Friday, November 16, 2007

why democracy doesn't work in some places

I was listening to a reporters' roundtable discussion on NPR this morning. They were talking about Pakistan and appropriately enough they included a reporter from an English-language Pakistani newspaper. At one point an American reporter explains why the Bush Administration has been backing General Musharraf: because they imagine him to be stable and they're worried what will happen to the Pakistani nukes otherwise.

But the Pakistani reporter is outraged. He's not just mad at the Bush administration policy, he's mad at the American reporter for merely saying what the Bush policy is. He seriously believes that if the reporter states the Bush policy the reporter was supporting the Bush policy.

Later, the moderator asks the Pakistani reporter if Benazir Bhutto might be a plausible successor to Gen. Musharraf. More outrage! That's for the Pakistani people to decide, not Americans!

So if that's how the educated elite in Pakistan tolerate political discussion, imagine what it's like in the streets.

It reminds me of an ex-brother-in-law of mine. He was from Lebanon. He appeared outwardly western but he did not fare well here. One day he and my brother and I were sitting watching an old Godzilla movie. He got very agitated by it.

"Those Japanese are liars! There is no animal like that!"

My brother explains to him that, of course, it's just a silly movie, no one is claiming it's real. The monster is really a symbol for other things the japanese are thinking about. But it was hopeless.

"They are LIARS! That's all those Japanese do! THEY ARE LIARS!"

We had to turn the set off. And still he kept going on about how the Japanese were all liars.

When you wonder why there is unrest in some parts of the world, know that many of these people live on very short fuses. And what is the hope for peace in societies where things we take as basic like irony, metaphor, and casual disagreement are off the table because someone will take them seriously and panic over it? America may well be the cause of all their problems, but if it wasn't us they'd find something else to riot about. A loss at cricket perhaps.

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