian conflict that French involvement might increase:

You know, in Cote d'Ivoire you have a great population of French. Cote d'Ivoire also has an agreement with France. This is an old agreement. If they have [there is] aggression from abroad, the French have to help the government. But to do this, they need to have the proof that there is an external aggression.

This possibility makes the alleged involvement of Liberia - and possibly Libya - in the Ivoirian civil war critical. Any outside assistance to the rebels by a foreign government, if proven to exist, will transform the conflict from a purely internal war to one in which Gbagbo's government faces "external aggression," triggering its ability to call on French aid and involve France in a potentially disastrous colonial war. Essy, not surprisingly, was careful to state that there was no proof of involvement by an outside government, noting that Liberian ruler Charles Taylor had denied helping the rebels. Nevertheless, he stated that there were "many people in this rebellion, some speaking English" - a fact which suggests that some rebel soldiers hail from Liberia or Sierra Leone. Essy argued that these soldiers may be mercenaries or former RUF combatants rather than government troops, but they might also be both - mercenaries who are supported from outside but maintain enough separation to give Taylor plausible deniability.

All this is taking place amid worsening humanitarian problems. The town of Duekoue, which was the scene of clashes between French soldiers and rebel forces last week, has taken in 24,000 refugees from the surrounding countryside. At the same time, 28,000 Guineans and more than 5000 others have crossed the border into Guinea, where their resettlement has become a major logistical problem. And in the capital, things aren't much better, with daily reports of disappearances and the famous Hotel Ivoire offering "weekend lock-in curfew packages" that "lure customers to the attractions of a night out without the risk being shot by police on their way home." Whether or not Gbagbo's peace plan succeeds, it's going to take a long time to put the pieces back together.

UPDATE: The rebel factions have declared that they will not disarm until Gbagbo resigns.

Economic futures

Randy McDonald and ebeloic have an interesting discussion going on their respective livejournals about the conditions that create poverty and inequality, and where the world is headed. [1, 2, 3, 4] Some of the comments are interesting as well.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Government bloodsuckers

Unrest is growing in Malawi due to rumors that the government has hired vampires to collect human blood and trade it to international aid agencies for food. President Bakili Muluzi has accused opposition politicians of spreading the rumors for political gain.

I suppose this is one more example of how the post-colonial world has been affected by Western culture. Malawi is the last place in the world where I'd expect to see vampire rumors; there are African countries with indigenous vampire-type legends (including my favorite, the West African tyerkow), but I wasn't aware of any in Malawi. Still, blood loss and attacks in the night are universal fears - which may be why legends of vampires and bloodsucking monsters exist in so many parts of the world - and Dracula was probably one of the Western cultural artifacts that needed no translation for Malawians. Add to that the use of blood in East African ritual and magic, and current fears of infectious diseases such as HIV being transmitted through blood, and you have a legend that resonates powerfully with rural southern Africans.

The alleged involvement of international aid agencies brings into play another common Third World fear - that Third World people are being "harvested" for the benefit of Westerners. There are, for instance, persistent rumors of organ theft from people of poor countries, including rumors that Third World orphanages were used as "organ farms" for rich people in the West. The current rumor in Malawi - that international aid agencies are now demanding local blood as the price of food - ties in with these stories. It's easy to dismiss the Malawi vampire hysteria as a primitive phenomenon, but in fact it's very complex, very modern and very Western.

All this makes me wonder, though, exactly how a government would go about hiring vampires. Would there be civil service exams - held at night, of course? How about job titles? I assume that the head vampire in Malawi would report to the Minister of Health and Population, Aleke Banda, but where would he be on the organizational charts? What about wages - would the vampires work on salary or, er, commission?

And I must also disagree respectfully with President Muluzi's statement that "no government can go about sucking blood of its own people." He's obviously never heard of the Israeli income tax.

Pseudonymity, free speech and haredim

Tamar Rotem reports on B'Hadrei Haredim, an online Israeli haredi discussion group. Unfortunately, she doesn't provide a URL, but it seems that pseudonymity has been the catalyst for some remarkable public self-examination within the haredi community.

New links

I just added links to Berta Liao and Umair Salam. (Both links courtesy of Farid.) If you were interested in my post about Jews and Christmas, make sure to check out Umair's about Muslims and Christmas, which contains a link to Sura Maryam. Also, Haggai's Place, to which I recently added a permanent link, is well worth a visit.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Merry Christmas

To all my readers who celebrate Christmas - and I know I have at least three - I wish the very best of the season.

In about an hour, Naomi and I will head up to my parents' and go out for Chinese food. In the past few years, Chinese food - and sometimes a movie - seems to have become a Christmas tradition for New York Jews. It's a sort of anti-Christmas Eve - not in the sense of being opposed to Christmas, but in the sense of celebrating the day off with our own people and in our own way. Going out for Chinese on Christmas Eve is the opposite of the "Chanukah bush" - it's a recognition that this is a public holiday and a day of celebration for the country, but that there are ways to celebrate without assimilating or sacrificing our religious beliefs. Christmas has become a Jewish secular holiday.

Or maybe I'm reading way too much into dinner and a movie. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Last word on Côte d'Ivoire, at least for now

The rebel factions in Côte d'Ivoire have accused France of siding with the government and declared that they will view any future French military action as an act of war. France, for its part, claims that it isn't taking sides and that its troops are only there to "protect foreign nationals, maintain stability and enforce the cease-fire."

The problem with this is that only one of the two main rebel forces has concluded a cease-fire agreement with the Ivoirian government. The rebel army occupying most of northern Côte d'Ivoire has agreed to a cease-fire, but the armies in the west didn't sign the agreement and don't consider themselves bound by it - and these are the forces that clashed with the French two days ago. Indications are that the French are interpreting their mission to "enforce the cease-fire" broadly, that they intend to enforce it against the western rebels as well as the northern ones, and that "maintaining stability" means preserving the status quo. Which means, in other words, that they're supporting the government, given that the Ivoirian army has been coming off worst on the field and that any changes in the status quo are likely to benefit the rebels. The French presence in Côte d'Ivoire may be a peacekeeping mission, but it has elements of neo-colonialism as well.

This made my day

Silflay Hraka reports that a protest group wants to change the title of The Two Towers because they feel that it desecrates the memory of the WTC.

So who's going to protest The Return of the King? Elvis fans waiting for the resurrection?

Ivoirité and civil war

This is the second of a two-part series about everyone's favorite subject - the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire.

Most African countries bear the stamp put on them by their founders, and Côte d'Ivoire is no exception. A few countries got lucky - Botswana, for instance, got Seretse Khama as its first president and ended up becoming a prosperous liberal democracy. Some got supremely unlucky and wound up with a monster, like Equatorial Guinea with Macias Nguema. Most found themselves saddled with ordinary, garden-variety authoritarian kleptocrats. Of these, Côte d'Ivoire's Félix Houphouët-Boigny was the best of a bad lot.

He could have been a great deal more. Houphouët-Boigny's life story is, if not quite in a league with Mandela's, one of the most compelling of any African leader. Like many, he was a chief's son, born officially in October 1905 but probably a few years earlier. In 1928, he graduated from medical school in Dakar with certification as an "African Doctor" - at the time, the highest degree available to non-whites. Later, he inherited his father's estates and became a substantial cocoa planter.

At this time, in the early 1940s, white planters in French West Africa had advantages that were not given to their few black counterparts - advantages that extended not only to preferential pricing but to the use of forced labor. In 1943, when Côte d'Ivoire was still under Vichy domination, Houphouët-Boigny established a union of African planters to fight these preferences. This union led, after the war, to Houphouët-Boigny being elected mayor of Abidjan and deputy to the French National Assembly. As a member of the French legislature, he became the only African ever appointed to the cabinet and sponsored the loi cadre that ended forced labor in the colonies.

If Houphouët-Boigny had died then, he would have been a hero. If he had ruled Côte d'Ivoire the same way he served in the French cabinet, he would have been a statesman. As it was, he was... the best of a bad lot. He avoided the trap of trendy 1960s postcolonial socialism and dependency theory, and presided over two decades of economic growth. He preferred to co-opt rather than shoot opponents, and refused to order the military to suppress "our children" during university protests in the 1970s. His genuine pan-African sentiments led to guest workers from Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea being made welcome. But he was, at bottom, another fiscally corrupt dictator, and he made two major mistakes.

First, he promoted an actively pronatalist policy. Houphouët- Boigny believed that Côte d'Ivoire's ideal population was 50 million, and he used the country's prosperity to provide financial incentives for large families. During the 1960s and 1970s, the fertility rate in Côte d'Ivoire was about 7.5, one of the highest in the world and greater than many poorer and less developed countries. This didn't matter so much during the era of 10 percent annual economic growth, but then Houphouët-Boigny's second mistake kicked in - his failure to sufficiently diversify the economy. The decline in world cocoa and coffee prices during the early 1980s killed Côte d'Ivoire's growth, and a bout of IMFitis put the nails in its coffin. Suddenly, fertility outpaced growth, and Côte d'Ivoire's real growth rate skidded into negative numbers.

The economic decline, combined with the end of the Cold War, led to pressure for democratic and fiscal reforms. Houphouët-Boigny still had enough prestige to win the first multiparty elections in 1990, but his days were numbered; the officially-88-year-old president died in office in 1993. His place was taken by the president of the national assembly, Henri Konan Bédié, a man with the full measure of Houphouët-Boigny's autocratic tendencies but none of his redeeming virtues. Unable to hold together Houphouët-Boigny's system through charisma or personal authority, he chose to do so through chauvinism.

Under Bédié, a new word entered the Ivoirian political vocabulary - ivoirité. Ivoirité was something relatively new on the African scene - not tribalism, but nationalism. The ivoirité movement soon became explicitly nativist, and guest workers from Mali and Burkina Faso - many of whom had the same ethnic heritage as their Ivoirian neighbors and had lived in Côte d'Ivoire for decades - became its targets. Similar hostilities have since developed in other countries - for instance, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea has urged his countrymen to attack migrant workers with machetes - and there had been previous movements against Asian merchants or disliked tribes, but intra-tribal hostility on the basis of nationality was little known at the time.

Another casualty of ivoirité was relations between the Christian south and the Muslim north, many of whom had migrated to Côte d'Ivoire during colonial times. A Bédié-era constitutional provision disqualified anyone whose parents were not Ivoirian-born from running for president, which had the effect of disenfranchising one of the main opposition leaders, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara's constituency in the north became increasingly restive as the economy grew worse and the government reneged on many of the democratic reforms of the early 1990s.

Matters came to a head on January 13, 2000, when General Robert Gueï seized power in Côte d'Ivoire's first military coup. The coup was welcomed at first by many Ivoirians, but Gueï quickly moved to consolidate his position under a figleaf of restoring democracy. Elections were scheduled for October, but the courts disqualified Ouattara and PDCI leader Emile Bombet, leaving university professor Laurent Gbagbo as the only credible opposition candidate. Amid boycotts from the main opposition parties and disputes over the count, Gueï declared himself the winner of the election, but a popular revolt swept Gbagbo into power.

Gbagbo made some early efforts at reconciliation, but his government also became increasingly autocratic, and ivoirité continued to be the national policy. Ouattara was briefly detained and exiled; he later returned, but he continued to be disqualified from political office. In the meantime, large portions of the security forces continued to be loyal to Gueï - and this September, with 750 of them facing expulsion from the military, the house of cards came crashing down.

The immediate trigger for the rebellion was the death of Gueï and his family in a botched coup attempt, but Ouattara soon became identified with the rebel forces. Significantly, the rebels' demands include restoration of Ouattara's political rights and greater representation for Muslim northerners, and it is no accident that the rebellions have been strongest in the north and west where the effects of ivoirité have been greatest.

Whatever the military result of the civil war, Côte d'Ivoire will have to abandon ivoirité to resolve the conflict - or, rather, it will have to broaden the concept. Nationalism isn't necessarily a bad thing in Africa - tribalism and absence of national consciousness have doomed many African governments to failure. However, Côte d'Ivoire's emerging national identity must be one that conceives of the country as a diverse nation of immigrants, or it will continue to cause more problems than it solves.

Monday, December 23, 2002
No betrayal

Salam has the following to say about the death and rebirth of Where Is Raed:

Just after deleting the weblog I told Diane that I wish there was another Iraqi blogger. I have done a sort of a mental exercise on how that weblog would be:

To start with it would be in a Arabic, and discuss as little politics as possible, if cornered would be very pro-Palestinian pro-Saddam. Just to stay on the safe side. It would also be filled with quotation from the Quran and Hadith, or maybe Um-Kalthum songs. What I am trying to say is that most "western" readers wouldn't get it because it would be so out of their cultural sphere.

This mess I'm in really bothers me; with all my talk of anti-Americanism (is that a word?) I still reference their culture, their music, and their movies. I got whacked for saying "fuck you." I should have said "inachat khawatkum" no one would have understood. Just as most Iraqis don't understand most of what is being said by Americans. We would have smiled politely at each other and moved on.

I feel like the embodiment of cultural betrayal. The total sell-out, and this is making me contradict myself all the time.

Permit me to disagree. Sharing one's culture with others, and speaking a language that others understand, isn't "selling out." It's easier to talk to people who share one's background and assumptions, but it's more rewarding to understand the rest of the world and to be understood in turn.

Speaking strictly for myself, I think we in the West spend a great deal too much time talking to ourselves about the Arab world, and that Arabs spend too much time talking to themselves about the West. I want to hear about the Arab world from Arabs. I want to see the West reflected back at me from the mirror of someone else's eyes, rather than simply looking around and seeing what I always see. I want to know what "inachat khawatkum" means, and I want to talk about Umm Kolsoum with someone who can understand the lyrics. If you want to be pro-Palestinian, then throw it right in my face - and maybe I'll challenge you in turn with some facts you might not know. You're not betraying your culture, Salam - you're making a gift of it.

Also, don't miss Salam's thoughts on Iraqi constitutional monarchy. I'm not sure the idea would work any better there than when it was floated in Afghanistan, but it's worth considering, if only because nobody else has come up with anything better.

UPDATE: Diane thinks I "don't quite get Salam's sense of humor." She's probably right. I'm a straightforward sort, and sometimes have to be clubbed over the head a few times before I recognize irony. Apologies for any misunderstanding - but I still want to hear more from him.

Good for the soul?

Confession is in the news these days. In New York, the five teenagers who confessed to raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989 were cleared after DNA evidence surfaced implicating another person as the rapist. Significant doubt remains as to whether they played some role in the attack, but it is now clear that they were convicted on the basis of confessions that were inconsistent in important ways with the facts of the case.

In Israel, confession has also become a matter of public debate in the wake of the Nazareth District Court's acquittal of Amos Baranes on retrial for the 1974 murder of Rachel Heller. As Amnon Rubinstein notes, the judges in Baranes' original trial "convicted [him] solely on the basis of his signature on the confession and ignored a whole set of contradictory evidence." Numerous others have been convicted on similar evidence, but until the Baranes case, no Israeli defendant had successfully won a retrial because of an unreliable confession.

Rubinstein comments that in Israel, unlike many other common-law jurisdictions, it is possible to convict a defendant on the basis of confession alone:

the laws of evidence do not protect someone who confessed but whose confession is not backed up by the slightest independent external evidence. Some judges believe that the laws of evidence in criminal cases are too severe, because they were meant to prevent mistakes by laymen in jury trials, whereas in Israeli law, where judges themselves determine the facts, there is no need for such strict laws.

A corroboration requirement, however, may not be as much of a safeguard as Rubinstein believes. In New York, where a defendant cannot be convicted on the basis of an uncorroborated confession, the courts have typically interpreted the corroboration threshold very leniently. Almost any additional evidence - for instance, the defendant's proximity to the scene of the crime - is considered sufficient corroboration to back up a confession. The result is that, despite the necessity of corroboration, New York and other American jurisdictions continue to have problems with coerced confessions and with confessed defendants being cleared after years in prison.

Ironically, in the years since Baranes' original trial, Israel may already have leaped ahead of the United States in providing safeguards against unreliable confessions. According to Rubinstein, Israel now has "a law that obliges the interrogation of suspected perpetrators of serious crimes to be videotaped." Videotaping of interrogations is currently required in only two American states - Minnesota and Alaska - and is consistently opposed by law enforcement.

It is hard to understand, though, exactly why the police are opposed to videotaping. Videotaped interrogations are likely to help the prosecution more often than the defense, by showing conclusively that a confession is free and voluntary despite the defendant's claims of coercion. In the Central Park jogger case, for instance, videotaping might have resolved the mystery of whether the defendants' confessions were freely given in the presence of family members as the police contend, or whether, as the defendants claim, they were the products of coercive interrogation. Videotaping would, however, spell an end to many high-pressure interrogation tactics used by the police, which increase the risk of false confessions.

It might be a good idea for the United States and Israel to trade safeguards, with Israel adopting a corroboration requirement and the United States requiring that interrogations be videotaped. Confessions are among the most devastating items of evidence that can be presented at a trial, but experience has shown that they can also be among the most unreliable. Confessions have a role to play at trial, but adequate safeguards are necessary at both the investigative and judicial stages.

Who's living on my street?

Can anyone explain Blogstreet to me? Apparently, The Head Heeb ranks a rather pathetic 17274th out of 43336, but I don't quite get the "related blogs" list. Many of the blogs that are supposedly "related" to me are sites that I've never linked to and, as far as I've bothered to spot-check, have never linked to me. (Some of them, like the Sydney Morning Herald, aren't even blogs.) And the numbers seem to come from nowhere - I'd like it if Andrew Sullivan linked to me five times, but it just hasn't happened. Maybe it's a degrees-of-separation thing, with most of the list consisting of blogs that have linked to blogs that have linked to me (or vice versa).

Well, maybe someday soon I'll rank in the top 10,000. It gives me something to shoot for.

Boycott calls

Within the past 24 hours, I've received three e-mails requesting that I join in boycotting certain companies, news agencies or personalities who have made anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli statements. I'm not going to do so.

The trouble with boycotts is that, as Woody Allen said when asked to boycott the Cannes film festival, they are a weapon that has traditionally been used against Jews. Among the first acts of the Nazi government in Germany was a boycott of Jewish businesses. The Arab nations, with the partial exception of Egypt and Jordan, have boycotted Israel for more than half a century. Boycotts have done more harm to Jews and Israel than we could ever dream of doing with a boycott of our own.

Anti-Israeli boycotts are currently a spreading phenomenon. Some stores in the United States and Europe now refuse to buy Israeli goods or affix "warning labels" to Israeli products. On college campuses throughout the United States, pro-Palestinian student organizations are urging that their universities divest their Israeli holdings as many did during the apartheid era in South Africa. Several hundred European and American academics have signed on to an "intellectual boycott" of Israel which has led to scholarly journals firing Israeli editors and refusing to publish or peer-review Israeli articles. In Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, there have been renewed calls for a "secondary boycott" of companies that do business with Israel. If Jewish organizations also use boycotts as a method of promoting a particular viewpoint on the Middle East conflict, they will lose the moral right to oppose the boycotts now being directed against Israelis and Jews.

I often see attempts to make a qualitative distinction between anti-Israeli and pro-Israeli boycotts, on the ground that the anti-Israeli side boycotts people because of what they are while the pro-Israeli side boycotts people because of what they do. This distinction doesn't impress me. Many of the boycotts urged by the pro-Israeli side are directed against entire organizations or even countries, regardless of the views of any individual employees or citizens. A boycott against France, for instance, would affect all Frenchmen regardless of their opinion on Israel, and would even affect French Jews. A boycott against National Public Radio because of the views of its reporters - another one I've seen advocated lately - will affect the sound engineers, secretaries and ad salesmen, who may or may not share the reporters' opinions. I don't see any moral difference between a call to boycott all Israelis because of the policies of the Israeli government and a call to boycott all Frenchmen because of the French government's attitude toward Israel.

There are two ethical methods to respond to anti-Semitism or unfair criticism of Israel. One is to protest - to argue the opposing viewpoint, and to educate both the public and the companies or news agencies that make the statements. In some cases, this will be a futile gesture, but in others - as with or CNN - it can lead to a real review of coverage. The second is to take positive steps to support the victims of anti-Israeli boycotts, such as buying Israeli goods. It is tempting to respond to boycotts with boycotts, but this is ultimately a counterproductive tactic.

Sunday, December 22, 2002
More on European-Middle Eastern fusion

Imshin has some very insightful comments on why Israel is something part European, part Middle Eastern and uniquely its own:

I believe that, in a few generations, the question of Sephardi and Ashkenazi will be marginal. Most Israelis will be happy, healthy mongrels, like my girls. The result will be a whole new culture.


For one thing there is currently a lot of popular interest in Jewish roots and heritage. This is not necessarily a religious thing. Part of coming to terms with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin has been a growing secular movement of getting better acquainted with our Jewish traditional wisdom. Many organizations have sprung up that teach Judaism to secular adults without attempting to make them religious.

Another newish trend takes advantage of the fact that people are feeling more comfortable than ever before with their ethnic differences, within the framework of Israeli society, and not necessarily out of a place of protest (although some would want to exploit it to further such protest). The Yiddish theater is flourishing, and theatrical productions in Moroccan are very popular. And these are just two little examples.

Well, naturally. This is the sort of thing that happens in most immigrant cultures. My great-grandmother, who came over from Poland in 1889 and died when I was five years old, remembered the days when German Jews were the middle class part of the American Jewish community and treated their Eastern European cousins like dirt. My grandparents grew up when the distinction between Litvaks and Galitzianers still mattered. My Sephardic relatives by marriage, who are from my parents' generation, faced some prejudice from older relatives when they entered the family. None of those things really matter any more in the United States (well, the Sephardic-Ashkenazic distinction still does, but much less than it used to). Now, it's the Russians, the Iranians and the Israeli yordim who are the new immigrants and who are often stereotyped by the rest of the community, but in another generation, they too will be American Jews, and American Judaism will be the richer for what they have brought. The immigrants will assimilate, but assimilation is a two-way street - the established culture will take on aspects of the immigrant cultures.

Israel is a newer society than the American Jewish community (which has existed in various incarnations since 1654), and it hasn't had as much time to work out the kinks, but it's headed in the same direction. A generation from now, I have no doubt that Israel will look a great deal like what Imshin predicts - a seamless fusion of Europe and the Middle East, combined into a whole that isn't seen anywhere else. And that's a good thing - cultural cross-fertilization nearly always is. As I've said before, Israel's mixture of Europe, America and the Middle East is one of its greatest glories.

At the same time, I disagree that this will make Israel "less European." For one thing, the European influences will still be there; they'll just be better integrated and less exclusivist. For another, Europe itself - like most developed regions - is becoming more internationalized. It's easy to see the African, Slavic, Asian and Middle Eastern influences in any Western European city these days. Europe now is the sort of place where Indian food can become the UK's unofficial national cuisine, and where Amina Annabi can win the Eurovision song contest for France. The idea of "European-ness" is more inclusive than it once was - and, apparently, more inclusive than it still is to some European-Israelis like Tommy Lapid (who is really, really making me rethink my Shinui sympathies). In a generation, assuming that the current popularity of right-wing nativism is a passing fad - which such movements nearly always are - the idea of Europe will be broad enough to include Israel, and even Lebanon or Tunisia.

The question is whether the idea of the Middle East, as conceived by most Arab Middle Easterners, will also be broad enough by then to include Israel.