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, February 15, 2003
Interested in Israel

The Talking Dog reviewed this site and called me an "Israel-obsessed New York lawyer." It's a complimentary review, though - and don't miss his account of the NYC antiwar rally.

Aghajari off death row

The Iranian Supreme Court has vacated the death sentence of dissident professor Hashemi Aghajari, who was condemned last year for "insulting the prophets" after making a speech critical of the clergy. This development was widely expected; Iranian appellate courts often act as a safety valve by reducing sentences in controversial political cases, as they did with the 10 Shirazi Jews convicted of spying for Israel in 2000. Aghajari isn't entirely off the hook, however; the charges against him were not dismissed, and his case was remanded to a lower court in Hamadan for reconsideration.

Friday, February 14, 2003
A seventh-century Muslim woman judge

I wrote about Al-Ahram's interview with Tehany el-Gebaly the other day, but I didn't notice this quote the first time around:

Others argue with the jurisprudence that allows for women judges. And, again, El-Gebali is quick with fiqhi refutations (she has a diploma in Islamic Shari'a as well, something that has been useful against conservative religious opponents in her battles for civil liberties). "Today's judge is an institution, not an individual. He or she doesn't rule alone but is supported by institutions. A judge is no longer both faqih (jurist) and qadi (judge). He no longer carries out fiqh (jurisprudence), but issues rulings based on codified laws. A judge's role today is separated from an academic's. And there are precedents of women judges when the qadi was also a faqih; the Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab appointed a woman, Shifaa, as qadi hisba in the market. Shifaa used to issue fatwas in religious matters as well... If it was religiously permissible in Omar's times, how could it not be now, when the role of a judge itself has altered?"

"Shifaa" is Umm al-Shifaa bint Abdullah, and she was a remarkable woman for her time. An educated woman and a medical doctor (the name "al-Shifaa" is not her given name, and derives from her healing skills), she was one of the first to adopt the Islamic faith, and is numbered among the Companions. During the reign of Caliph Umar, she was appointed administrator of the Medina market, a position that apparently gave her the authority to issue rulings in commercial matters.

There are some sources that describe the stories about al-Shifaa as "not authentic," but most of these seem to have an anti-modernist ax to grind, and al-Shifaa's name is otherwise recognized throughout the Islamic world. I'm interested in further information about this woman; if anyone can point me to a good source, please comment.

Francophobia in Zimbabwe

There's been a great deal of attention paid lately to the growth of anti-French sentiment in the United States due to France's opposition to an American-led invasion of Iraq. Less frequently noted, but no more restrained, is the reaction among democratic-minded Zimbabweans to French President Jacques Chirac inviting Robert Mugabe to Paris. As this op-ed piece in the normally sober Financial Gazette demonstrates, Chirac hasn't scored any points for France among MDC supporters:

France is now confirmed to be like Portugal, Belgium and Greece — just another Eurowimp nation. These countries are led by vacillating, no-brained, soulless leaders that exhibit grand hypocrisy on all matters related to Zimbabwe, and on other major international issues as well.

Of course the decision by the government of France to entertain Mugabe in Paris is an abominable discredit to the French intelligentsia by their government’s efforts to curry favour to themselves. That they need to stoop so low for quasi-friends is indicative of the progressive demise of French values and morality, and their diminished relevance in international affairs.


France keeps ensnaring itself in expensive and futile commitments in insignificant places, and at the moment is no doubt furious that four African countries have been moving towards the Anglo-Saxon sphere of influence. One formerly Portuguese and three of them Francophone. These countries are Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique.

The French, like Mugabe, are somewhat immune to disgrace so they have become impervious to the ramifications of their blatant hypocrisy, immorality, irrelevance and stupidity. Scandals related to corruption and adultery have surrounded the presidents of both countries — so they have much in common with regard to morality and ethics than some may be aware of.

Both leaders have sought re-election to avoid prosecution for not less than corruption. The question so far unresolved is that who is whose whore? After all, Paris is famous for prostitution of all kinds, and not much seems to have morally improved there at any level over the last 100 years.

The author of the article, a "concerned Zimbabwean" living in Pretoria, calls himself "Frog Exposure," and it's interesting to note that the term "Eurowimp" seems to have migrated outside the United States. What's next - Zimbabwean warbloggers?

NOTE AND DISCLAIMER: I most certainly do not endorse the views expressed in the Financial Gazette article, although I'm also less than thrilled about Chirac's apparent embrace of Mugabe.

Tashkent diary

Via Ikram Saeed: a blog written by an American reporter in Uzbekistan.

Summing up

Body and Soul provides a well-researched summary of the situation in Côte d'Ivoire, with some interesting links. (Since she asked for corrections, though, I'll point out that the country's economic downturn occurred before Houphouet-Boigny's death.)

If Israeli politics were normal

"Left" and "right" have unusual meanings in Israel. The overwhelming fact of the Israeli-Arab conflict has, for the most part, resulted in Israeli political parties being arranged from left to right according to their position on the Palestinian question, often without regard to their stance on other issues. Economically, Shinui is to the right of Likud or Shas, but it is rarely referred to as a right-wing party. The Arab parties, similarly, are lumped together with "the left" due to their support for Palestinian national aspiration - but most of them really don't belong there.

Of the five Arab parties that took part in last month's Knesset election, only Hadash and the tiny Marxist party Da'am are left-wing parties as that term is understood in most of the world. In Hadash's case, the picture is also complicated by the fact that it is a binational rather than an Arab party and that it ran as a joint list with the relatively centrist Ta'al movement of MK Ahmed Tibi. The Progressive National Front, led by outgoing MK Hashem Mahameed, might also belong to the left in light of its support for civil rights and restoring the welfare state, but it's a soft-left rather than a hard-left party by international standards.

The other two Arab parties, which account for five of the eight Arab seats in the incoming Knesset, would actually be quite comfortable in the center-right if they ran in Europe. MK Abdelmalik Dehamshe's Ra'am (United Arab List) is a diverse coalition party, but its dominant force is the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. (The northern branch, which is more radical, opposes Arab participation in Israeli elections.) As a religious conservative party which represents a historically disenfranchised group and is led by a well-connected politician who is no stranger to influence peddling, Ra'am is actually more analogous to Shas than to Hadash. Perhaps not coincidentally, Shas did well in some Arab areas last month, particularly in the Triangle and the Negev where Ra'am is also strong.

MK Azmi Bishara's Balad or National Democratic Assembly, which is often considered the most radical of the Israeli Arab parties because of its leader's statements concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict, is actually a secular middle-class movement. Balad is also, in many respects, European in its outlook and program, including its advocacy for EU-style national minority status for Arab Israelis. The words "secular," "middle-class" and "European" immediately call to mind... Shinui. Balad does have some obvious political differences with Shinui, including its lack of support for Zionism and opposition to Arab service in the IDF, but it's not impossible to imagine these positions moderating if a satisfactory solution is found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor is it impossible to imagine Shinui - which currently takes no particular position on the status of the Arab minority - agreeing to some form of national minority status as part of its overall program of secularization and equality.

Could Israel, at some future time, see Balad merge with Shinui, Ra'am run on a joint list with Shas and Hashem Mahameed join Avoda or Am Ehad? All these things will never happen as long as the Palestinian question casts a shadow over Israel - but they might, someday, when Israeli politics becomes normal.

What's wrong with this picture?

One day's news items from Zimbabwe:

Human rights lawyer Gabriel Shumba has fled the country after receiving death threats from figures connected to the ruling ZANU-PF party. Shumba was arrested last month on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government, but a magistrate threw out the charges after finding that he had been tortured in police custody.

Police raided an opposition meeting in a Harare church, arresting a bishop.

The government has scheduled two urban by-elections simultaneously in a deliberate attempt to overextend the resources of the financially strapped opposition.

Two southern African human rights NGOs have condemned a sharp increase in torture since Mugabe's controversial re-election last March.

Prices of government-owned newspapers were sharply increased due to rising printing costs, but the government has forbidden opposition papers from following suit.

Two Zimbabwean cricketers who spoke out against President Robert Mugabe's increasingly dictatorial government face discipline from their clubs and from the national cricket association.

Less than half of land allocated for redistribution as part of Zimbabwe's land reform program has been allotted to farmers, leaving millions of hectares of fertile land lying fallow in the midst of impending famine. Distribution has, not surprisingly, been slowest in Matabeleland, where opposition to the Mugabe government has traditionally been strongest and where the government has deliberately withheld food aid from non-ZANU members.


In Ramallah, Arafat has bowed to international pressure by agreeing to appoint a prime minister, and is expected to appoint "respected technocrat" Salam Fayyad to the position. Fayyad, who is currently finance minister of the Palestinian Authority, has been actively engaged in fighting corruption. It is not clear, though, what the powers of the prime minister will be.

In the meantime, a "senior Likud official" (leaks keep coming a mile a minute in these coalition negotiations, don't they?) said that Sharon would commit to negotiating with the Palestinians if Avoda agreed to join the government for at least two years, and that Avoda could condition its participation in the government on the continuation of talks. This offer, if genuine, still falls far short of Avoda's other demands - including evacuation of illegal settlements - and does not spell out any negotiating positions. Still, with yesterday's telephone conversation between Sharon and Fouad, the two parties seem to be inching closer together, and Mafdal's unacceptable demands are making a right-wing government less probable.

Thursday, February 13, 2003
Bad PR for Ben-Menashe

The contents of Ari Ben-Menashe's public relations contract with the Zimbabwe government may be a secret in the courtroom, but thanks to the opposition Zimbabwe Independent, most of the country knows about it by now. The Independent, picking up on an earlier report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, made the contract's details public even as Judge Paddington Garwe and two assessors were hearing evidence about it in closed session. Among other new details, it was revealed that Ben- Menashe was paid for writing press releases containing some of the allegations to which he is now testifying in court, including releases titled "Tsvangirai attempts assassination of Mugabe" and "Tsvangirai attempts suppression of evidence."

In other testimony today, Ben-Menashe - who called the opposition Movement for Democratic Change a "terrorist organization" - revealed that he was paid $200,000 by the Zimbabwe government before signing the contract. Another $30,000 was paid to his wife, a Québec attorney. Ben-Menashe has been performing services for Robert Mugabe's government for years - among other things, he was the middleman for the illegal Congolese diamonds with which Laurent Kabila paid for Zimbabwean soldiers - but such a large payment made shortly after he turned an allegedly incriminating videotape over to the government is, to say the least, suspicious.

It seems like, before all is said and done, this trial will feature everything except this anagram of Morgan Tsvangirai's name.

El-Gebaly speaks

Egypt's first woman judge, Tehany El-Gebaly, is interviewed in Al-Ahram. She has some interesting things to say about the relationship between Islamic and civil law, the role of women in the legal profession and Arab feminism in general.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Or maybe one called "Condoleezza?"

Salam's latest post is a bittersweet one - he's getting ready for war (with the help of an IDF web site) and understandably worried, but he's looking forward to a (secular) Eid:

The Adha eid is tomorrow, Haj is over and time will be ticking out. The streets are full of people buying Eid treats for kids and preparing for the Eid feast. My parents, because they are from two different environments, have separate traditions for eid I get to choose where to go for the big lunch, which should be after the Eid prayer in the mosque but since I don’t do that I get a couple of extra hours of sleep.

I will most probably spend the first day with my mother’s family. Tastier food, our favorite caterer Abu-Karam is making the stuffed lamb and he will, as always, drop by to see how well his lamb has been received and have a drink with my uncles, besides, around 30 people and 4 generations make a good party. Big family gathering food fest. Yay.

The war will just have to wait.

Salam, if you leave the last line out, you've just described my Seder. I probably place more emphasis on the theological aspect of Passover than you do on the Eid - it's the Feast of Freedom, and that's always been very important to me - but it's one of the two times a year that the whole family is in the same place at the same time. For the past thirty years, the family has divided the occasions up the same way - my parents host the Seder, and my aunt and uncle in Little Neck do Thanksgiving.

Over time, the Seder has become a family occasion rather than a religious one. We aren't very reverent about reading the haggadah - we've all got our asides and editorial comments that we've spent the last twenty years perfecting. There's plenty to eat - my mother's matzah ball soup is famous - and old conversations continued over coffee after dinner.

In all the time my parents have hosted the Seder, I've only missed it once, when I was in boot camp. I look forward to it every year for months. I have a feeling that if I were ever a guest at your Eid, I'd have a good time, even if I only speak a few words of the language.

I also see, Salam, that you haven't stopped finding humor in the situation:

[unrelated funfact: you know the band BUSH ? DJs on the English language radio station in Baghdad (voice of youth) are not allowed to say the name of the band, they have to spell it. “Bee yu ess etch have yet another single out”. I bet all the DJs there thank god there isn’t a band called schwartzkopf, imagine having to spell that everytime you play a song.]

I hope that if I'm ever in a similar place, I'll face it with the same amount of courage and humor. I also hope I'll never have to find out.

Lupolianski or Gaon?

Now that Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has been elected to the Knesset, his deputy, Uri Lupolianski, is set to become Jerusalem's first haredi mayor. Although technically a caretaker, Lupolianski might serve for as long as eight months if Interior Minister Eli Yishai delays municipal elections until October 28 as planned. The prospect of an unelected haredi mayor, however, doesn't sit well with some other members of the city council:

Members of the Jerusalem council have mixed feelings at Lupolianski potentially becoming mayor. The secular members of the council met Sunday at City Hall to discuss a move that could stymie the ultra-Orthodox deputy mayor's promotion. One third of the members announced that they intend to sign a letter, to be presented to Olmert on Friday, in which they demand that, if the municipal elections are delayed until October, Jerusalem hold internal elections to select an candidate acceptable to all parties.

The names of two council members, Shmuel Shekedi (Mafdal) and independent Yehoram Gaon, have been floated as possible compromise candidates. Of these, the most interesting is Gaon, a popular Sephardic actor and singer who holds the culture portfolio in the municipal cabinet. If Gaon is elected instead of Lupolianski, then he won't be Jerusalem's first haredi mayor - but he will be its first Sephardic mayor, not to mention the first mayor to have played Carnegie Hall.

It's coming in

Judge Paddington Garwe of the Zimbabwe High Court has ruled that a lucrative public relations contract between the Zimbabwe government and star prosecution witness Ari Ben-Menashe will be admitted into evidence at Morgan Tsvangirai's treason trial. Prosecutors had sought to preclude evidence of the contract - which was signed a month after Ben-Menashe allegedly videotaped Tsvangirai making incriminating statements - on national security grounds, but Judge Garwe ruled that he was "not obliged to accept [their representations] at face value." The judge did, however, agree to close the courtroom while Ben-Menashe was questioned about the contract.

In the meantime, Ben-Menashe's testimony took a bizarre turn as he explained why he aired the videotape in Australia during the 2002 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference:

Asked why he did not keep the video tape for the purpose of submitting it in court as an exhibit, Mr Ben-Menashe said he wanted to show the 50 heads of state gathering in Australia for the Commonwealth conference that Tsvangirai wanted to commit treason.

"Accused (Tsvangirai) was going around the world making false accusations against His Excellence President Mugabe and the Government," said Mr Ben-Menashe, adding that Tsvangirai and his party were making false and untrue statements about themselves.

Throughout the trial, Ben-Menashe has portrayed himself as an ideological crusader motivated by loyalty to Mugabe and opposition to neo-colonialism. The $1 million he's billed the Zimbabwe government for public relations services in the past year, though, might be closer to the real story.

Côte d'Ivoire on the brink

The first step toward implementing the Côte d'Ivoire peace accord was taken today with Seydou Diarra's installation as Prime Minister. In his first 24 hours in office, Diarra announced his intention to form a "consensus cabinet" including all parties, but this may end up making Sharon's coalition-building difficulties look trivial by comparison. The key disputes are over the defense and interior ministries, which the MPCI rebel faction claims it was promised as part of the accord, but which the security forces vehemently oppose handing over to rebel control. The urgency of the situation is further underscored by reports of fighting in the western part of the country, with rebels and government forces each claiming that the other attacked first.

In the meantime, the Guardian reports on mounting evidence connecting nativist death squads in Abidjan to the Ivoirian government. According to evidence uncovered by international observers and human rights groups, the death squads "appear to be made up of elements close to the government, the presidential guard, and of a tribal militia of President Laurent Gbagbo's ethnic Bete group." As many as 300 people, mostly foreigners or Muslims from northern Côte d'Ivoire, have been killed by the squads, which are believed to be well-organized groups that have lists of people to execute.

Ethnic tensions in the government-held areas have reached the breaking point since the beginning of the rebellion, with radio and television stations broadcasting "messages of incitement to hatred [which] have been compared to the xenophobic radio broadcasts which transmitted messages of hatred in Rwanda." Genocide Watch has issued an urgent alert about the situation in Côte d'Ivoire, declaring that events have reached the stage of preparation for genocide.

No trial for Sharon - for now

The Belgian Court of Cassation upheld a lower-court ruling throwing out a war-crimes indictment against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The prosecution was initiated by a Palestinian group under Belgium's extraordinarily broad war crimes statute, which allows private prosecutions and claims jurisdiction over crimes committed anywhere in the world.

The Belgian decision followed a ruling of the International Court of Justice issued on February 14, 2002, that dismissed a Belgian proceeding against the then-Congolese foreign minister on the ground that a national court did not have jurisdiction over a sitting member of another nation's government. The ICJ ruling, however, left open the possibility that a national court could try a government official of another country for war crimes after he leaves office, and yesterday's Court of Cassation ruling indicated that the case against Sharon could possibly be reopened once he is no longer Prime Minister. The court also held that Amos Yaron, an Israeli general also named in the Palestinian plaintiffs' complaint, was not entitled to governmental immunity, and remanded the case against him for further investigation. This ruling, which is somewhat broader than last year's Brussels Court of Appeal decision, signals the Court of Cassation's intent to exercise the maximum jurisdiction consistent with the limits set by the ICJ.

A Court of Cassation news release concerning the case, in French, is here.

UPDATE: Ha'aretz reports on the ruling.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003
The Tsvangirai payoff?

Ikram Saeed pointed me to a Globe and Mail article about the Morgan Tsvangirai treason trial that probably won't make the news in Zimbabwe:

A contract kept out of evidence in a Zimbabwe treason trial yesterday because it is considered a state secret has been publicly available in North America for months. It shows the star prosecution witness remains a hired mouthpiece for increasingly iron-fisted President Robert Mugabe.

In the past year, Montreal-based consultant Ari Ben Menashe performed various paid public-relations jobs for Mr. Mugabe, which included spreading negative information about the defendant, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The contract - under which Ben-Menashe has billed the Zimbabwe government more than $400,000 - is public information by reason of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which required Ben-Menashe to register as a lobbyist for Mugabe. Ben-Menashe undertook to "create 'goodwill' for the regime and get rid of 'the pariah state label currently attached to Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe government'" - a function he performed in part by writing press releases critical of Tsvangirai.

The contract was signed a month after Ben-Menashe allegedly elicited incriminating statements from Tsvangirai during a videotaped interview.

The Zimbabwe State Security Minister ordered prosecutors not to disclose the contents of the contract for national security reasons. The defense has challenged this position in court, and the trial judge is expected to rule on whether it will be admitted at trial.

Eid Mubarak

A joyous Eid ul-Adha to all my Muslim readers.

Monday, February 10, 2003
The Head Heeb book club

In 1995, I researched an article on 419 frauds and other manifestations of Nigerian organized crime. That research was my first window into a society poised halfway between traditional and modern, struggling to reconcile its indigenous and colonial legacies and to merge traditional culture with modern philosophy. Since then, I've had an abiding fascination with modern Africa.

That may be why I consider Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency one of my more fortunate recent discoveries. As the title suggests, it's a mystery novel, but it's not your mother's Agatha Christie. The novel is set in Botswana, where the author once lived and taught law, and the heroine makes a business of solving her Gaborone neighbors' problems.

The heroine is Mma Ramotswe ("Mma" is Setswana for "Mrs." or "Ma'am"), a miner's daughter who grew up in Botswana's cattle country. She's made some bad choices in life - she's a high school dropout who quit a secure bookkeeping job to marry a wife- beating musician - but, as the story opens, she's grown beyond them and come to terms with her past. She applies a keen intelligence and common sense to solving her cases, and also to her personal life, both of which take some surprising turns in the course of the book.

The most fascinating part of the novel, though, is the glimpses of life in modern Botswana, from the Indian father who seeks Mma Ramotswe's advice about his wayward daughter to the provincial lawyer whose insurance fraud she exposes. Through her father's eyes, we see life in the Johannesburg mines during the apartheid era and, later, in his rural Botswana homestead. All of them are obviously drawn from the author's life in southern Africa, and capture the blessings and contradictions of modern African society almost perfectly.

There are a few sour notes. The author and his character both love Botswana - which is a fine thing, except that both of them spend far too much time telling us. The first chapter, especially, is on the preachy side, but if you keep going, you'll be rewarded for your patience.

Far more glaring to those with knowledge of modern Africa is the fact that AIDS is never mentioned. In a book where much of the action takes place in and around hospitals, set in a country where more than 35 percent of adults are infected with HIV, one would expect more than a single reference to "the disease that kills everyone." Maybe HIV doesn't fit in with the idyllic picture the author tries to draw - or maybe it's simply beyond the power of a private detective to remedy.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is the first of four Mma Ramotswe novels by the same author. The other three - Tears of a Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls and The Kalahari Typing School for Men - are also available in the United States.

More milestones

Within the past 24 hours, The Head Heeb has had its 10,000th recorded hit and its 700th Haloscan comment. Congratulations to Alisa and all other visitors.

Sunday, February 09, 2003
Evangelical Zionism: the real thing

Zack Ajmal has made an amazing discovery: the southern African nation of Swaziland is 40 percent Zionist! No, the Swazis aren't political Zionists, but members of Zionist churches, mixed Protestant-animist denominations that "are characterised by a commitment to faith-healing, to river-baptism (in a 'Jordan' river or sea) and to the Pentecostalist gift of speaking in tongues."

The term "Zionist" has nothing to do with Israel; instead, it reflects the connection between the Zionist churches and the Christian Catholic Church of Zion, Illinois. Many of the early Christian Catholic leaders were South African, and one of them, P.L. Le Roux, performed missionary work among the Swazis and Zulus during the early 1900s. Le Roux was also attracted by the Pentecostal tradition, which continued to play a prominent place in African Zionism after Daniel Nkonyane took over leadership of the church in 1908. By the 1920s, the Zionist churches had begun to integrate aspects of animist worship and "to share the look of prophetic churches, donning distinctive white robes, carrying prophetic staffs and observing the same kind of food taboos as the prophetic churches did."

There are Zionists today throughout southern Africa, although they continue to be strongest in Swaziland and KwaZulu. South African professor Gerhardus Oosthuizen places them in the family of African Independent Churches" (AICs), also known as "African-Instituted Churches," which "have their origin "in the missionary activities of nonmainstream American religious movements in the late nineteenth century." Other AICs include the "Ethiopian churches," which combine evangelical Christianity with African nationalism and a desire for local control of religion, and explicitly Pentecostal Apostolic churches. Total AIC membership in modern Africa may total 83 million. The Zionist churches of Africa, however, have nothing to do with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, an African-American Methodist denomination which was founded in 1796, predating the AICs by more than a century.

There may be a few of the other kind of Zionist in Swaziland as well. Relations between Swaziland and Israel have always been good, and there is a small Jewish community of 60 to 70 members, most of them in the capital city of Mbabane. This community is an eclectic one composed of Israelis, South African Jews and descendants of refugees from Nazi Germany who were settled in Swaziland after South Africa refused to take them. There is little anti-Semitism in Swaziland, and Jews have been prominent in the business and legal communities; one of them, Stanley Sapire, was Chief Justice of the Swazi Court of Appeal before resigning last year to protest royal interference in the judicial system.

Patriot Act II

I don't think there's anything I can say about this abomination that others haven't said already. Take ten minutes, write your Congressman and help make sure this draft legislation never becomes more than that.