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Thursday, July 31, 2003  

Around the world

  • Iraqis oppose female judge
  • The cultural confusion I expected as a result of the invasion of Iraq has presented itself in a way that is both ironic and intriguing. Lawyers in the city of Najaf are protesting the appointment of a female judge by American overseers. The protests have prevented the woman, an educated and experienced attorney, from being sworn in.

    The swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for today for Nidal Nasser Hussein, a 45-year-old lawyer with a history of breaking precedent in Najaf. She was the first female lawyer to begin working here when she started 16 years ago. There are now 50.

    A huge white cake decorated with multicolored flowers surrounded by dozens of cans of chilled Pepsi sat at one end of the chief judge's somewhat battered chambers when Colonel Conlin arrived for the ceremony.

    Outside, a group of about 30 male and female lawyers were chanting in English: "No No Women" and "Out Out Roe," referring to Specialist Rachel Roe, a Wisconsin lawyer serving as the adviser to the court system in Najaf. A lone Marine gunnery sergeant prevented them from storming the chambers.

    "We refuse the appointment of a woman judge, because it contradicts Islamic law," said Rajiha al-Amidi, one of the women in the group protesting the appointment. "This is what the Americans wanted to achieve in the first place with their invasion, to undermine Islam."

    The rationalizations offered for refusing Hussein's ascension are incoherent and contradictory. If the situation had arisen in the U.S. I would say that there is no rational reason to listen to the naysayers. However, I find myself conflicted when it comes to telling people in other countries what to do -- especially when American guns pointed at them are involved. For example, I oppose genital mutilation of women in some Muslim and/or African cultures, but believe the people in those cultures should take the lead in ending the practice. In regard to Ms. Hussein, my hope is that enough of the bar in Najaf can be persuaded by appeals to reason to allow her appointment to go forward.

  • Taylor may not leave Liberia
  • Liberian dictator Charles Taylor is using continued fighting in the country as an excuse to hold on to power.

    Holed up in the capital, Taylor's government reacted angrily to the spread of fighting to new fronts outside the city. A spokesman said the attacks had made Taylor rethink ceding power, a pledge Taylor has made and repeatedly broken or hedged since the rebel siege began in June.

    The rebels read Taylor's pledge to step down "as weakness," Taylor spokesman Vaanii Paasawe said. "In fact, it has escalated the war."

    "We are of a different opinion now in the government about the validity of the overtures of the president to step down," the Taylor spokesman said. "So if you start hearing differently, you shouldn't be surprised."

    Taylor, who was educated in the United States, took power in Liberia in 1989. The country has been in turmoil, with rebel groups attempting to topple what is considered a corrupt government, since. Currently, rebels hold the ports at both Monrovia and Buchanan, making importation of food almost impossible. Relief does not appear to be in sight for the starving citizens of those areas. Promises of a West African peacekeeping force remain unkept.

    Arguments over funding are believed to be delaying deployment of a peace mission, pledged by West African nations with assurances of U.S. and other international assistance.

    Nigeria, West Africa's military power, has offered two battalions but says it needs help with what it expects to be a multimillion-dollar daily tab. Asked after meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair in London when peacekeeping troops might go in, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told reporters, "a few days."

    Similar promises have been offered for more than a month.

    The only encouraging sign is the arrival of an assessment team yesterday.

    An advance team has arrived in Liberia to assess conditions for a West African peacekeeping force, as fighting continues in the nation's two largest cities.

    The team led by a Nigerian military commander General Festus Okokwu arrived Wednesday in Liberia's capital city, Monrovia, ahead of a proposed peacekeeping mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

    The United Nations may -- or may not -- be closer to acting on a resolution approving an international peacekeeping force for Liberia.

  • Rome still says no to gay marriage
  • The Catholic Church has not been deaf to recent legal decisions softening the presumptions against homosexual acts and unions.

    VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican launched a global campaign against gay marriages Thursday, warning Catholic politicians that support of same-sex unions was "gravely immoral" and urging non-Catholics to join the offensive.

    The Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a 12-page set of guidelines with the approval of Pope John Paul II in a bid to stem the increase in laws granting legal rights to homosexual unions in Europe and North America.

    "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," the document said. "Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."

    The campaign urges non-Catholics to join the Vatican in opposing gay sex, marriage and adoption. It focuses on politicians, urging them to be moral leaders who oppose homosexuality.

    The document says Catholic politicians have a "moral duty" to publicly oppose laws granting recognition to homosexual unions and to vote against them if proposals are put to a vote in legislatures.

    If the laws are already on the books, politicians must speak out against them, work to repeal them and try to limit their impact on society, it said.

    "To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral," the document said.

    The current resident of the White House continues to oppose marriage for homosexuals. However, the Bush administration has also courted conservative gays with some success.

    1:17 PM