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, May 24, 2003
And now, something really important

The Kirin brewery claims to have recreated ancient Egyptian beer:

A Japanese brewery has produced a beer based on a 4,400-year-old Egyptian recipe translated from ancient hieroglyphics.

The country's second biggest beer maker, The Kirin Brewery Co says The Old Kingdom Beer has no froth, a dark tea colour and contains 10% alcohol.

Ancient Egypt was one of the first beer-brewing countries, and a considerable amount of archaeological work has been devoted to Egyptian brewing techniques. There have been a number of prior attempts to recreate classical Egyptian beer recipes, including a 1996 effort by Newcastle Brewery and the homebrew recipe here.

The trouble is that there is still a certain amount of controversy as to how ancient Egyptian beer was brewed. Recent archaeological studies have cast doubt on the traditional belief that it was made from a base of crumbled bread. Estimates of its alcoholic content also vary.

Brewing in Egypt has continued in modern times with Al-Ahram Beverages, a formerly state-run brewery that was established in 1897 and brews the famous Stella beer. I had a Stella the other day and it isn't bad, but now I'm curious about how the ancient stuff tasted.

Restaurants, development loans and international capitalism?

The view from Gaborone.

Friday, May 23, 2003
Moral fraud

Via Aderemi: My Favorite Nigerians is a blog dedicated to 419 fraud as a fine art. What it also illustrates is how far 419 fraud has spread beyond its place of origin; of the twelve 419 letters currently on the homepage, only three purport to come from Nigeria.

At any rate, this seems as good a time as any to discuss the latest 419 fashions. The traditional 419 letter, of course, is an appeal to greed in which the author claims to need help laundering embezzled money. A few months ago, I wrote about a more moral approach in which authors claim to be the heirs of dispossessed Zimbabwean commercial farmers and appeal for help in getting their remaining assets out of the country. Recently, I received a letter that takes the moral appeal to an entirely new level.

This missive, which purports to come from "Barrister Tonye Bozimo," is the only 419 letter I've ever seen that begins "Dear Beloved in Christ." The author spins a compelling tale of disgrace and redemption; the disgrace, of course, comes first:

I have the pleasure to share my testimony with you, having seen your contact from the Internet. I am Barrister james ovie , the legal adviser to late Mr. and Mrs. Bright Williams, a British couple that lived in my Country Nigeria for 25 years before they both died in the plane crash late last year. These couples were good Christians, they so dedicated to God but they had no child till they died. Throughout their stay in my country, they acquired a lot of properties like lands, house properties, etc.

As their legal adviser, before their death, the husband Mr. Bright Williams instructed me to write his WILL. Because they had no child, they dedicated their wealth to God. According to the WILL, the properties have to be sold and the money be given out to a ministry for the work of God. As their legal adviser, all the documents for the properties were in my care. He gave me the authority to sell the properties and give out the fund to the Ministries for the work of God.

In short, I sold all the properties after their death, as instructed by Mr. Bright Williams before his death. And as matter of fact, after I sold all their properties, I realized more than $10,000,000.00 [...] But Instead of giving the main fund out for the work of God as instructed to me by the owner before his death. I converted the fund to myself with the intention of investing the fund abroad for my personal use.

If the letter had ended there, it would have been a fairly standard 419 scam, albeit with a somewhat offbeat lead-in. But it doesn't. Instead of requesting assistance in laundering his stolen funds, Barrister Bozimo claims that he has found Christ and no longer intends to use the money for himself. He now wants to fulfill the terms of the Brights' will, and will make the proceeds available to me as long as I "will use this fund honestly and wisely for things that will glorify God's name."

It's all window dressing, of course; if I were to reply to Barrister Bozimo, I would no doubt get hit up for transaction costs like all the other 419 marks. The Bozimo letter, however, is definitely aimed at a different target demographic.

Pointless lament

What the hell is wrong with Blogger lately?

Confrontation looming

An association of "war veterans" has threatened violence to stop the mass action against Robert Mugabe planned for next month:

Patrick Nyaruwata, the chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans' Association (ZNLWVA), told journalists in Harare that his organisation would use force to stop the street protests.

"We have stood aside and observed you (the MDC) for too long and this time we will not. This time, using our own military experience, we will mobilise against you. I do not mince my words. The consequences for any mass action will be grave," he said.

"We will co-ordinate with the state security agents to fight you off. Remember most top security agents in defence, the police and the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) are war veterans, and we will be co-ordinating with them," he added.

The past few months have seen an increase in the use of "war veterans," ZANU youth groups and other paramilitaries against the MDC. A while ago, I noted a library invasion that had taken place during the run-up to a Harare by-election and predicted that the war veterans' eviction of commercial farmers might have been training for the main event:

This may be a sign that the tactics of the farm invasions are now being unleashed against the MDC - a measure that has a perverse sort of logic from Mugabe's point of view, given his constant allegations that the MDC is in league with the commercial farmers. As with the farm takeovers, it is likely that much of the dirty work of suppressing the MDC will be done by "militants" and "war veterans" who will ignore court orders and who the government will claim to be unable to control. In fact, though, the government will merely be unwilling.

Now, ZNLWVA secretary-general Endy Mhlanga is saying that the veterans "will use the same tactics we used during the farm invasions." He has also promised to repeat the tactics that were used against Ian Smith - but what I'm really afraid of is that he intends to repeat the tactics of the Gukurahundi.

Map without compass

Yes, I know that Sharon has accepted the road map. What I don't know yet - and what nobody will for some time - is whether that will mean anything on the ground and whether it will prompt any concrete action by either side. Given (1) the number of self-contradictory statements already made by Americans, Israelis and Palestinians, (2) the ambiguity of both Israeli and Palestinian acceptance of the plan, (3) the absence of a single authoritative Palestinian voice and (4) the, er, dissonance between words and actions, this could change everything or nothing. We may know more if the three way summit between Bush, Sharon and Abu Mazen actually comes off.

Who is Tamir?

Vered Levy-Barzilai describes the strange odyssey of Tamir, a 21-year-old man from Gaza who has spent most of his life drifting between the streets and jails of Israel and Palestine. Tamir, who was born Mohammed Amar and has a learning disability, was beaten mercilessly by his father and uncle until his mother dropped him off in Jaffa at the age of eight. From that time, he lived on the margins of Israeli society, staying with various Arab and Jewish families, going in and out of jail and suffering sexual abuse:

When he became a teenager, Tamir was once again a victim of sexual abuse, this time perpetrated by one of the members of the Jaffa family. He didn't dare to complain. His life in the house became hell. He fled and didn't return to them...

For about year he lived alternately in the street or in the homes of friends - children who usually weren't much better off than he was. He had a Jewish girlfriend his age from Bat Yam, with a father who was a drug addict and a mother who was depressive and barely functioned. The two neglected children became close. They spent days and nights together, in the streets of Jaffa, and not only there. "We were in Eilat, we went north, to Haifa, we would sleep outdoors in all kinds of places. At the age of 11 we would travel in buses all day long, eat what we found, sometimes steal some food. She didn't want to call me Mohammed. She's the one who invented the name Tamir. I liked that name. I decided that I would keep it. Every once in a while we would return to her house. To rest. But it was impossible to rest. It was difficult there. Because her father used drugs all the time."

Between the ages of eight and 21, Tamir was arrested five times by the Jaffa police. When they asked him to whom he belonged, he would answer defiantly - to no one.

On one occasion, he was deported to Gaza, and on another he was sent by an Israeli court to a juvenile facility in Ramallah. The other inmates of the facility treated him as a collaborator, and within a month he escaped and made his way back to Israel.

Tamir's life changed after a suicide attempt in jail brought him to the attention of Tel Aviv psychologist Avi Yasur. Yasur arranged for him to be taken in by Sefi Hanegbi and his wife, Efrat Sar Shalom. But there was still the matter of the pending criminal charges:

On January 15, the case came up before Judge Nira Lidsky for a decision. Lidsky insisted on understanding: Whose boy is this? Where does he belong? Where does he live? From where did he show up in Israel and when? What would be the significance of any sentence she would impose on him? After receiving answers and hearing the arguments of the prosecution, she said that she was stopping the legal proceedings, and read into the minutes the following unprecedented words:

"... The accused has been in detention since July 2002 and was indicted after admitting to the accusation ... I have been informed that the accused has been wandering around by himself in Israel since he was about eight and a half years old, without parents, and without a family, `adopted' over the years by various families who exploited his situation. I asked for a review from the Probation Service, since although the accused is a native of Gaza, his father apparently lives in Europe and there is no information about his mother and the rest of his family. The upshot: The accused's place of residence is - nowhere.

"I believe that is unconscionable that any person shouldn't have a legal right of residence anywhere in the world; that for a person who came to Israel, I don't know how, at the age of eight and a half, and who is now 21, no solution can be found ... and there is a danger to his life if he is simply sent across state borders. Regarding the crimes in the indictment ... let the accused be punished as he deserves. But I will not sentence him until I know what will be done with him afterward. I am postponing the conclusion of his trial and asking the Interior Ministry to deal with his case as quickly as possible."

The attorneys were astonished. The members of the organization had a hard time believing their ears. Yasur says that were it not for normative constraints, he would have jumped on the judge and kissed her.

Later, another judge released Tamir to house arrest, allowing him to live with Hanegbi, Shalom and their family. They soon came to regard him as one of their children, have commenced formal adoption proceedings and have sponsored him for Israeli citizenship. His citizenship application is now before Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, and he describes his dream of becoming an Israeli citizen and establishing an orphanage for homeless children.

The latest from Poraz' office is that Tamir's petition is being considered "in a positive light," and I hope that he is granted citizenship. His case is about more than citizenship alone, however. It also illustrates the porous boundaries of Israeli, Arab and Jewish identity - and how little sense it makes to draw rigid lines between them.

Last of the Zionist hippies

The subjects of this week's Ha'aretz family profile are the Van de Vendels of Nes Ammim, a "cooperative Christian village, unique in the world, four kilometers northeast of Acre." And no, these aren't evangelical Christian Zionists; the Van de Vendels, a Dutch family who have been living in Israel for seven years, describe themselves as "liberal, left-wing Protestants." And people like them have been living in Nes Ammim for forty years:

Nes Ammim... was established in 1963 at the initiative of a Dutch physician, Johan Pilon. Its residents come from Europe (Holland, Switzerland, Germany), usually for a three-year stay. The community's economy is based on donations and income from the guest house and conference center, where activities that usually fall into the category of "coexistence" take place... As Christians, the people of Nes Ammim recognize Jesus' Jewish roots.

There are still a few like the Van de Vendels, who came to Nes Ammim to find themselves and describe it as "like in the 1960s." They may, however, be part of a vanishing breed. The population of Nes Ammim has declined from 200 at its peak to 23 today, which they attribute "to the changing attitude toward Israel in the Dutch media."

Thursday, May 22, 2003
The Freeman controversy

Al-Muhajabah has an excellent summary of the case law relating to religious objections to photo driver's licenses. Her post was, of course, prompted by the case of Sultana Freeman, who is suing for the right to pose fully veiled for her Florida driver's license photo. There's been a great deal of discussion about the public safety and civil-rights aspects of the Freeman case - Aziz, Matthew Yglesias, and the commenters on Tacitus' blog all make good points - but A-M's is the best purely legal discussion I've seen.

Parenthetically, Brian Ulrich points out that Islamic countries, most recently Bahrain, have generally ruled against allowing women to drive while veiled.

Preserving heritage

The governments of South Africa and Mali have reached an agreement under which South Africa will underwrite the preservation of classical Malian manuscripts:

Dr Graham Dominy, the head of the South African National Archives, told BuaNews in an exclusive interview that AU chairperson Thabo Mbeki, who is passionate about the continent's rich cultural heritage, had agreed to help establish a trust fund for a library to be built in Mali for the preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts.

The Arabic manuscripts, dating back to the 13th and 14th century and housed at the Ahmed Baba library, are a spectacular treasure of ancient documentation about astrology, science, economics, culture, and geography.

The manuscripts - written in Arabic script (although there are some that are written in local indigenous languages) are kept at the Sankore Mosque and the Gingery-Ber Mosque.

Timbuktu was the key center of Islamic learning in West Africa during the period between 1350 and 1650, but its cultural heritage has recently been threatened by neglect and desertification.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Ray of light

Despite worsening political tensions, the Israeli and Palestinian governments have agreed to cooperate on energy issues. The agreement, reached between the two energy ministers at a conference in Athens, does not outline specific areas of cooperation, but one possibility might be exploitation of offshore natural gas fields.

Poetic justice

The Cairo Times profiles Kawther Moustafa, a leading colloquial Arabic poet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
I show up in the strangest places

Can anyone figure out how I ended up second from the bottom on this page?

Divine endorsement

At least someone's happy about Obasanjo's re-election:

Satguru Maharaj Ji, the founder of One Love Family, has described the re-election of President Olusegun Obasanjo for a second term as a good omen for Nigerians.

The self-acclaimed Perfect Living Master said at a press conference in Lagos at the weekend that it was revealed to him 10 years ago that Nigeria was "The New Holy Land of the Universe" and "No War Zone" has come to pass with the re-election of Obasanjo to usher in this new holy land.

He said Obasanjo had a divine assignment to accomplish and has been found worthy by the Creator to actualise the goal in Nigeria.

Despite appearances, Maharaj Ji is not an Indian, but a native of Oyo state who declared himself God after a trip to India. To his followers, "God is no longer in heaven but in the Satguru Maharaj Ji Village, Kilometre 10, Ibadan-Lagos Expressway, Ibadan." His claims are, not surprisingly, widely controversial among Nigeria's Muslims and Christians, many of whom mention him unfavorably in their prayers. He's also well known in the law enforcement community, which has investigated him repeatedly for drug offenses and murder (although he's always beaten the rap).

It's probably safe to say that Obasanjo didn't seek his endorsement, although with the ANPP's claims of election fraud scheduled to go to court tomorrow, he might need all the help he can get. No word yet from the Raelians.

Nomination, please

Amnon Rubinstein discusses how to improve judicial selection in Israel. One of his suggestions:

From among the possible candidates, they must find one who is capable of filling Aharon Barak's shoes - someone with an international reputation whose prestige will enhance the Supreme Court's stature. If this candidate comes from academia, he or she should be promoted even above others with more seniority.

Who could that be, I wonder - maybe a former minister and legal scholar who is now a law professor in Herzliya?

Political casualties

Human Rights Watch has noted an increase in officially sponsored homophobia in Namibia:

Widney Brown, Deputy Program Director for HRW, conducted a substantial proportion of the research documented in the report, and says homophobia has become a very "politicised" topic in the region.

In Namibia, the President and a number of politicians have in the past publicly vilified the gay community, interestingly enough, at totally unrelated occasions.

Brown, however, commended civil society in Namibia for speaking out against this kind of defamation, unlike in Zimbabwe, where she says, they are too scared to do so.

HRW's Namibian conclusions were part of a larger report on homophobia in southern Africa, which has increasingly become a strategic tool to get votes among evangelical Christians and African traditionalists. Ironically, the growth of political homophobia is to some extent an indirect effect of democratization, as political groups have been forced to compete for the votes of these key constituencies. In Zambia, for instance, HRW notes that the first democratically elected president, Frederick Chiluba, pushed through a constitution declaring the country a "Christian nation" and has engaged in anti-gay rhetoric where former president Kenneth Kaunda has been more moderate.

The worst offender continues to be Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe has engaged in virulent anti-gay rhetoric in addition to book-burning. Mugabe's identification of homosexuality with the liberal West, and the fact that many of the most visible gay rights activists have been white, have contributed to an especially poisonous environment. Many of the same themes, however, have been present in other countries. Namibia's Sam Nujoma, while not reaching Mugabe's rhetorical heights, has called upon Namibians to "reject and condemn homosexuals in our society," and has also singled out white homosexuals for condemnation. In Zambia, an attempt by homosexuals to establish an NGO was caught up in President Chiluba's accusations that NGOs were instruments of foreign interference in African society. Some Western sponsors withdrew their support under pressure, and most of its members were soon forced to flee the country due to arrests, evictions and threats of violence.

South Africa has to some extent run counter to the trend. Unlike other southern African countries, its post-apartheid constitution explicitly prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and the constitutional court has interpreted this clause to provide broad protection against criminalization of homosexual activity. Although social prejudice remains, the South African government has refrained from the sort of public incitement that has characterized the neighboring nations.

Changes of address

Go visit Alisa and Zack Ajmal at their new Movable Type digs.

Monday, May 19, 2003
The final push?

According to the independent Daily News, the long-delayed mass action to oust Robert Mugabe is scheduled for next month, and will involve civic organizations other than the MDC:

The mass action, to take the form of street demonstrations, will involve the MDC, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Transparency International-Zimbabwe (TIZ) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

NCA spokesman Douglas Mwonzora yesterday confirmed that there were plans by the five organisations to stage a "massive" mass action to force Mugabe out.

Gift Chimanikire, the MDC deputy secretary-general, also confirmed that his party was working with other civic groups to force Mugabe out.

"Yes, we are working with a number of partners, but I feel very uncomfortable to discuss the strategies because you should know that we are dealing with a rogue regime. We won't get anywhere if we start talking about our strategies in public," he said.

The mass action is expected to include strikes as well as street protests, and its stated goal is to force Mugabe to agree to a transitional government that would hold fresh elections.

Difficult integration

The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation has proposed an ambitious five-year program leading to an East African federation:

[T]he union will have a stabilisation force under a common defence and uniform foreign policy, and states that the region's bargaining power on international issues would be enhanced. The union, if effected, will demilitarise politics, pursue a multi-party system of governance and favour free market economy.

In addition to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the union proposed by the foundation will ultimately include Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The foundation's proposals involve an extension of the currently existing East African Community, which was established by treaty in 1999. The treaty outlines areas in which each member state is to cooperate and creates an executive council, indirectly elected legislature and court of justice. The institutions created by the treaty were inaugurated in November 2001.

The EAC, however, has been criticized for its weakness, particularly in comparison to the East African regional institutions that existed prior to 1977. During the colonial era, several joint institutions with jurisdiction over Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were created, including a customs and postal union, a joint currency board, a court with comprehensive appellate jurisdiction and an economic council. The current organs of the EAC - particularly the court of justice, which has been described as a "court with no jurisdiction" - pale in comparison and can fairly be characterized as mostly for show.

The Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation's plan would expand these regional institutions both territorially and jurisdictionally. If adopted, it would extend East African regionalism well beyond even what existed before 1997, expanding cooperation into the areas of defense and foreign policy and bringing three more countries into the fold. The problem, however, lies in convincing the would-be member states to adopt it. Although the foundation has considerable prestige and has gained influence through its participation in the Burundi peace process, its proposals were developed largely without consulting regional governments. Despite widespread public support for regional integration, interstate rivalries and instability could make it difficult to expand the EAC in the manner suggested.

Rwanda, for instance, seems on the surface to be a prime candidate for membership in an East African federation. The current government has strong ties to Tanzania, and the generation that the Tutsi refugees of 1959 spent in exile has conditioned them to look east. English is rapidly becoming Rwanda's primary language of business, and its major African trading partners are Tanzania and Kenya. Unfortunately, the bad blood between Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni shows little sign of abating despite efforts on both sides to mend fences. In the immediate term, the feud between the two leaders is likely to scuttle plans for regional integration.

This obstacle does not exist with respect to Burundi, but the country faces ongoing stability issues as the transition to majority rule continues, and it is not as integrated into the East African economy as Rwanda is. About Congo, of course, the less said the better - the eastern provinces that have historic ties to the East African countries are in a virtual state of civil war, and recent Ugandan and Rwandan involvement there is hardly of a character to advance regional cooperation. The Foundation's proposals may represent the future of regionalism in East Africa, but it's likely to be some time before any serious attempt is made to implement them.

Mission improbable

A Commonwealth mission has met with limited success in mediating the differences between Swaziland's monarch and its courts:

A Commonwealth mediation team at the weekend stepped into Swaziland's "rule of law" crisis by bringing King Mswati III together with five of the six South African judges who resigned from the country's Court of Appeal.

But while the government has agreed to temporarily abide by some of the court's earlier decisions, the judges said they would not return to work until the palace displayed a greater commitment to the rule of law.

There has been no Court of Appeal, the kingdom's highest judicial body, since the six-judge bench resigned en masse in November after the palace insisted that traditional authorities were more powerful than the courts.

Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini issued a statement on 28 November rejecting two appeal court rulings, and blasted the judges as foreigners influenced by an unnamed agenda to compromise Swaziland's absolute monarchy.

Over the weekend, the Swazi government apologized for the Prime Minister's statement and agreed to release certain people that the Court of Appeal had ordered set free on bail. The monarchy's promises, however, fell far short of a commitment to respect judicial independence and abide by the rulings of the courts. Given Mswati III's longstanding support for absolute monarchy and resistance to any measures that would restrain his authority, it is unlikely that such promises will be forthcoming anytime soon.

Minority report

I ran across an interesting Al-Ahram supplement today on the Armenian minority in Egypt. In the 1940s, this community numbered as many as 100,000 members, most of whom arrived as refugees from the Turkish genocide of 1915-17. During the Nasser era, however, they suffered from the same expropriation and punitive measures that affected the Greek and Jewish communities. The Egyptian Armenians, who live mostly in Alexandria and Cairo, are undergoing something of a resurgence today, but they number fewer than 6000.

On futility

I had planned to write something today about whether the "road map" could be revived, but the fifth suicide bombing in as many days has made me far too depressed to discuss that or anything else. The last few posts by Gil, Imshin and Allison say everything I can't; I'll pick up the subject later.

On prejudice

Via Gil: Geoff Meltzner has the following meditation on the nature of anti-Semitism:

On a more serious note, something that occurred to me is how anti-Semitism differs from pretty much all other forms of bigotry and racism. Typically, the targets of racism are denigrated: blacks are stupid, Mexicans are lazy, Arabs are backwards murderers, etc. Conversely, anti-Semites tend to portray Jews as being all powerful: Jews control the American government, Jews control the British government, Jews control Hollywood and the media, Jews are using communism to take over the world, Jews are capitalist imperialists, etc. I suppose that we should be flattered that these people fear our alleged omnipotence, but I find that I'm unable to be so.

Actually, the standard anti-Semitic stereotypes aren't unique at all; they're applied quite commonly to merchant minorities. Chinese in Malaysia, Indians in Fiji, Lebanese in West Africa or Armenians in the prewar Ottoman Empire would find anti-Jewish stereotypes very familiar. Merchant minorities are simultaneously admired and feared - their success is universally acknowledged, but it is attributed to secret control of the economy or the government.

The anti-Semitic stereotypes of the West stem from the fact that Ashkenazic Jews in the diaspora are a classic merchant minority and have been so for centuries. In countries where Jews have not traditionally been a merchant minority - Yemen, for instance, or Ethiopia - there is still anti-Semitism, but the stereotypes of Jews are very different. If you asked a Yemeni Muslim about Jews in the 1940s, he would likely have responded in a manner typical of what Geoff cites as anti-black or anti-Mexican racism - he would have described Jews as lazy, filthy and stupid.

You'd probably get a different answer now, but that's because the anti-Semitic tropes now current in the Arab world were borrowed from the West. There are few Jews in Yemen these days, and "traditional" Yemeni anti-Semitism has declined, but it has been replaced by a Western-style anti-Semitism conveyed through the popular media. Jews are the world's merchant minority now - and, like Geoff, I'm unable to find the idea flattering.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
For your reading pleasure

Via Moorish Girl: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a short story set during the Biafran war. Adichie (who has also written under the name Amanda) is a relatively new author - she's 26 years old - but she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing last year and has been well received in literary journals. She has published a volume of poetry, Decisions, and a play, For Love of Biafra, and her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, is forthcoming this fall. It's too early to tell whether she will chronicle the Igbo community as compellingly as Chinua Achebe, but she's well worth reading.