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, June 07, 2003
Last word on Utah

Take some time to read Glenn Ostlund's entertaining collection of Mormon missionary folklore. Many of the stories probably qualify as urban legends, particularly those about unauthorized vacations:

I heard variations of the unauthorized trip stories on your site while I was in the Southwest British Mission 1967-1969. In one story, the Elders are in the Channel Islands. (British territory only 10 miles off the French Coast. The most famous ones are Guernsey and Jersey. They were the best places to be in my mission because nobody, even the District Leader, bothered you very much due to the travel problems.) The Elders get the idea of taking a six week vacation to Paris and prepare dummy reports which they give to their landlady to mail in sequence. Of course, she mails them all at once and the Elders are busted when they get back.

Variations of the "landlady" story are widespread. There are several on the missionary folklore page, and others have been collected by Utah-based folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand (author of several books about urban legends). I tend to agree with Ostlund, however, that "there is a value to stories and storytelling whether the stories are 'factually valid' or not."

One more thing to blame on America

The reality television fad has come to Africa. South African-produced Big Brother Africa, featuring a houseful of contestants from all over the continent, premiered on May 25 and is already at the top of the charts. The show, which will continue for 106 days, is apparently the first reality program to employ a cultural consultant:

[The producer] stated that the unique features of Big Brother Africa, which distinguishes it from the first two editions, are quiet interesting. For starters, this is the first time that all the housemates will not be coming from the same country. Aside this, all the 12 housemates in BBA are representing 12 different countries. "This will explain why countries like our own Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Angola, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe will each be represented when the show finally kicks off in Randburg, South Africa, on Sunday."

Fayose explained that DStv subscribers and audience in the continent will most certainly have a healthy and delightful mix of different perspectives and cultures. "And talking about culture, this is where Professor Bankole Omotoso, a Nigerian and an author of novellas, short stories, plays and historical novels was drafted into the Big Brother Africa team."

According to him, "Prof. Omotoso used his scholarly experience and interpretation of drama in helping to identify dramatic potentials, which could otherwise be misinterpreted due to cultural and ethnic differences in the housemates. He was also involved in the selection process of the BBA housemates.

Big Brother Africa is the talk of entertainment columnists throughout the continent, but - as with the misbegotten American reality genre - the main topic of conversation seems to be the contestants' personality conflicts and show-business ambitions rather than intercultural issues. The prize is $100,000 - which adds up to very different amounts in the local currency of each contestant.

UPDATE: Dragan Antulov reminds me that African reality television is really one more thing to blame on Europe.

Friday, June 06, 2003
View from city hall... sort of

Mayor Elias Mudzuri of Harare, a member of the opposition MDC, assesses the Zimbabwe situation.

A new beginning in Rwanda

Rwanda's new constitution was signed into law by President Paul Kagame after the country's Supreme Court certified its approval by referendum. The constitution, which is the product of a two-year review process managed by the Commission Juridique et Constitutionelle, paves the way for presidential and parliamentary elections this fall; the elections will be the first since the 1994 genocide.

The constitution reflects two overwhelming realities: the genocide, and the post-1994 return of the Tutsi diaspora that had been created by the pogroms of 1959. Possibly the most eloquent expression of these purposes is Article 9:

The State of Rwanda commits itself to conform to the following fundamental principles and to promote and enforce the respect thereof:

1̊ fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations;

2̊ eradication of ethnic, regional and other divisions and promotion of national unity;

3̊ equitable sharing of power;

4̊ building a state governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic government, equality of all Rwandans and between women and men reflected by ensuring that women are granted at least thirty per cent of posts in decision making organs;

5̊ building a State committed to promoting social welfare and establishing appropriate mechanisms for ensuring social justice;

6̊ the constant quest for solutions through dialogue and consensus.

Other articles in the bill of rights prohibit discrimination based on "ethnic origin, tribe, clan, colour, sex, region, social origin, religion or faith, opinion, economic status, culture, language, social status, physical or mental disability," forbid "[r]evisionism, negationism and trivialisation of genocide," and commit the state to preserve genocide memorials and care for survivors.

The return of the Tutsi diaspora is reflected in the constitutionalization of English as an official language (along with French and Kinyarwanda) as well as the provisions of Article 7 regarding citizenship. Prior to 1994, Rwandan law forbade dual nationality, and many Tutsi refugees lost their Rwandan citizenship by becoming nationals of Uganda, Tanzania, Belgium or the United States. The new constitution not only contains a specific provision permitting dual nationality but also restores the citizenship of all Rwandans who left the country between 1959 and 1994, along with their descendants. Article 7 also entrenches a law of return similar to that provided by Israeli or German law, stating that "all persons originating from Rwanda and their descendants shall, upon their request, be entitled to Rwandan nationality."

Rwanda's painful experience with genocide and autocratic governments is also reflected in the elaborate system of checks and balances created not only between the branches of government but within each branch. The executive cabinet, for instance, is appointed by the president but must be proportional to the representation of parties in the Chamber of Deputies, with no one party accounting for more than 50 percent of the cabinet's membership. Prosecutors, judges and military officers may not belong to political parties, and the independence of prosecutors and the civil service is guaranteed by the constitution. Courts are required to issue all rulings in writing and provide reasons in order to facilitate review and examination. In addition, the constitution creates several independent oversight agencies, including a national ombudsman and an auditor general, as well as commissions for human rights, national reconciliation and "the fight against genocide."

The constitution creates a somewhat unusual two-house legislature. The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, consists of 53 members elected by proportional representation, 24 women chosen by local officials in each province, two youth representatives and - in another reflection of the impact of genocide - a representative of the Federation of Associations for the Disabled. The upper house - the Senate - is indirectly elected, with 12 provincial representatives chosen by local officials, eight presidential appointees from "historically marginalized communities," four representatives of a consultative association of political parties and two university professors (one each from the nation's public and private universities). A candidate for the Senate must also be an inararibonye - roughly translated, a highly educated expert - and candidates' qualifications are subject to approval by the Supreme Court.

The bill of rights is, in many ways, a progressive one. Among the rights guaranteed to Rwandans are freedom of association and assembly, equal pay for equal work, right to collective bargaining, and free public education (which does not exist in many African countries). Other rights, however - particularly freedom of speech, which is a particularly sensitive issue in Rwanda due to the legacy of the genocide - are qualified. Article 34, for instance, provides:

Freedom of speech and freedom of information shall not prejudice public order and good morals, the right of every citizen to honour, good reputation and the privacy of personal and family life. It is also guaranteed so long as it does not prejudice the protection of the youth and minors.

The same article also creates a National Press Council to oversee the news media - which may again be a reflection of the role of the media in fomenting genocide, but is a matter of concern because of its potential use for censorship.

The constitutional provisions regarding political parties may also be a matter of concern. Parties are not subject to prior registration requirements, but they are "prohibited from basing themselves on race, ethnic group, tribe, clan, region, sex, religion or any other division which may give rise to discrimination," and may be disqualified by court order. The International Federation of Human Rights (report in French) worries that the catchall language prohibiting "divisive" parties may provide ammunition to harass opposition parties, and that the provision requiring political parties to participate in a multiparty consensus-building association might also chill dissent.

Compared to the charter recently unveiled in Swaziland, however, the Rwandan constitution is a model of democracy, and its deficiencies can perhaps be forgiven in light of the country's long history of ethnic conflict. The Third Republic of Rwanda is off to a promising start.

Holiday perspective

Proletarios Epanastatis provides a Marxist view of Shavuot.

What I did on my summer vacation, part 3

The first 150 miles of the drive from Moab to Bryce Canyon took me two hours. The next 110 took four, although I probably could have managed it in less if I hadn't stopped to take so many pictures.

Route 12, which starts at Torrey and continues southwest to Route 89, is one of the most beautiful roads in the United States, but also one of the most winding and occasionally treacherous. From Torrey, the road climbs over the Aquarius Plateau at about 10,000 feet. At that altitude, the desert gives way to a landscape of forests, lush meadows and lakes that reminds me powerfully of Ireland (where I've never been). Just south of the plateau is the Hogsback, a knife-edge ridge with thousand-foot dropoffs on either side and no guardrails. Naomi assures me that the view is spectacular.

From there, the highway skirts the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before reaching Bryce Canyon. The canyon, like Arches, lived up to its advertising, and the temperatures at 8000 feet were much more pleasant than in the desert around Moab. I enjoyed the scenery a great deal - although my favorite was not one of the canyon trails but Mossy Cave - and I was pleased to find out that I'm still physically fit enough to handle some brutal climbs. I would have preferred to spend more than two days, but our vacation was limited and we had to get back to Salt Lake for the trip home.

Wonder of wonders, our flight was on time.

Not Tiananmen, but not Malacanang

It looks like Mugabe has managed to keep a lid on things for the time being; a massive show of force by paramilitaries in central Harare succeeded in preventing a march planned for today, and MDC leader Tsvangirai has been arrested for a second time. In Bulawayo, where protests this week have been stronger, soldiers in full combat gear patrolled the streets.

The government crackdown has resulted in hundreds of arrests and beatings and at least two reported deaths, and seems to have intimidated the opposition rather effectively. Tsvangirai has promised to initiate "rolling mass action at strategic times of our choice," and has vowed to give the government less time to prepare for future actions, but it isn't clear that this will help in the short run. Many of Mugabe's paramilitaries are composed of unemployed youths who have nothing else to do, and they can be mobilized and deployed on short notice. However incompetent Mugabe may be in other respects, he's shown himself quite capable of making quick and effective use of political violence. Unless he loses the support of the paramilitaries - or unless the opposition develops the will and resources to confront them successfully - it doesn't look as if he will be dislodged by domestic forces anytime soon. If the international community wants Mugabe out before he ruins Zimbabwe completely, it will have to take action.

Thursday, June 05, 2003
Encouraging signs

The Egyptian government is set to introduce the most significant judicial reform since the imposition of the state of emergency:

The new draft law -- which eliminates lifetime hard labour sentences for prisoners, and annuls the 1980s Law 105 on Supreme State Security Courts -- is set to be debated by the Shura Council and the People's Assembly next week.

The elimination of hard labor sentences is described as a modernizing measure designed to replace traditional prison work with more rehabilitative forms of labor that will prepare prisoners for employment upon release. It is also expected that this will encourage foreign countries to return more fugitives to Egypt:

According to Cairo University law professor Fawzia Abdel-Sattar, "The old penal code was always criticised by international legal experts, and as a result lots of countries were refusing to implement their extradition treaties with Egypt, based on the fact that the Egyptian system enforces certain penalties which more advanced countries do not approve of."

The proposed sentencing reforms, however, pale beside the elimination of the state security courts. The reform of the judicial system will not be complete; the law will leave intact the "emergency state security courts" that hold concurrent jurisdiction with military tribunals over terrorism and domestic security cases. More ordinary political and public corruption cases, however, will now be tried in the ordinary criminal courts, reducing the possibility that democratic activists like Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim can be selectively prosecuted in courts with diminished constitutional guarantees. If the bill passes - and, given that it is a government bill, it almost certainly will - then one of the most onerous aspects of Egypt's twenty-year state of emergency will be repealed.

At the same time, the Egyptian courts seem to be showing increasing independence in other ways. The talk of Egypt's political classes at the moment appears to be the Court of Cassation's invalidation of the 2000 parliamentary election results in the East Cairo district of Zeitoun on the ground that the polls were supervised by administrative officials rather than independent judges. The decision - which may result in a virtually unprecedented nullification of an electoral victory by the ruling party - has the potential to call the entire election into question. The most recent Cairo Times also discusses a landmark ruling in favor of freedom of assembly, which has been heavily restricted in Egypt for the duration of the state of emergency. Possibly the most remarkable thing about this ruling is that it came, not from the historically independent Court of Cassation, but from an administrative court with closer connections to the government. It's too early to describe any of this as a trend toward democratization - even on top of the Court of Cassation's recent acquittal of Ibrahim - but there's definitely something stirring in Mubarak's republic.

Chronicle time again

This week's installment discusses the admission of Iraq and Egypt to the League of Nations.

Journey on the right

Aviv Lavie describes how Adina Shapira, a national-religious Israeli, co-founded a peace education organization with Dr. Ghassan Abdullah of Ramallah. Of course such changes in world-view aren't unheard-of, but the difference here is that Shapira did so while remaining on the right. She's sometimes had a difficult time, but her epiphany is an example of how, given the proper conditions, the Israeli right may one day become reconciled to the idea of a Palestinian state.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003
And speaking of Swaziland...

Via Africapundit: Swazi King Mswati III, in a sermon delivered over the radio, condemned the concept of human rights as "an abomination before God" and blamed the nation's ills on women wearing pants:

"The Bible says curse be unto a woman who wears pants, and those who wear their husband's clothes. That is why the world is in such a state today," Mswati, ruler of the impoverished feudal nation of about one million, said late on Thursday.

The sermon reportedly left Swazi women unimpressed:

"The king says I am the cause of the world's problems because of my outfit. Never mind terrorism, government corruption, poverty and disease, it's me and my pants. I reject that," said Thob'sile Dlamini.

The condemnation of the human rights movement may be a reaction to the draft constitution that was presented by a review commission on Saturday. But Mswati, who has recently claimed to rule by divine right, also appears to be channeling Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the evangelical Malawian dictator who likewise forbade women to wear pants. Banda, in fact, went further and also prohibited short skirts, although this is something that Mswati, with his well-known eye for the ladies, might choose not to emulate.

Escalation in Tonga

Errol Cavit, my man in the South Pacific, informs me that yet another traditional monarchy is headed for a rule of law crisis.

A while ago, I wrote about the Times of Tonga case, in which the Tongan government banned the island's only independent newspaper for allegedly "inciting disaffection" with "strong cultural insensitivity," and violating "the rights of the people of Tonga to correct, unbiased, and balanced reporting." Last week, the Times' owner won a legal victory when the Chief Justice of Tonga ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and ordered Tongan customs to allow the paper - which is printed in New Zealand - into the country. The government, however, doesn't intend to give up so easily.

This is actually the second time the Tongan government has defied a court order in the Times case. The original ban, which went into effect in late February, was overturned by a court on April 4. Within minutes, however, the Privy Council - the Tongan Privy Council, that is - "issued a letter... saying that there is now a new ordinance or a new legislation that bans the Times of Tonga." This letter, which had the force of law and also revoked the Times' business license, specifically provided that it was not subject to judicial review.

In last week's decision, the Chief Justice predictably held that the Privy Council could not immunize its decrees in this manner against a coequal branch of government. The government's response to this second ruling, though, has been even more ominous - a bill, framed as a constitutional amendment, that would place broad restraints on the courts and the press:

The bill presented in Parliament amends the Constitution to exclude laws passed by the Legislative Assembly and ordinances passed by the King from judicial review.

It says freedom of the press in the kingdom shall not be used to "infringe upon the rights of others and the cultural traditions of the Kingdom, or to violate public law and order and national security."

Since 21 of the 30 members of the Tongan legislature are royal appointees or nobles, the bill seems almost certain to pass. And given that business licenses appear to be legislative matters in Tonga, it would strip the courts not only of the power to overturn laws but to review administrative actions. The bill would, virtually overnight, remove the only real restraint on the power of the Tongan monarchy.

The press restrictions in the proposed constitutional amendment are also sweeping. The fact that the term "cultural traditions" is undefined, according to the Times' publisher, opens the door to extensive censorship:

"A person can be free to speak and to print anything as long as it complies with cultural traditions, as long as it doesn't violate the rights of people. They do not specify what cultural traditions are. But it leaves open for the government, to come up with the whole list of things, including that you cannot criticise the royal family. Because that would be against cultural traditions, you could not criticise the government or the leadership of Tonga. So we're looking into a situation where there is a major movement to make the government of Tonga far more dictatorial than it's ever been."

The bill represents a major escalation in the Tongan government's war on the press and courts. In previous cases, the government has obeyed adverse court orders in press cases; although its obedience has sometimes been reluctant, it has never tried to place itself entirely above the law. The current situation bears an eerie resemblance to the rule of law crisis in Swaziland, another traditional monarchy that has increasingly used royal power to muzzle the press and has claimed that it is not bound by court decisions.

Events in Tonga may take a similar course. The Times' publisher has predicted public protests, and - as with Swaziland - the Commonwealth is considering sanctions. The interesting part, however, will be the reaction of Tonga's judges, who, like the Swazi judiciary, are mostly expatriates and can safely defy the government. In Swaziland, the government's attempt to declare itself above the law resulted in the mass resignation of the country's judges, creating an impasse that has persisted despite royal temporizing and Commonwealth mediation. If the Tongan government persists with the proposed constitutional amendment, Tonga may also find itself without a functioning judicial system.

Strike in danger

The general strike called by the Zimbabwe opposition is reportedly showing signs of weakening, with more businesses open in the capital, increased traffic and youth militia from the "Border Gezi camps" (named after the founder of the ZANU paramilitaries) very much in evidence on the streets. MDC activists have reported widespread arrests and intimidation by security forces and paramilitaries.

The strike appears to be holding more strongly in Bulawayo, with one local businessman estimating that "some 10 per cent of businesses were operating." Bulawayo is, of course, the capital of Matabeleland province and a key center of opposition to Mugabe. In the 2002 presidential election, the MDC received 81 percent of the vote in Bulawayo, higher than anywhere else in the country. If the strike fails there, it's likely to fizzle throughout Zimbabwe - but if it holds on there, Bulawayo could take its place along with Timisoara. Africapundit has more details on the ongoing protests.

Sidebar updates and administrative matters

I've updated the links to Allison's and Miranda's blogs. I've also added a reciprocal link to Dustin Frelich and added Al-Muhajabah's new blog, The Niqabi Paralegal, to the blogroll. Law nerds should definitely check out the last of these - it's devoted to issues affecting Muslims in the American courts, and the articles are both scholarly and fascinating.

On the administrative front, I need advice in choosing a host to switch to MT. I'd appreciate hearing about good and bad experiences that y'all have had with hosting servers - both recommendations and warnings are welcome.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
What I did on my summer vacation, part 2

Three quarters of Utah's population lives in the Wasatch valley, within about sixty miles of Salt Lake City. Most of the rest of the state is desert. It takes about four hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, following Interstate 15 south and then routes 6 and 191; past Price, the countryside becomes desolate and by the time you get to Green River, it's as barren as anyplace I've seen.

It doesn't look a thing like home. There's something very familiar about Utah, though, and it isn't just the quasi-Old Testament place-names. Utah is a desert settled by refugees from persecution who worked hard and made it bloom. Their relations with the indigenous inhabitants alternated between accommodation and fighting, and over the generations they took in immigrants from all over the world.

I've known a few Mormons in New York. Most of them were happy enough where they were, and some had tried Utah for a while and didn't care for it, but they all thought of it as home. Whenever I listened them talk wistfully about moving to Utah someday with no real intention of ever doing so, I'd hear my relatives talking about Israel. Utah is a homeland in a way that other American states, with the possible exception of Hawaii, will never be.

So is it possible to have a homeland without an independent nation? Maybe. The catch is that it has to be in the United States - and even with America's commitment to constitutionalism and rule of law, it was a near-run thing for the Mormons during much of the nineteenth century, and they ended up having to make some major compromises.

In any event, we made it through the evocative countryside to Moab and spent most of the next two days at Arches National Park. We could have done without the 100-degree heat, but otherwise it lived up to its advertising. It's small enough to get up close and personal with all the major formations in two days but still spectacular, and there are plenty of surprises along the trails - an abandoned ranch house here, some Indian petroglyphs there. It wasn't very demanding, but it was good clean fun and excellent practice for the next stage of the journey.

Everything or nothing

Today's big news in the Mideast is, of course, the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh and the preparation for tomorrow's meetings at Aqaba. If words were enough to end the conflict, the Mideast would be well on its way to a bright future. Tomorrow at Aqaba, Sharon is expected to announce the evacuation of 10 outposts and pledge support for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state. The IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, has promised to dismantle all outposts as soon as they are built. Abu Mazen, for his part, is expected to announce an end to the intifada, and even Hamas has tentatively promised a cease-fire in return for "guarantees of a gradual IDF withdrawal from Palestinian territory." In terms of rhetoric alone, Hamas' leap from "total destruction of Israel" to "gradual withdrawal" is equivalent to Michael Kleiner joining Meretz.

The true test, however, is not words but actions, and words in the Mideast have a way of not making it to the ground. Even here, though, there are signs for cautious optimism. In the past days, Israel has released prisoners, begun to ease travel restrictions and taken action against the hilltop youth. There are also indications of action on the Palestinian side, both Ya'alon and Israeli military intelligence chief Aharon Ze'evi have stated that "there are initial signs indicating that the Palestinian Authority has begun to fight terror organizations in the Gaza Strip." Ze'evi went further in giving his stamp of approval to Abu Mazen, saying that he "genuinely wants to stop terror."

For the time being, this seems to have created some momentum; both Israeli and American Jewish public opinion is lining up behind the road map, and even Pales tinian media is cautiously talking about the "new Sharon." However, momentum of this sort has proved very fragile before, and with IDF intelligence picking up a marked increase in terror threats, the possibility of the "bomber's veto" is very real.

There's also the uncomfortable fact that the current negotiations are the easy part. Cease-fires, withdrawals and prisoner exchanges are all interim matters; there's still plenty of time for the renewed process to hit the usual snags. Looming ahead are discussions of settlements, refugees, final borders, the status of holy places and an end to the wider Israeli-Arab conflict. With respect to these issues, the gaps are still wide. On the Palestinian side, for instance, Abu Mazen is talking about a return to the 1967 borders, which isn't about to happen without adjustments to take in the Israeli development towns along the Green Line. On the Israeli side, today's allegations by Reuven Rivlin that Sharon plans to abandon 17 settlements are an improvement over past positions - for one thing, this is the first time that Sharon has named the settlements he is willing to give up - but the Palestinians will never accept a minimally contiguous state with so many settlers remaining. Finding middle ground will be, to say the least, an arduous task, particularly with the National Union in government and an incipient revolt brewing on the right wing of Likud.

In the meantime, each side will have to fight its extremists. Imshin mentions that the Israeli far right is planning massive demonstrations against the road map, and today's four attempts by Kachniks to establish hilltop outposts may be a sign of things to come. And even assuming that Ya'alon and Ze'evi are right about Abu Mazen, he'll have his hands full stopping the next shahid from getting through.

There are also indications that Bush is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors by trying to push too fast. The Sharm el-Sheikh summit was the smart thing to do - an Israeli-Palestinian peace simply isn't going to happen without the support of the Arab world - but it was held without sufficient time to lay the groundwork. The joint declaration read by President Mubarak at the end of the meeting was very generalized, and key issues such as normalization and resumption of the peace talks with Syria and Lebanon were left unresolved. Syria, in fact, boycotted the summit entirely, preferring to stay on the sidelines and issue anti-Israeli rhetoric. When Bush goes to meet Sharon and Abu Mazen tomorrow, he won't have the Arab states entirely in hand.

Also conspicuous by its absence was the EU - which, given its status as a major source of diplomatic and financial support for the Palestinian Authority, is a non-trivial omission. The EU is the only party that can credibly apply the stick to the PA, and Bush will need the Europeans to be on the same page when it's time to tackle the tough issues. On one level, it's important for Bush to proceed quickly to build momentum, but he won't accomplish anything if he declares victory in Aqaba and goes home - he'll have to stay engaged for the long haul and coordinate a worldwide effort. His past track record in doing such things doesn't inspire me with trust.

Hope springs eternal, and I'm a more hopeful soul than most. The news now is better than it has been for most of the last three years, and there's a very dim light further down the tunnel. Only time will tell whether it is day or the headlight of an oncoming train.

Catching up with the Chronicle

Al-Ahram continues its discussion of twentieth-century Egypt with the centenary of Ibrahim Pasha's conquest of Acre in 1832, including an account of the campaign as well as its political use by the Egyptian regime of the 1930s.

Monday, June 02, 2003
Special occasion

The first post on The Head Heeb was made six months ago today. Once again, my thanks go out to all my readers; you're the ones who make it worthwhile.

What I did on my summer vacation, part 1

Our trip didn't begin well. We were booked on a 2:50 flight out of Kennedy, and arrived at 12:30 to be told that it had been canceled. The reservation agent was able to put us on the next flight, but that wasn't until 5:40, and it was delayed a further half-hour due to a late connection. We got to Salt Lake City about 9 p.m. local time; we picked up our rental car without difficulty, but the clerk gave us an inaccurate map and directions to the wrong hotel. Fortunately, things got better from there.

We spent a day in Salt Lake before driving south. It's a small city - about 170,000 people - and the downtown area is only a few blocks wide. It's very homogeneous as well; there's a visible Mexican minority, but I saw only one African-American the whole time I was there. It's not as provincial as it once was - the presence of Afghan and Lebanese restaurants makes that clear to even a casual visitor - but it's still conservative and small-townish.

What was surprising was how little Mormon presence there was outside the immediate area of the Temple. Mormons are a minority in Salt Lake City - about 40 percent of the population - and churches far outnumber Mormon houses of worship. It's possible to buy liquor within two blocks of Temple Square, and you don't have to ask for it either. The missionaries are ubiquitous and "modest" seems to be a major selling point in clothing advertisements, but in most places that's all that gives the game away.

Utah is a good place to be a Zionist, though - Zions Bank, Zion National Park and Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution are only the beginning. All right, it's not that kind of Zionism, but Utah is actually a ready-made holy land - in addition to the temple, there's a desert, a dead sea and even a Jordan River. I'm reminded of the proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by giving Utah to one side or the other.

At any rate, we spent a leisurely day in the city; we saw the Temple grounds (non-Mormons aren't allowed in), walked through the historic neighborhoods and spent some time at the International Peace Garden in Jordan Park. We opted out of taking a guided tour of the Temple - they're conducted with a proselytizing bent, and we didn't feel like exercising our sales resistance - and navigated the grounds and visitor centers on our own. Surprisingly enough, it's possible to walk through the first and second floors of the north visitor center without realizing you're in an LDS building - all the artwork depicts Old and New Testament scenes. For the Book of Mormon stuff and the exhibits on the modern church, you have to go to the basement. The south visitor center has some interesting exhibits about the construction of the temple, though, and the Beehive House down the block looks much as it did when Brigham Young lived there. LDS history is an interest of mine, the Salt Lake historic district is well-preserved and the guides are generally well-informed, so I had a good time. Naomi, I think, was somewhat put off by the guides' obvious fervor - even outside the Temple, most of them are young Mormon women doing their equivalent of the boys' missionary year - but she enjoyed it as well.

We left for Arches early Tuesday morning - I'll write more on that tomorrow.

Making comparisons, part 2

Kesher Talk links to an interesting Jerusalem Post op-ed piece by Herb Keinon comparing previous land-for-peace settlements to the current "road map" proposals. He missed the Sri Lanka parallel that I've drawn before, but hit most of the others; one of the more interesting parts of his discussion was the comparison between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Algerian war of independence. Among other things, he quotes Binyamin Netanyahu's differentiation of the two conflicts:

Erroneously, he said, the Europeans equate Israel's presence in the territories to France's colonialization of Algeria, forgetting that Israel's ties to Judea and Samaria go a bit deeper than France's 100-year connection to Algeria; that the Algerians never claimed Paris as their capital, and certainly were never committed to wiping France off the map.

I'm not impressed with the first of these distinctions - aside from the fact that Netanyahu fails to mention Gaza, he conflates Israel with Jews as a whole. Jews certainly have deep historical connections to the West Bank, but the modern state of Israel is the creation of a settlement movement less than 130 years old. Moreover, with the exception of East Jerusalem and Hebron, the Jewish presence in the occupied territories during the late Ottoman and Mandatory periods was small. The Jewish population of the West Bank and Gaza in 1947 was probably under 1000, and Zionist settlement in the area only began in the 1920s. The only Jewish community of any size in Gaza - Kfar Darom - was founded in 1946 and had about 200 people at the beginning of the Israeli war of independence. Most of the Jewish communities currently residing in the West Bank and Gaza were created within the past 25 years; if anything, the events giving rise to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict have unfolded over less time than the French occupation of Algeria.

Netanyahu's other distinctions are more cogent, and there's a fourth one that is at least as important - the fact that, unlike Israel, France had a safe avenue of retreat. The Mediterranean Sea formed a physical barrier between France and Algeria that enabled France to disengage with minimum difficulty once the pieds noirs were sorted out. The Israelis and Palestinians, in contrast, have no such natural border and live all too close together. Right now, there is nothing save the IDF to prevent suicide bombers from infiltrating into Israel from the West Bank - a fact that, I think, accounts in large part for the dissonance between Israelis' overwhelming support for withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and their unwillingness to do so under present conditions. This is one of the primary reasons why I support a security fence, albeit one in a different location from what Sharon currently proposes - it will create a physical barrier behind which Israel can defend itself effectively.

Even with this distinction, however, I believe that the parallels between the Franco-Algerian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are far stronger than the differences. In addition to the obvious comparison between de Gaulle and Sharon, the following are only a beginning:

Both conflicts began with sporadic terrorist acts and spiraled into general uprisings.

Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Algerian war of independence involved territories that both sides considered home. The French settlers in Algeria regarded themselves as indigenous and considered Algeria an integral part of France. Likewise, even those Israelis who support immediate withdrawal from the West Bank acknowledge the region's ancient Jewish roots and the presence there of important Jewish holy sites.

Both wars were rebellions by previously disunited peoples who developed national consciousness in reaction to settlement.

Both conflicts were driven in large part by right-wing settlers whose values were different from those of the fundamentally liberal metropoles to which they claimed allegiance, and who often pursued independent political agendas at variance with the interests of the metropolitan powers.

Coalition politics in the metropole and maximalism on the rebel side played a part in keeping both conflicts going.

Both wars resulted in gradual but steady increases in brutality and erosion in the values of all parties - in Israel's case, the decline of the "model occupier" policy of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and in Palestine's, the growth of nihilism and popular support for terrorist acts.

Like the Palestinians, the Algerian nationalists were widely championed by the international left and succeeded in bringing intense international pressure to bear on the occupying power.

I've read a good deal about the Algerian war of independence recently, and its history is eerily familiar. The parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian and Franco-Algerian conflicts are compelling; certainly, they are far more so than the puerile comparisons to South Africa and Nazi Germany that are more commonly drawn. The Algerian war of independence, in fact, has enough in common with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that it is in my opinion useful in making predictions. The art of forecasting is always an uncertain one, and the issue of physical separation will have to be resolved before an Israeli disengagement can proceed along Franco-Algerian lines, but the position of Israel two years into the Sharon administration is very much like that of France two years after the establishment of the Fifth Republic. If events proceed in a similar fashion, the occupation has about three years more to run - a timetable consistent with a one-year delay in the road map.

The Algeria comparison is, in many ways, not a favorable or comforting one for Israel. Nevertheless, it may be hopeful in the long term. The end of the Algerian war of independence in 1963 left intense bitterness between Algeria and France, both among the newly independent Algerians and the returning pieds noirs. Forty years later, however, there are more than a million Algerian immigrants in France, the two countries are edging toward cooperation and friendship, and Jacques Chirac was made welcome on his recent visit to Algiers. Given enough time for tensions to cool, it's not impossible to imagine an Israeli prime minister being cheered in the streets of Palestine a generation from now.

UPDATE: Miranda takes my arguments apart. My response is here.

UPDATE 2: Miranda responds again. One aspect of her discussion is, I think, particularly relevant:

As for the national identity: this very moment considerable parts of the Algerian population are fighting against forced "Arabization." Not to mention the Islamist bloodbaths. Confessed cynic that I am, I can only wish the future Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement will be paid for with less blood than the current French-Algerian one is. The nearest analogy would be for Hamas to cut a couple of thousands Palestinian throats, preferably these of women and children, to make Palestinians love Israelis. France, the prevailing notion appears to be, is simply the safer option, the window to the wide prosperous world. The friendship is founded in tragic Algerian failure much more than in any successes, of either side.

I doubt very much that Hamas is about to start cutting the throats of Palestinian women and children, or that the Palestinians would come to love Israel even if they did so. It's not necessary, however, for Palestinians to love Israel - only to accept its existence. And the reason they now show signs of doing this is precisely the same one that is bringing the Algerians closer to France - tragic failure. Three years of intifada have brought nothing but misery, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the window to prosperity is coexistence - and, ultimately, cooperation - with Israel. I don't expect the process to be easy - it will likely take a generation and a great deal of spilled blood - but I believe that Palestine will eventually follow the Algerian road.

Pre-emptive arrest

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been arrested ahead of protests and strikes planned to begin today and continue through the week. He was charged with contempt for violating a court order against the demonstrations, which is minor compared to the treason charges he is already facing but serves Mugabe's tactical goal of getting him off the streets. Berlin has called for his release, but the South African government is predictably silent.

It is unclear what effect Tsvangirai's arrest will have on the planned protests, although the government has placed Harare under a virtual state of siege, with heavy riot police presence and reports of ZANU paramilitary groups running amok. There are already unconfirmed reports that demonstrators have been killed. The next few days will be critical; if the protests don't fizzle, they could lead either to Mugabe's overthrow or to a Tiananmen Square incident that will stifle effective opposition for years to come. If South Africa is serious about resolving the Zimbabwe impasse, its intervention now could make the difference.

Sunday, June 01, 2003
I have returned

Naomi and I are back safe in New York; we landed at JFK about an hour ago and just finished checking our messages. I'll respond to comments later tonight or tomorrow, and I'll regale you with my impressions of Salt Lake City, the hiking at Arches and Bryce Canyon, Utah's surprisingly good microbrews and the sheer glory of Western speed limits. Once I've caught up on the news - and there seems to be quite a lot of it, in the Mideast and elsewhere - I'll add more.

It seems, as well, that the Blogger problems haven't resolved themselves, so I'll be making the switch to MT sometime within the next week or two. I'll let you know as soon as I reserve a domain.