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, March 08, 2003
The thousandth comment

The long-awaited thousandth Haloscan comment has arrived, and Randy McDonald is the lucky author.

This seems as good a time as any to take stock of how far The Head Heeb has come. In the 92 days since I announced this blog to the public, it's had 15,297 recorded hits. Judging by the ratio of page views to unique visits on my backup referral log, that represents more than 10,000 visitors, or about two hours' traffic for Instapundit. I've about doubled my traffic since December; I'm averaging about 130 unique visitors and 200 page views a day. It's rare for me to get fewer than 110 or more than 150, which suggests a stable readership.

I think the readership is my favorite part. I've been visited by many intelligent, articulate people from 37 countries and Antarctica. My comment board has been the scene of many conversations - some heated, most friendly and all interesting. I'm visited by an eclectic mix of Jews, Christians and Muslims; Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Asians; radical leftists and red-meat conservatives; British-Israelis and niqabi feminists.

This is my blog, and I do things my way, but an audience like mine deserves consideration. I'd like you to let me know your favorite - and least favorite - things about The Head Heeb, and what you'd like to see more and less often. I won't guarantee that suggestions will be taken, but any ideas that will keep this blog going for the next thousand comments will certainly be appreciated.

Abu Mazen's future

Arafat has nominated Mahmoud Abbas, better known as Abu Mazen, for the post of Palestinian prime minister. The Palestinian legislature is expected to approve his appointment today and vote Monday on the powers that come with the job. Abu Mazen has said that he won't accept the post unless it comes with "real power," but considerable skepticism remains as to how much authority Arafat is willing to yield.

Although Abu Mazen isn't a fresh face like Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, he is well-connected in the Israeli left and is widely considered part of the Palestinian peace faction. He was one of the primary authors of the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, a plan for transition to a Palestinian state that was drafted on October 31, 1995 but never implemented due to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination four days later. More recently, he has been among those calling for a "demilitarization" of the intifada for a one-year trial period. Although he's an old Fatah hand with close personal ties to Arafat, Sharon has been willing to meet with him.

Will Abu Mazen's appointment lead to progress? I'll believe it when I see it. Even if he has the best of intentions - and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on that for the moment - his effectiveness will be circumscribed by Arafat and Sharon, both of whom I've long since stopped giving that benefit. If Arafat insists on reducing the prime minister to a figurehead, or if Sharon fails to reward reform with real improvement in Palestinians' daily lives, the momentum for further reform is likely to stall.

Curiously enough, though, the first thing that occurred to me upon hearing of Abu Mazen's nomination didn't have anything to do with politics. "Abu Mazen" is, of course, a kunya, or honorific name, meaning "father of Mazen." In many Arab communities, the most commonly used name is the kunya, which can either derive from the name of a man's eldest son or be traditionally associated with his own given name. Arafat himself is often known by his kunya, Abu Amar.

The American media, however, has a minor tradition of confusing Arabs' kunyas with their family names. Some American newspapers have referred to Abu Mazen in the past as Mr. Mazen, and even the State Department has done it. The New York Times, whose stylebook calls for using Anglo- American titles regardless of whether they are culturally appropriate, has referred to al-Qaeda figure Abu Zubaydeh as "Mr. Zubaydeh," and there's even been an occasional reference to "Mr. (Abu) Nidal." So, regardless of whether Abu Mazen can bring reform to Palestine, he's likely to highlight the need for it in American newspaper stylebooks.

Giving peace a chance

There's a new peace deal in Côte d'Ivoire. Ghanaian president John Kufuor, who has consistently been the most successful of the many outsiders who have attempted to mediate the Ivorian crisis, persuaded the rebel factions to drop their controversial demands for the defense and interior portfolios. Instead, the country's security forces will be controlled by "a joint security council comprising the president, the prime minister, representatives of political parties, the army and the police."

There have been many false starts in the past, but this agreement might actually hold. The defense and interior ministries had been the major sticking point, with neither side willing to yield exclusive control over the security forces to the other. With Kufuor's compromise, the rebels won't be able to use the military as a springboard for a coup, and the government won't be able to renege at gunpoint after the rebels disarm. If the national unity government results in a reconsideration of the government's xenophobic ivoirité policy, there's a fair chance of undoing some of the damage done to the Ivorian national fabric over the past decade.

Friday, March 07, 2003
But he was pre-empted by Friends

Ikram Saeed reveals that Allah has gone on record.

More Kenya abortion fallout

Joe Kadhi fears that Health Minister Charity Ngilu's support for legalized abortion will bring American-style abortion politics to Kenya:

Those who back legalisation of abortion in Kenya will soon be described as monsters. In the United States, pro-life organisations distribute photographs of bodies of babies ripped from their mothers' wombs to win supporters.

Abortion rights are also serious political issues in America, where voters either back or oppose a pro-life or pro-abortion candidate. Pro-abortion candidates are sometimes openly called murderers who try to rationalise their crime by talking about women's human rights.

With approximately 250,000 illegal abortions performed in Kenya each year, the issue is likely to take on some urgency.

Another Anglo-Israeli blog

Added to the blogroll: Watching the World from Ra'anana by Allison Kaplan Sommer, who describes her home town as "a suburb north of Tel Aviv, home to many immigrants from English-speaking countries." Mrs. Sommer is also the editor of Israel21c, a site that focuses on non-conflict-related news about Israel.

This century's fault line?

Is the real "clash of civilizations" between nationalist and post-nationalist societies? Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit, discusses Europe's views of America and Israel.

Thursday, March 06, 2003
Good News from Palestine, part 4

Students from 83 elementary schools in the Gaza Strip participated in the Ibda'a Garden Contest, which included competitions in "short story, poetry, expression, the song, writing and drawing."

Al-Quds University has announced a plan to expand its facilities to match those of world-class Arab universities, improve its research capacity and open branches abroad to serve students in the Palestinian diaspora.

The intifada hasn't stopped Palestinian women from succeeding in the clothing business.

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

Egyptian journey

Benny Ziffer writes about being an Israeli tourist in Alexandria.

Tit for tat in Southeast Asia

Tensions between Cambodia and Thailand, already high after the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh was destroyed by rioters last July, are increasing in the wake of Hun Sen's closure of the border:

Hun Sen said Cambodia closed the border after incidents in Thailand in which a Cambodian had been shot dead and another seven wounded by Thai security forces and landmines.


``The Cambodian people are permitted to buy goods inside Thailand but the Thais do not bring their goods to sell in Cambodia,'' he said. ``It is not equal and not just to have that kind of relationship in trade. It makes it seem as if Khmers are beggars.''

The Cambodian government would treat Thais as the Thai government treated Cambodians.

Cambodia accuses the Thai government of demanding excessive reparations for damage caused in the July 29 riots and banning Thai citizens from traveling to Cambodia. The Thai Foreign Minister claims that Cambodia's complaints are one-sided and that it is not doing enough to protect Thai citizens on its territory.

Uncertain ancestry

Yair Sheleg discusses the history of the Falashmura.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Tilting at constitutional windmills?

The Nigerian legislature has outlawed military coups:

The House in a motion on the Senate bill entitled "Prohibition of Unconstitutional Takeover of Government (and Other Ancillary Matters Bill), Senate Bill 108 moved by Hon. Ita Enang averred that the bill seeks to strengthen section [1(2)] of the 1999 Constitution over forceful overthrow of government.

Enang noted that "section one of the Senate bill seeks to make it an offence for anybody to forcefully overthrow a constitutional government," adding that "this is in line with what the constitution said."

On its face, this law seems about as effective as the famous provision of the Chicago Municipal Code making it a misdemeanor to deploy or launch nuclear weapons inside the city limits. It is highly doubtful that any future coup plotters will be deterred by the thought of legal consequences, not least because they will control the courts and law enforcement agencies in the event that they succeed. On the other hand, if the Nigerian bill is signed into law and the worst comes to pass, it might be valuable in clarifying the legal situation after the military government falls.

One of the messiest legal problems after an extra-constitutional government falls is sorting out the legality of its actions, not to mention the continuing validity - if any - of the pre-coup constitution and laws. In many cases, courts have responded by adopting the theories espoused by legal positivist Hans Kelsen in his General Theory of Law and State, which held that a successful revolution creates its own legality and destroys any pre-existing constitutional order. Others, while not fully adopting Kelsen, have cloaked the acts of military governments with legality under other rationales.

This has, at times, led to anomalies such as the case of Ekwam v. Pianim. Kwame Pianim was a Ghanaian presidential candidate in the 1996 election, whose candidacy was challenged by a rival member of his party on the ground that he had been convicted of an offense against the security of the state. In fact, Pianim had been imprisoned by military authorities in 1983 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. His attorneys argued that it was ridiculous to bar his candidacy on the basis of a political conviction under a military government - but the Supreme Court of Ghana, by a vote of 3-2, held that the conviction had been lawfully imposed. A promising political career was cut short because of a legal technicality exploited by a Machiavellian rival.

Perhaps as a result of incidents like this, Ghana may now be the only country whose constitution makes provision for its own overthrow. Section 3(5) of the constitution currently in force provides that resisting the overthrow of the constitutional order is not a crime and that, upon restoration of constitutional rule, political convictions imposed during military rule shall become void. In essence, the Ghanaian constitution makes a statement that, even if future coups cannot be avoided, the political persecutions of would-be dictators will not survive their fall. The bill now under discussion in the Nigerian legislature will perform a similar function - it won't stop coups, but it will make clear that the acts of extra-constitutional governments are not entitled to recognition once the rule of law is restored.

The Kenyan religious right

Church and business leaders are up in arms over legal abortion, proclaiming loudly that abortion is murder and that government funds are better spent on abstinence education. Mississippi? The Bush White House? No - Kenya.

The furor arose after Charity Ngilu, a former presidential candidate who became Health Minister after the opposition won the December 2002 election, advocated legalized abortion during a speech to the Africa division of International Planned Parenthood. Ngilu, an educated entrepreneur and feminist, "was emphatic that every woman has a right to control her own sexuality, fertility, health and well being adding that reproductive health was a human rights issue which should be prioritised." In Kenya, as in many African countries, abortion is illegal except when the mother's life is in danger or where there is a "strong need" to protect her health.

Ngilu is now finding out, however, that feminism may be a less potent force in Kenya than evangelical Christianity. The East African Standard described the reaction to Ngilu's speech as "mixed," but in fact every comment quoted in its report was negative, some vehemently so. Nearly every major Christian denomination in Kenya - where 75 to 80 percent of the population is Christian, and where half the Christians are evangelical - weighed in against legalized abortion within days. Not surprisingly, the Catholic episcopal conference made sure to "let Hon Ngilu and the likes know that they are headed for an endless battle with pro-lifers in the world," but the Anglican church - hardly known for fire-breathing anti-abortion activism in the West - was nearly as adamant. Even many women's organizations lined up against Ngilu; the leader of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, an umbrella organization that includes many church-affiliated women's groups, said that she "will never support abortion, even if the minister is leading a crusade on its legalisation." The organization "has started abortion programs in three districts, but the aim of those programs is "to educate young girls on abortion and its dangers" rather than to legalize the procedure.

As evangelical Christianity continues to grow in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World, scenes like this are likely to become more common. All the attention right now is on the growth of Islam, but traditional, conservative forms of Christianity are also making tremendous gains, and are becoming increasingly involved in politics. Evangelical Christianity has played a part in movements as diverse as Pacific Island nationalism, sectarian violence in Nigeria, and Latin American land reform. Look at the American religious right, and see one of the possible futures of the Third World.

Perspective on peace

Senegal's foreign minister discusses what went wrong with the Côte d'Ivoire peace negotiations, and how matters could still be saved at tomorrow's meeting of all factions in Ghana.

A moment of silence...

... for the 15 dead and 40 wounded in this afternoon's suicide bombing of a Haifa bus.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Noticed around the blogosphere

Ampersand discusses John Ashcroft's plan to deny asylum to victims of domestic abuse.

Haggai Elitzur takes on Bush's lack of urgency on North Korea and why Oslo wasn't a Trojan horse.

The View from Here explains why Tzachi Hanegbi should not become Israel's Internal Security Minister.

Salam takes us on a virtual tour of Baghdad's Kadhmia district.

Iranian Girl translates a poem by Forugh Farrokhzad.

FESPACO winner

Mauritanian director Abderrahman Sissako's film Heremakono ("Waiting for Happiness") has won the coveted Stallion of Yenenga award at the annual FESPACO African film festival.

The semiotics of dissent

Via Electrolite: Umberto Eco discusses war, terrorism, Europe and America in Ha'aretz.

The circus is back in town

Ari Ben-Menashe is back in Zimbabwe, and the Tsvangirai treason trial has resumed. Today's controversy: Will Ben-Menashe have to disclose the identity of his travel agent?

Monday, March 03, 2003
Cease-fire in Uganda

The Lord's Resistance Army, one of the most atrocity-prone rebel forces in Africa, has declared a cease-fire. The LRA, which is commanded by charismatic leader Joseph Kony, makes widespread use of child soldiers and has been implicated in massacres, mutilation, rape, sexual slavery and cooperation with the Rwandan interahamwe. The Ugandan government has offered an amnesty as part of a peace settlement, and anticipates that negotiations will begin soon.

Although some sort of deal with the devil seems inevitable given Uganda's inability to defeat the LRA on the battlefield, it is to be hoped that negotiations will not lead to a power-sharing agreement such as the late Lomé accord between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. Power-sharing agreements have often not been honored by atrocity-prone factions, and have broken down at the cost of further civil war. If the Ugandan government can reach an agreement providing for amnesty and internationally supervised disarmament, then the sacrifice of justice for the LRA victims and their families might have a point, but an unstable government that includes LRA representatives might ultimately prove worse than the disease.

Interior housecleaning

It looks like there will be some changes at the Israeli Interior Ministry now that Shinui MK Avraham Poraz has taken over:

Poraz said he wanted to institute civil marriage for anyone who wants it but, due to his party's agreement with the National Religious Party, it will only be available to those who cannot marry according to Jewish law.

He said he believes the Interior Ministry's power to shut down newspapers is anachronistic, and he will therefore review Yishai's decision to shut down the Islamic Movement's paper on the grounds that it incites violence.

He said he also opposes Yishai's decision to strip Israeli Arabs accused of involvement in terror attacks of their citizenship, and would look into how other Western countries deal with this issue. In any case, he said, the rule would be the same for Arabs and Jews, "since we have also produced a few spies."

Poraz will also revisit outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai's decision to allow the 20,000-member Falashmura community of Ethiopia to emigrate.

The halacha of intellectual property

Al-Muhajabah links to a number of interesting fatwas about the Islamic law of copyright. The fatwas reach similar conclusions - that "knowledge is a common property" but that copyrights should be honored out of respect for contracts and the moral rights of the author.

In this, as in many other things, Jewish and Islamic law are similar. Jewish law likewise recognizes the benefits of sharing knowledge, but according to Jewish Law and Copyright by Rabbi Israel Schneider, rabbinical authorities recognized a form of copyright as early as the fifteenth century:

A cursory scan of seventeenth through nineteenth century rabbinical haskamot (approbations), customarily printed in the prefatory section of rabbinic works, will reveal that these approbations served two distinct purposes. Firstly, the writer of the approbation would put a "seal of approval" on the work by testifying to the erudition and competence of the author. Secondly, the rabbinic authority would declare a ban against publication, for a fixed period of time, of the same work by another publisher. Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer) theorizes that the prevalence of this practice can be traced to a sixteenth century incident which involved two publications of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah by two competing publishers.

The practice began even earlier than that, however; Rabbi Schneider notes that "between 1499 and 1850, 3,662 haskamot were issued and appended to books and religious works."

The Jewish Association for Business Ethics applies another rationale to halachic protection of intellectual property, deriving from the concept of dina malchuta dina ("the law of the land is the law"):

While our Sages saw the benefit of sharing intellectual ideas without limit and of not requiring payment for their use, the situation in which many people derive financial benefit from the intellectual work and innovation of others is one in which we follow the laws of the land.

Furthermore, we often find recorded by our Sages and our traditions that we have a responsibility to recognise the creators of concepts. Accordingly, if one is repeating a Torah thought, one has a responsibility to identify the name of the person in whose name it was originally said. This corresponds to the "moral right" of an author or creator to be named as such, which is found in copyright law.

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir and Michael Gros of the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility provide another perspective, arguing that "the main role of Jewish law also is to legitimize the right of the Jewish community or the secular government to grant property rights:"

The legal tools for such legitimization are clearly present. Traditional Jewish law recognizes the right of the government to grant monopolies. Moral as well as legal authority can be inferred from the likeness to tolls. Our Sages saw paying tolls as an archetypical example of the citizen's duty to obey the law, and emphasized the importance of avoiding even the appearance of evading this duty. From an ethical point of view, the same approach should apply as well to the citizen's duty to recompense the owner of a copyright.

In some respects, in fact, Rabbi Meir and Gros argue for a conception of intellectual property that is broader than the civil law, holding that the moral rights of authors who have mistakenly allowed their intellectual property protections to lapse should still be respected. It seems clear, though, that intellectual property is protected by halacha, and that the weight of rabbinical authority has supported the rights of authors even before Western civil law began to develop a comprehensive intellectual property regime.

Comparative inequality

Amnon Rubinstein continues his discussion of the educational gaps between Jewish and Arab Israelis, comparing them to disparities between ethnic groups in Britain and the United States. You may be surprised by which country comes off best, although, as Rubinstein notes, there's still plenty of work for the Israeli government to do in order to achieve equal opportunity.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Second request

I'd like to direct my international visitors to this post, and invite them again to comment on what makes their countries home.

UPDATE: Fixed the link.

Notes from the classroom, part 2

Most traditional law school curricula include courses called evidence and trial advocacy. Evidence is a lecture course focusing on the rules of evidence and their treatment in American courts; trial advocacy is a more practical class centered on mock- courtroom exercises in which students approach specific legal problems.

Strangely enough, most law schools don't require either of these courses. Both evidence and courtroom advocacy are fundamental to the practice of law, but American law schools have long since ceased to think of themselves as trade schools that train legal practitioners. To many law faculties, law is one of the humanities rather than a profession, and except for a few very basic foundation classes, practical coursework isn't required.

Only a fool would graduate law school without taking evidence and trial advocacy, though, and I like to think I'm not a fool. I took them both, and two things about them impressed me. The two courses cover a great deal of the same territory, and I learned a great deal more about evidence in trial advocacy than in my original evidence class.

It's not surprising that much of the subject matter would be the same. Evidence class covers the rules for admitting exhibits and examining witnesses, and courtroom lawyers have to know how to do both. Like many people, I also learn best by doing; the rules of evidence came alive to me much more when I had to think on my feet and use them in a courtroom setting than when I was sitting in the back row of a lecture hall. And that's without even considering how much fun trial advocacy was - of all the classes I took in law school, it was the only one where I was ever disappointed not to be called on.

One of the advantages of teaching law at an undergraduate level, as I'm doing now, is that I have more flexibility; I don't have to teach a course exactly the way it would be taught in a law school. Thus, although I'm teaching an evidence class, I'm including many of the things I did in trial advocacy. I've divided the last few classes into two periods; in the first half of the class, I discuss the rules of evidence, and in the second, the students work with them in the roles of lawyers and witnesses. The fact patterns I give them are somewhat simpler than those that were given to me in law school - the first two were too simple and left critical facts out, but I think I've managed to strike a happy medium in the most recent ones.

For the most part, it's worked. The role-playing hasn't gone as smoothly as in a trial advocacy class where the students know the rules of evidence coming in, and sometimes I have to take over for a minute to get it back on track. The students are into it, though - they come prepared, and my main problem is stopping the discussion that follows each session rather than starting it. Learning to teach is as much trial and error as anything else, but I'm starting to build my fund of experience.

Balkan movies

Dragan Antulov discusses the future of the Croatian film industry.