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 15, 2003
Haloscan does it again

Haloscan is once again doing "routine maintenance," which, unlike everyone else, they can't seem to do without taking the whole system offline. Their homepage now claims to have commenting restored, but some recent comments are "temporarily" missing and the admin page isn't working. Hopefully this won't take as long to resolve as the last few times; they always seem to encounter problems when they bring the system back up.

UPDATE: The comment system is working again, but the last two days' comments are gone. The Haloscan homepage assures me this is a temporary condition and that they will soon be restored - but, if last time is any guide, the restoration of the March 14 and 15 comments will wipe out all the new ones. Accordingly, I've archived today's comments and, if necessary, I'll repost them in the names of their original authors. If you do not want your comment reposted, please let me know.

The Fellah family

Avner Avrahami profiles an Israeli Bedouin family living in the Galilee. It's an interesting picture, and they seem to be fairly typical of the Bedouin Israelis who live in recognized villages. Like most Bedouin men, husband Razal is an IDF veteran (he "loved the army" but had to retire on disability) and, like most Bedouin women, wife Wafa is very traditional (she's a housewife who married in twelfth grade, "knows her work and doesn't spoil herself"). They enjoy life and very clearly consider themselves Israeli, but feel like they are "hana wamana - neither here nor there" with respect to the intifada.

Friday, March 14, 2003
New to the blogroll

Found in the blogosphere: Moorish Girl, the journal of a Moroccan-American (by way of France and London) now residing in Los Angeles. Her dislikes include:

mayonnaise, the 405 freeway, incompetence, st*arb*cks coffee, hiking, envy, bigots disguised as pundits, anything by James Cameron, chocolate ice cream, Sharon and Arafat, strangers who touch my hair, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, smoking, people who make me spell my name five times--four times is plenty, CNN and Fox News, okra, sanctions that cause people but not dictators to suffer, mean little dogs, dentists, the commercialization of suffering, unquestioning allegiance.

Her opposition to mayonnaise is enough by itself to make me like her, but she also writes some very intelligent commentary, including Moroccan events like the recent conviction of 14 heavy metal musicians for satanism. (Don't worry, it looks like the conviction will be thrown out after public outcry.)

UPDATE: Her site also includes a 12-step guide to making stereotypical movies about Arabs:

Step 7: Have them threaten to blow something up. Great care must be used in the threat scene. The danger must be clear and immediate. It is best if an innocent protagonist is directly and unknowingly a target of the terrorist attack. In all cases, you must make it clear that the motive has to do with holy war.

Step 8: Have a prayer scene. This follows directly from Step 7. If unsure what the procedure for prayers is, include enough kneeling and prostrating to make it all look believable. Besides, the only ones who would know what the actual prayers look like are the world’s one billion Muslims, and none of those count as your target demographic anyway.

Step 9: If your movie is set in a plane, do not worry, because you can still have the protagonists pray in the aisles.

Everything she writes
is like that. Go read.

Forum on anti-Semitism

Front Page Magazine has a very interesting symposium on anti-Semitism and the left. Of the four participants, Leonard Dinnerstein probably comes closest to expressing my opinions on the matter.

Another step back from the brink?

Côte d'Ivoire's national unity government was inaugurated yesterday, but the MPCI rebels and some opposition parties missed the meeting. That may not be as bad as it sounds; the rebels cited logistical reasons for their failure to attend, and promised to take part in future Cabinet sessions.

Two other problems are likely to be more substantive. The list of ministers unveiled yesterday didn't include the controversial defense and interior portfolios. The peace accord that resulted in the national unity government was almost scuttled last month by the rebels' insistence on these two slots, and was resolved at the eleventh hour by an agreement to place the security forces under a multiparty committee. The ministers will presumably play a leading role in this committee, though, and it's necessary to sort out the leadership of the military and police as soon as possible, because the rebels aren't likely to disarm until acceptable ministers are appointed.

The size of the cabinet might also be a problem. There are 41 ministers, which would be unwieldy even under normal circumstances; in a national unity government composed of feuding parties, existing factionalisms are likely to be compounded by jurisdictional battles and overlapping mandates.

Fortunately, the new government has to accomplish only two things. First, it has to remove the restrictions on citizenship, voting rights and land tenure that have disenfranchised much of the Muslim population in northern and western Côte d'Ivoire. Second, it has to create the infrastructure for democratic elections, preferably sooner rather than later. Whether it has the will to do those things - and whether it can last long enough to do them - will determine the future of the country.

Judicial reform in Egypt?

Gamal Mubarak, the chairman of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party and the son of President Hosni Mubarak, has announced that Egypt might abolish state security courts. These courts, which were created by emergency legislation following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, have frequently been used as a parallel justice system to try political cases. The security courts have become something of an embarrassment to the Egyptian government, especially in the wake of the Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim trial. If the courts are indeed abolished - and many opposition MPs will believe that when they see it, although others regard Mubarak's initiative as sign of democratization within the party - it will go a long way toward normalizing Egyptian civil society.

A palatable protest

Most of you probably know this already, but tomorrow is International Eat an Animal for PETA Day, so designated by Meryl Yourish in response to PETA's "Holocaust On Your Plate" campaign. I've made no secret of my misgivings about the iconization of the Holocaust, but I nevertheless find this campaign more than mildly offensive, not least because it implicitly equates the victims of the Nazis with animals.

And besides, Meryl's protest has a certain style. I have a contrary streak myself, and I once did something similar in high school. It was during my senior year, and I had a teacher who was particularly obnoxious about National Smoke-Out Day, seeking out students that she knew to be smokers and haranguing them in front of the class. I'm not a smoker and I never have been, but I don't care for moralizing busybodies - so when Smoke-Out Day arrived, I walked into class, sat down and calmly lit a cigarette. I'd never smoked before, and I never have since.

I think I'll have steak for dinner tomorrow. Unlike my senior-year cigarette, I probably would have done so anyway, but this time it's political.

Thursday, March 13, 2003
ZANU after Mugabe

Zimbabwean political science professor Masipule Sithole wonders whether the struggle to succeed Robert Mugabe might democratize ZANU:

There has never been open competition for the position of first secretary and president of the party since Mugabe became leader of ZANU PF in 1976. That party has never had a leadership succession.

Mugabe has remained the unchallenged leader of his party for the past 27 years. He has been leader of his party by acclamation since 1976.

But one suspects Mugabe’s popularity within the party, as has happened within the country at large, has also declined appreciably over the years and he has remained at the helm by insulating his position through all manner of stratagems known to authoritarian parties and regimes since Stalin.


Facing a popular opposition party and massive international pressures to democratise, ZANU PF has to find a way to come up with someone with wider appeal not only to the generality of the ruling party membership but to the country as a whole. It’s no longer who Mugabe wants; rather it’s who the party and ultimately the country want who will succeed him as leader.

It is in this fashion that recent talk about "exit" plans and the denials and other speculations and posturing thereof have to be understood. The blocked transition to democracy in Zimbabwe is leading to democratic pressures within ZANU PF itself as aspirants lean more towards popular appeal than to the incumbent leader.

The idea of ZANU democratizing after Mugabe is an appealing one, not least because a political system with two healthy democratic parties is better than a system with only one. At the moment, Zimbabwean democrats have no choice but to accept the MDC package, whether or not they agree with its policies. The overarching conflict between democracy and dictatorship means that there is no real debate over the MDC's economic and social platform. If ZANU were to evolve into a social-democratic alternative to the MDC rather than a personal platform for Mugabe and his cronies, Zimbabwe would be well on its way to a vibrant democratic political culture.

It's far from unprecedented for a dictator's party to evolve in a more democratic direction after his death or retirement. The PRI is one of the most striking examples; many of the Communist successor parties in eastern Europe have also made the democratic transition, and so has the Kuomintang. It's entirely possible that the post-Mugabe shakeup in ZANU will lead it in the same direction - and, with Obasanjo's surprise announcement that he is joining the anti-Mugabe bandwagon, the time to start thinking about that is now.

The fall of Prince Brian

The king - or rather the price - of advance fee frauds received a three and a half year sentence yesterday in a Federal courtroom in Manhattan.

Brian Sherry, a former United States Army paratrooper who liked to be known as "Prince Brian," was convicted last August of stealing more than $2.5 million in an advance fee scheme reminiscent of Nigerian 419 fraud. Unlike the classic 419 scam artists, however, Prince Brian didn't work via fax or e-mail. He met his victims face to face, and did so in style.

Sherry and his associates - who also assumed noble titles - claimed to represent a nineteenth-century German banking house called the Badische Trust, which had purportedly been granted authority to administer the wealth of a mythical African kingdom. According to evidence produced in court, this power was conferred by a "Special Deed of Trust" signed by "His Majesty King Henri Francois Mazzamba, Sovereign Ruler of the Kingdom of Mombessa, situated in the Republic of the Congo." The deed, which bore a royal seal issued in the "City of Mondimbi," appointed Badische trustee over "the great wealth of [the] Kingdom," including "land, gold, diamonds and other assets within and upon the earth... estimated to be in excess of 50 billion US dollars."

After concocting the deed of trust, the Badische associates offered to provide loans of up to $500 million to private and institutional investors. In a memorandum that was later entered into evidence, Sherry ordered his confederates to wear gold pocket watches, hats and gloves and exude a "superior attitude, sophistication, grace and charm" when meeting with clients. The Badische web site claimed $65 million in assets and included pictures of Sherry with Charles de Gaulle and John Paul II. With the aid of unsuspecting public figures - including former South African ambassador Jim Stewart - who were recruited to serve on the Badische board, Sherry secured loan applications from numerous wealthy investors. That, of course, is where the advance fee scam kicked in - there was always one more piece of paperwork to be completed, and one more expense to be paid, before the loan could be fully capitalized.

Sherry's scheme was remarkable not only for its audacity but for its superficial plausibility. Unlike the standard 419 fraud, the victims were not led to believe that they were participating in illegal activities, and Sherry's claims could withstand a cursory check. "Badische Trust" is an unremarkable geographic name - "Badische" means "from Baden." Even those who dug a little deeper and investigated the banking house's supposed nineteenth-century origin might have been fooled - there is indeed an institution called the Badische Bank (now known as BW-Bank) which was founded in 1871 as the note-issuing bank for the Grand Duchy of Baden. Putative victims might be forgiven for assuming that the Badische Trust was an offshoot of the ducal bank.

Mombessa and Mondimbi also exist, although their royal credentials are pure fantasy and they are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The former is a region in central Congo, and the latter is the name of both a village and a river. The village of Mondimbi was pictured on a Belgian Congo stamp issued in 1937; it is possible that Sherry remembered the name from a childhood stamp collection. Needless to say, though, Mombessa was never a kingdom, and the fortune of $50 billion - twice the annual GDP of the Democratic Republic of the Congo - was a phantom.

Ever since the original "Spanish Prisoner" con was developed centuries ago, advance fee frauds have been a study in human gullibility. In at least some cases, though, they are also a study in criminal ingenuity and imagination.

A judge's perspective

Former Israeli Supreme Court President Meir Shamgar has some interesting things to say about the state of the Israeli judiciary.

Featured blogs

One of the most interesting recent additions to the blogroll is Bin Gregory Productions, written by an American Muslim living in Malaysia. Don't miss his article about Malaysian nasheed music, including translated lyrics.

And how could I not link to Africapundit? (Via The Talking Dog, who also has the best one-paragraph takedown of Den Beste that I've ever seen.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Is this what an Instaburst feels like?

Thanks to Calpundit, Arthur Silber, Jim Henley, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Body and Soul and everyone else who linked to my comparison of the terror and drug wars for my first thousand-hit day (all right, a thousand page views). All new readers are welcome to stay and comment; you won't find much else about the war (either of them), but I cover an eclectic variety of subjects, and there are usually some interesting and educated discussions taking place in the comment threads.

Sideshow in Harare

While the Tsvangirai treason case drags on, a related trial is under way in a magistrate's court a few doors down - the prosecution of Sedweak Mupazviripo for attempted assault. Last month, Mupazviripo - a member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, of which Tsvangirai is leader - broke into the courtroom where Tsvangirai was being tried and charged at star prosecution witness Ari Ben-Menashe. In a trial that has been marked by outbursts and political theater, Mupazviripo's assault was among the most dramatic:

"He approached the witness and started shouting at Mr Ben-Menashe on top of his voice accusing him of trying to fix Tsvangirai while poking his spectacles with a finger." Cst Bundu said.

"It was at this point that a Central Intelligence Organisation agent intervened and pushed him away," she said.

According to court officers who testified today, Mupazviripo also "accused Mr Ben-Menashe of having been bribed by the Government to testify against MDC leaders." Mupazviripo is likely to learn his own fate long before Tsvangirai's is determined, though; the prosecution expects to finish its case against him tomorrow.

Djindjic killed

Serbia has reportedly declared a state of emergency after the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic earlier today. It is not immediately clear who killed Djindjic, although he is considered pro-Western and an enemy of radical Serb nationalism.

UPDATE: Dragan Antulov comments from Croatia.

Swaziland at the crossroads

The Kingdom of Swaziland is assessing the results of an unprecedented meeting, or indaba, to resolve the differences between the country's government and its courts.

Ever since the late King Sobhuza II revoked the constitution and assumed absolute power in 1973, Swaziland has been one of the world's few remaining traditional monarchies. The current monarch, Mswati III, has made some concessions to democratic rule, allowing elected local governments and a parliament of sorts, but these concessions have been few and grudging. Ten of the 65 members of the National Assembly are appointed by the king, and the other 55 are elected by village councils through a nonpartisan process that ensures royal control. The king also appoints two thirds of the Senate and the entire cabinet, and has claimed the power to rule by decree.

Throughout this time, one branch of the Swazi government - the judiciary - has been notable for its independence. Like many small countries in Africa and the Pacific, Swaziland relies on foreign judges due to the relatively small pool of local lawyers and the potential for family and professional conflicts if local judges rule on appeals. Currently, the six members of the Swaziland Court of Appeal are all on loan from South Africa - a circumstance that gives them a substantial amount of insulation from royal influence. The Swazi judges are also grounded in the British common law tradition under which the courts have authority apart from that of the state they serve, and under which the function of the courts includes the restraint of arbitrary government.

Swazi democrats have used the independence of the courts as both a sword and a shield, going to court to repel royal attacks on civil liberties and to force the king to institute constitutional rule. Judges in Swaziland have repeatedly defended the press against royal attempts at censorship or intimidation, and recently heard a test case in which a mother sued the king for forcing her daughter into marriage. Some lawyers have even gone farther than that, suggesting that Sobhuza II's annulment of the 1968 constitution was illegal and that democratic movement should seek a judicial ruling limiting the king's powers.

By early last year, the tension between the palace and the courts had degenerated into all-out warfare, sparked by two rulings that directly challenged royal authority:

The conflict between traditional authorities and the courts began last year, when the High Court ruled that 200 people evicted from their ancestral lands because they refused to accept Mswati's older brother as their chief, were illegally displaced. The Court of Appeal ordered that the Commissioner of Police be jailed for contempt of court after he blocked the return of the evictees.

The Appeal Court also ruled that Mswati had no legal power to create laws by decree, without parliament.

[Prime Minister] Dlamini said government would ignore both rulings and blasted the Appeal Court for following the political agenda of an unnamed foreign influence. The six judges, all South Africans on loan to Swaziland, resigned in protest.

Subsequently, the High Court announced it would not handle government cases, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, a Kenyan, was forced to resign after he filed contempt of court charges against the attorney-general...

At first, the king attempted to fight back with a blunt instrument, proposing a decree that "would have allowed him to ban newspapers, jail his critics, and overturn court rulings. It introduced a state of emergency, gave the justice minister the power to appoint and fire judges at will, and prohibited newspapers from challenging publishing bans." This decree, however, was withdrawn amid a firestorm of domestic and international opposition, and the king instead called the indaba to mediate the differences between the feuding branches of government.

The indaba was attended by the members of the cabinet, the king's handpicked advisors, the Court of Appeal judges and representatives of the Justice Ministry. From preliminary reports, it appears to have produced more heat than light; few concrete suggestions for reform were made, and the independent Times of Swaziland reported that the Prime Minister and Chief Justice spent much of the meeting engaged in mutual recriminations. Nevertheless, international pressure is building on Swaziland to resolve its rule of law crisis. Thanks to its mineral wealth and commercial agriculture, Swaziland enjoys a relatively high standard of living for sub-Saharan Africa, but the lack of a functioning court system is threatening to drive away foreign investment. In addition, the Commonwealth has announced its intention to sanction Swaziland if the judicial crisis is not resolved.

This combination of international pressure and an independent judiciary is the same one that restored constitutional rule to Fiji two years ago after the May 2000 coup. Whether it will do so in Swaziland remains an open question.

Family matters

Go read Alisa's story. Don't ask any questions, just go read it.

UPDATE: Read Andrew's story too.

By request

Reader and published poet Alyssa Lappen asked me to link to a review of Middle East press coverage she wrote last April. I don't agree with everything in it, but it makes some good points - and while you're at it, go read a few of her published works here, here and here.

I've also added frequent commenter Conrad Barwa's blog Panchayat to the blogroll.

UPDATE: More of Alyssa's poetry here, here and here. I've also been advised that she prefers to be known as "Alyssa A. Lappen" to remember the great-uncle in whose honor her middle name was given.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Colonial legacy

Randy McDonald discusses Mahmood Mamdami's take on the Rwandan genocide.

Second witness

Ari Ben-Menashe is on his way home after more than a month on the stand in the Tsvangirai treason trial. The next witness up is Tara Selene Thomas, an employee of Ben-Menashe's public relations firm who allegedly taped the fateful meeting between Ben-Menashe and the Zimbabwean opposition leader. The prosecution is evidently hoping that Thomas will undo some of the damage caused by Ben-Menashe's outbursts and contradictory testimony, and that her eyewitness account will bolster the largely inaudible tape.

Music of the matsav

Michal Palti discusses the political consciousness of Israeli musicians, both on the left and the right.

Monday, March 10, 2003
You don't write, you don't call...

Will the person who found this site by searching for "4000 years of Jewish guilt" please explain himself?

The grilling ends

The Ari Ben-Menashe circus is almost over, as the "longest cross-examination in Zimbabwe’s judicial history" wound up today. Ben-Menashe, who has been on the stand for a month in the Tsvangirai treason trial, finished his cross-examination on a bizarre note by accusing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of breaking up his marriage. Last week's testimony was also marked by repeated outbursts by Ben-Menashe, who referred to the MDC as "the new Rhodies" and engaged in shouting matches with defense counsel.

The prosecution is expected to wind up its redirect examination of Ben-Menashe tomorrow, although the defense has asked the judge to hold him pending the production of a critical document. It is not yet known whether the defendants intend to take the stand, although any testimony they might provide will likely be anticlimactic.

Unto the tenth generation?

Randy McDonald makes some interesting points about the relevance of past European and American sins to the current war debate.

Of concerts and Copts

Benny Ziffer concludes his Egyptian diary by describing a chance encounter with another Israeli at an Umm Kolsoum concert:

Were we really the only two Israelis in this large audience who are passionately drawn to the songs of the great Egyptian diva? As it turned out, we were not. As we left the extended concert and walked into Sa'ad Zagloul Square on the island, opposite the stone lions of the bridge, someone greeted us in Hebrew from behind. It was Dr. Gabi Rosenbaum from Hebrew University, who has translated several Egyptian plays into Hebrew and is an expert on Egyptian theater. One of the reasons for his visit to Cairo was to get darbuka lessons from a drummer who is renowned in this field. He was also in Maimonides' synagogue, behind the Khan al-Khalili market. It was once customary for people with troubles to sleep all night in the synagogue.

The 1500-year-old synagogue of Maimonides, also known as the Ben Ezra, is only part of Cairo's rich Jewish history. The Jewish population of Cairo has dwindled to about 100, but a large Jewish community lived there throughout the early Muslim and Ottoman periods, and Jews prospered as merchants and civil servants. Maimonides himself lived in Egypt for forty years, and Cairo was home to many other Jewish scholars; these included Yitzhak Luria or ha-Ari, one of the greatest cabalists and codifiers of Jewish law.

The Jewish community often had uneasy relations with the city's Coptic Christians. Muslim overlordship prevented this rivalry from turning into open warfare, but - as Ziffer found out during a visit to the Church of St. Simeon the Tanner - it has found its way into Coptic legend:

... in the course of a theological debate between a Jew named Moses and the Coptic Patriarch Abraham in the presence of the Muslim governor, the Jew challenged the patriarch. If the Christian religion is true, the Jews said, let the God of the Christians move Mount Mukatam from its place. The Muslim governor liked the challenge and gave the patriarch three days to move the hill, otherwise his head would be lopped off. On the third day, God spoke to the patriarch and instructed him to go to the market and find Simeon the Tanner, who was blind in one eye and held a pitcher of water in his hand. Simeon instructed the patriarch to stand in front of the hill, cross himself three times and say, "God have mercy." The third time, the hill in fact rose from the ground.

The Jews of Cairo, if they still remembered the incident, would no doubt tell a different story, but history is written by the victors - or, in this case, the survivors.

Islam, Judaism and abortion

The recent discussion about abortion politics in Kenya raised questions about the views of the country's Muslim community, which comprises 10 to 15 percent of the population. To date, Islamic leaders have not been as vocal as Christian clergy in their opposition to abortion, although the secretary general of the country's largest Islamic umbrella organization - the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims - has expressed his concern that the country's draft constitution does not clearly define the right to life. In part, the relative silence of the Muslim leadership may be due to the fact that Kenyan Muslims have separate legal system with jurisdiction over family matters, and are thus exempt from some laws of general application.

In any event, Islamic opinion on abortion is no more unanimous than Christian opinion. The Center for the Advancement of Applied Ethics at Carnegie Mellon University quotes from Abortion, Birth Control and Surrogate Parenting: An Islamic Perspective, by Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim:

...the Hanafi school is the most flexible on abortion. It specifies that before the fourth month of pregnancy, an abortion may be induced if a woman's pregnancy poses a threat to the life of her already existing infant. The Maliki position prohibits an abortion after implantation has taken place, while the Shafi'i school maintains that at any stage after fertilization the zygote should not be disturbed, and interference with its development would be a crime. The Hanbali school by stipulating the payment of blood wit for causing a miscarriage shows that it regards abortion as a sin.

Moreover, even after ensoulment - at which point, the fetus is regarded as having equal right with its mother - in the case of conflict, "this dilemma is resolved by the general principle of the Shari'ah: choosing the lesser of two evils. Rather than losing both lives, the life of one should be given preference over the other," - i.e., the mother's life.

The Institute for Islamic Studies in Germany - which appears to be a Christian-oriented site about Islam rather than an Islamic site - describes the status of abortion in Islamic countries:

In principle, the protection of unborn lives is today in the forefront, i.e. modern-day legal scholars judge more conservatively than the authors of the early Islamic legal texts. Exceptions are made in some countries if the life of the mother is endangered, based on Sure 2.233: "A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child.” As a result, abortion is possible for health reasons up to day 90 in many countries. In Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey abortion is fully prohibited (an exception is made if the mother’s life is endangered); this does not imply, however, that abortions are not at all performed. Tunisia’s liberal abortion practice allows for abortions to be performed up to the end of the third month. There, abortions are principally permissible for single as well as married women in the first three months, provided that a registered doctor performs them. The approval of the husband or of a male guardian is not required in Tunisia.

The Jewish approach is perhaps less liberal than that of the Hanafi school but somewhat more so than other Islamic interpretations, prohibiting abortion for frivolous reasons but allowing it to preserve the mother's health as well as her life. In some cases, the mother's psychological well-being may be sufficient reason to abort a fetus:

[A]s a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth. In such a circumstance, the baby is considered tantamount to a rodef, a pursuer after the mother with the intent to kill her. Nevertheless, as explained in the Mishna (Oholos 7:6), if it would be possible to save the mother by maiming the fetus, such as by amputating a limb, abortion would be forbidden. Despite the classification of the fetus as a pursuer, once the baby's head has been delivered, the baby's life is considered equal to the mother's, and we may not choose one life over another, because it is considered as though they are both pursuing each other.

Judaism recognizes psychiatric as well as physical factors in evaluating the potential threat that the fetus poses to the mother. However, the danger posed by the fetus (whether physical or emotional) must be both probable and substantial to justify abortion. The degree of mental illness that must be present to justify termination of a pregnancy is not well established and therefore criteria for permitting abortion in such instances remains controversial


The question of abortion in cases of rape, incest, and adultery is a complex one, with various legal justifications propounded on both sides. In cases of rape and incest, a key issue would be the emotional toll exacted from the mother in carrying the fetus to term. The same analysis used in other cases of emotional harm might be applied here.

Another description of the halacha of abortion, including rulings as to whether abortion is permissible in specific situations, is here. Additional comments from knowledgeable Muslims would be appreciated - and yes, al-Muhajabah, this means you.

UPDATE: Al-Muhajabah surveys the Islamic law of abortion.

And the winner is...

Expat Egghead rates the evil dictators.

Sunday, March 09, 2003
419 and its ancestors

Nick Barlow links to an interesting history of 419 fraud which traces the Nigerian advance fee scam to the classic "Spanish Prisoner" swindle:

In that long-ago version, businessmen were contacted by someone trying to smuggle the scion of a wealthy family out of a prison in Spain. But of course the wealthy family would shower with riches those who helped secure the release of the boy. Those who were suckered into this paid for one failed rescue attempt after another, with the fictitious prisoner continuing to languish in his non-existent dungeon, always just one more bribe, one more scheme, one more try, away from being released.

The author dates the Spanish prisoner scam to the 1920s, but versions of it exist from at least the nineteenth century - and, according to some sources, the sixteenth. An Australian parliamentary committee noted that "[t]he only difference is that the original scam used parchment and the promise of a hidden treasure chest."

The reason many sources date the Spanish prisoner fraud to the 1920s is that it became popular late in that decade. Interestingly enough, the growth of the scam happened for many of the same reasons that led to the 419 fraud explosion in the 1980s, including social upheaval and economic depression in Spain. It never caught on quite as much as the Nigerian scam, though, primarily for two reasons.

The first and most obvious is that Nigeria in the 1980s had fax machines and, later, e-mail, both of which allowed the 419 cancer to metastasize enormously. More importantly, though, Nigeria in the 1970s and early 1980s was one of the few African countries with a substantial middle class; its educated population was large enough that home-grown as well as foreign technocrats benefitted from the oil boom. The oil glut of the mid-1980s, however, threw much of this new middle class out of work. This meant that Nigeria had a large population of displaced professionals who spoke English, knew the business world, could write a plausible business letter and needed money. Some of them, inevitably, used their skills to obtain illicit wealth - smuggling was (and is) a major area of activity, and fraud is another.

What was true then is even more so now; most African countries have gained little economic ground since the 1980s, and some are even poorer in real terms. The tools for 419 fraud are easier to come by - literacy is higher, and most major cities now have cybercafes - but economic opportunity has not kept pace, and the combination of these circumstances has turned 419 scams into something of a cottage industry. In other countries where opportunity has similarly lagged behind technology and education, 419 fraud has followed - sometimes from places as distant as Tonga, where police uncovered a scam carried out by someone purporting to be that country's crown prince. For the time being, you're likely to be seeing more of those letters in your inbox, in an ever greater number of variations.

Torture, drugs and terror: a history, a comparison and a declaration

A few days ago, Ikram Saeed discussed United States' emerging practice of subcontracting torture in terrorism cases - that is, "sending people it wants to gain information from to countries that permit torture, knowing that torture will be used to elicit information." Since then, I've seen other treatments of the subject from Jim Henley and Arthur Silber, prompted by the United States' apparent delivery of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Pakistani authorities for questioning.

A running theme throughout these comments is that subcontracting torture is something new to the terror war - a "canary in the coal mine" indicating a trend toward repressiveness in the United States. The truth is, however, that this particular canary has been dead for at least thirty years. Subcontracting of torture by American authorities is an old, old story, originating in another dirty war - the "war on drugs." There is a subgenre of Federal case law, beginning in the 1970s, involving the claims of alleged drug traffickers who were tortured by Latin American police, often with American law enforcement agents in the room.

One of the first such cases was that of Francisco Toscanino, an Italian citizen living in Uruguay who was wanted by American authorities on drug charges. On January 6, 1973, Toscanino was lured out of his home by means of a telephone call, ambushed in a Montevideo alley, brought to the Brazilian border in the trunk of a car and turned over to Brazilian authorities. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which heard his case in 1974, described his subsequent treatment thus:

'Once in the custody of Brazilians, Toscanino was brought to Porto Alegre where he was held incommunicado for eleven hours. His requests to consult with counsel, the Italian Consulate, and his family were all denied. During this time he was denied all food and water.

'Later that same day Toscanino was brought to Brasilia . . .. For seventeen days Toscanino was incessantly tortured and interrogated. Throughout this entire period the United States government and the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York prosecuting this case was aware of the interrogation and did in fact receive reports as to its progress. Furthermore, during this period of torture and interrogation a member of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs was present at one or more intervals and actually participated in portions of the interrogation . . .. (Toscanino's) captors denied him sleep and all forms of nourishment for days at a time. Nourishment was provided intravenously in a manner precisely equal to an amount necessary to keep him alive.

Reminiscent of the horror stories told by our military men who returned from Korea and China, Toscanino was forced to walk up and down a hallway for seven or eight hours at a time. When he could no longer stand he was kicked and beaten but all in a manner contrived to punish without scarring. When he would not answer, his fingers were pinched with metal pliers. Alcohol was flushed into his eyes and nose and other fluids . . . were forced up his anal passage. Incredibly, these agents of the United States government attached electrodes to Toscanino's earlobes, toes, and genitals. Jarring jolts of electricity were shot throughout his body, rendering him unconscious for indeterminate periods of time but again leaving no physical scars.

Similar treatment was meted out to Rafael Lira, who was tortured by Chilean police in 1974 after being arrested on the request of the United States; Raul Perez Degollado, shocked with cattle prods by Mexican authorities in the presence of DEA agents; and Juan Ramon Matta-Ballesteros, who was arrested in Honduras in the mid-1980s and "beaten and burned with a stun gun at the direction of the United States Marshals." In the Degollado case, DEA agents actually admitted to being in the room while the Mexican police began to torture their captive, although they ducked out to preserve their sensibilities when things got too rough:

[T]he beginning of the "rough" treatment was what prompted [DEA agents] Kuykendall and Maxwell to leave. As Maxwell candidly put it:

"It was getting plenty rough. It was something that I was not accustomed to. It scared the fire out of me and we left. Not only did we leave, we left afoot and we walked some 10 to 15 blocks back to the Mexican Federal Judicial Police Headquarters to get Mr. Kuykendall's vehicle and then we drove across."

A while ago, I wrote about another drug-war practice, abduction in lieu of extradition, and how it was legitimated by the American courts. The courts also effectively legitimated the subcontracting of torture. The Toscanino case did carve out a narrow exception under which American prosecutors forfeited their right to bring charges if they were involved in torture in a foreign country. Subsequent decisions, though, made clear that this exception only applied to cases in which American agents actively participated. The Degollado court, for instance, noted that while Kuykendall and Maxwell's behavior "may not have been heroic, it is not tantamount to deliberately participating in the activities of the Mexican police."

In Matta-Ballesteros, the Seventh Circuit went even farther and held that even active participation in torture by American law enforcement agents did not divest Federal courts of jurisdiction. The difference between Matta-Ballesteros and Toscanino, however, may be more style than substance. As the Matta-Ballesteros court noted, no Federal court, including that in the Toscanino case itself, has ever granted a motion to dismiss by a defendant who was tortured abroad.

I discuss these cases at such length because it has become clear to me that the closest comparison to the war on terror is not World War II, Vietnam or even the intifada, but the war on drugs. The enemies in both wars are very similar - organized groups who are not state actors but who are well-armed and financially sophisticated. The line between political terror and drug trafficking is often very blurry; terror groups often make use of the drug trade to finance political violence, and many drug cartels have political connections or even act as de facto territorial warlords.

The methods by which the terror war is being fought are also reminiscent of the war on drugs. Complicity in torture and abduction are only two of the parallels. The drug war also involved subornation and corruption of foreign law enforcement authorities, support for repressive governments as a quid pro quo for counter-drug cooperation, low-level military entanglements in drug-producing countries and unprecedented expansion of search, seizure and surveillance powers within the United States. We're already seeing all these things again in the terror war - the Patriot Act and this year's possible sequel, the United States' embrace of Musharraf, the open-ended troop mission in Afghanistan, the recent landings of American troops in Turkey with the cooperation of its military but against the will of its government.

Most importantly of all, the nature of the two conflicts is very similar - both are open-ended wars against largely unseen enemies in which the moment of victory can never be certain. This means that the war on terror will lend itself to the same mission creep as the drug war - the slow abandonment of political and social engagement in favor of an exclusive focus on enforcement, and the gradual conception of enforcement as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The fact that international terrorism is a direct political threat to the United States is only likely to accelerate the mission creep. For at least the duration of the current administration, the terror war will resemble the war on drugs fought with the intensity and single-mindedness of the Cold War - and, for the first time, our European allies are experiencing what it's like to be on the receiving end.

It is this realization, which crystallized last night while I was debating the Iraq situation with friends, that has convinced me to come down from the fence and join the peace camp. I come to this decision reluctantly. I am not opposed to the war on terror per se - terrorist groups are a genuine enemy, and military force is a legitimate way to fight them. I do not make a fetish of multilateralism, which can lead to collective surrender - as at Munich - as well as collective security. I despise the sneering contempt for America and Americans, and the Manichaean view of the United States and Israel as evil, which has infected much of the antiwar movement. I supported the war against the Taliban, I have no moral objection to Saddam Hussein being forcibly removed from power, and under different circumstances, I might support an American invasion of Iraq.

But I can't do so now. The drug war was a long national nightmare from which America was only just starting to recover before September 11. The thirty-year war did incalculable damage to American civil liberties and relations with our neighbors, and at the end of it we are farther from victory than ever. I cannot accept a war against terror that is fought the same way, by a president who - like many of his opponents - views the conflict in Manichaean terms.

There is a difference between principled unilateralism and contempt for the rest of the world. There is a difference between vigilance at home and gratuitous erosion of civil liberties. There is a difference between measured use of military force and wanton disregard for the political and social elements of the conflict. There is a difference between genuinely humanitarian intervention and a Noriega-style takedown of a former client, based on manufactured excuses, that will result in continued Ba'athist rule with the serial numbers filed off. All these things will happen if this war continues on its present course - and all these things will exact a terrible price in broken alliances and lost freedoms without bringing victory.

To paraphrase Jim Henley, I will support this war again when we return to fighting it like the United States of fucking America.