Thursday, March 30, 2006

Seen these in your local newspaper today?

Bet you haven't. Good going, Israeli "Defense" Forces!

Jill Carroll's release

Samer and I were ecstatic this morning upon hearing of Jill Carroll's release. I first read about it on Natasha's blog and found myself struggling all morning to refrain from crying for joy in public, most notably in front of all the moms at the pre-school drop-off. Later on, I was rocking out on the cross trainer at the gym and saw Natasha, cute as ever, talking about it on CNN (sorry, Natasha, I know you're all grown up but I still think of you as a young'un.)

I don't know Jill (although I think those of us following her story through Natasha's blog kind of feel like we do) but I've found that my response to her capture and release has been extremely visceral. Perhaps too close to home. And while I feel kind of weird going into a very personal tangent in relation to Jill's extraordinary story, I realize that I feel a kinship of sorts to her just based on what I've heard about the manner in which she chose to live in the Arab World.

There are very few foreigners I know who have taken the trouble to learn the language, truly immersed themselves in their surroundings and used the knowledge they gleaned of life there to engage themselves as activists, of sorts. People like that are truly special and, in my mind, represent what it's all about to take on life in a foreign land.

I've written quite a bit about belonging and how that becomes a lens from which one views everything when choosing to make a life in a country and culture not your own. At least, that's how I've always experienced it. I continually wanted to believe that I "fit in" enough when I lived in Jordan--and perhaps I did--but still I was constantly nagged with the perception that I would never stop being considered a foreigner, no matter if I spent the entire rest of my life there.

I've often noticed that when in Jordan, I often attempt to legitimize myself to some extent, by saying things like, "Oh yes, I'm American, but my husband's Jordanian" or making sure to speak Arabic and not appear to be like all those other expats in town--particularly after Bush II was truly voted in this last time. The idea that I had been living in Amman for 7 years and every time I opened my mouth and spoke Arabic (a routine occurrence) someone would ask me at least five questions about just why that was, was endearing but a constant reminder of my oddness. Like them, but not like them. Perhaps it's not that big of a deal, but for me living like this day in and day out for years made questioning my belonging a very central theme.

And so maybe that's why I pored over information about Jill. The same way I did when Margaret Hassan, who I greatly admired, was kidnapped and later killed in Iraq. They're people like me, I suppose. Just trying to fit in and carry their load. Their stories put a spotlight on that question that's always in the back of my mind when I'm in Jordan: does making a home in the Middle East, learning the language and loving the people really matter or make a difference?

Not that I would ever in a million years fear for my life in Jordan. My questioning, however, is also very much tied to raising my son here in the present-day United States. I've heard all the talk that's been going down since the Dubai Ports deal has given anyone and everyone, it seems, a license to be as racist as they never thought they could be in public. And while I truly believe that Ismael's life in going to be much richer as a result of the two worlds he belongs to, I feel a tinge of remorse that perhaps one day he will struggle with his sense of belonging in just the way I do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

An old haunt

One of my favorite places popped up in the news today: Grolier Poetry Book Shop, in Harvard Square. Apparently, it's being sold for only the second time in 80 years (source).

I have lovely memories of spending hours and hours in Grolier's flipping through poetry books way back in my college days. Yep, those were the days when I had time to bop around all the used bookstores any old time I felt like it.

Long live Grolier's! And here's hoping for a little more free time in the near future.

More old news

Someone sent me this article from Reuters AlertNet about the recent plight of a number of Indian and Nepalese workers in Jordan. Lately, there's also been tons in the news about foreign workers in Dubai and their unbelievable living conditions and mistreatment.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands upon thousands of Sri Lankan, Egyptian and Filipino workers in Jordan and the rest of the Middle East who live an existence unimaginable to most of us here in the U.S. Sure, they're able to make more money in the Middle East than they would at home, but the racism and brutality they suffer is inhumane, to put it mildly.

Over the years, I got involved in a number of attempts with Geeva, my Sri Lankan maid, to help Sri Lankan workers living in Jordan who were trapped in awful situations. Geeva has become an ambassador, of sorts, to many Sri Lankans in trouble, and there was scarcely a week that went by without someone asking her to intervene to help someone out.

Sri Lankans are routinely jailed for being stopped on the streets without papers, trapped in the homes of their obnoxious employers or taken advantage of by employment agencies that confiscate all their earnings and prohibit them from leaving the country. Overcoming a system that in every aspect is hostile to the foreign worker always seemed impossible, but I had great luck the numerous times I called up offending employers or owners of the shoddy agencies that brought over Sri Lankan maids. My approach was to play the role of the bullying foreigner and threaten in no uncertain terms to report them to the authorities. In general, I think I scared the bejesus out of them. Not that the authorities would have given much of a crap anyway.

And then the Indian and Nepalese workers. Both Samer and I had a feeling there might be problems shortly after the Iraq War began and his office building was literally flooded overnight with Indian workers looking for work. A hiring agency, it seems, had opened up shop there and had been spreading the word of the riches to be had in Iraq. I've read over the last few years of Indian workers being killed in Iraq and often wondered if they had passed through the Al-Sayegh building on their way there.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

9 Parts of Desire

It's a late night for me. Just got back from seeing 9 Parts of Desire at the Seattle Rep--a one-woman show about 9 Iraqi women.

Worth seeing, I'd say. And, it was sold out on a Tuesday night. People in this city sure seem to be interested in anything touching on the war and/or Arab World, which I find really fascinating.

Things are getting hectic as we get ready to head to Amman, but hopefully my blogging will be a bit more substantial over the next few days.

Monday, March 27, 2006

In over my head

We left a whole ton of books back in Amman, figuring we wouldn't have much space here in Seattle. Instead of buying books here, I request books through the library system and pick them up at my library a few blocks away.

Usually, when I request a book, there's quite a huge line of people ahead of me with dibs on it. Like 300+, on average. However, after spending the past 3 months without anything coming in, in the past 2 weeks I've been deluged with the following books:

Torch, by Cheryl Strayed (which I'm reading)
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
The Hungry Tide, Amitav Ghosh

Also, Robert Fisk's humongous new tome came in with something else I don't even remember what it was, and I just didn't bother since I knew I wouldn't have the time. And on Saturday I was notified that Twilight of the Superheroes is now waiting for me.

What the heck?! It's all too much for me and I'm bummed I don't have the time to get to all of them. Perhaps I'll have to start purchasing stuff after all.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Happy day

My son is rapidly rushing after his father's footsteps. I've posted once before on Samer's long history of computer game addiction, with its latest incarnation having been an intense love affair with Civilization IV (see here.)

A few months ago, we finally figured out how to pry Issy off the computer and his BBC Blue Cow storybooks and Thomas the Tank Engine crapola. We bought him a Leapster. For those of you who don't know, a Leapster is kind of like a Gameboy for pre-schoolers that's heavy on the ABC's and educational stuff in general.

And from the moment we got it for him up until we sent it back--a tired, worn-out piece of crapped-out equipment to be traded in for new--he's been all over it. I mean, some days for 10 hours straight. Not like I'm encouraging him to become catatonic on a daily basis, but his extended playing times did wonders when my mom was in town and we were shopping in 15-hour long shifts.

The Leapster has also been instrumental in my discovery that I may just be able to have a bit of a life again. There's an amazing little bakery down the block from us, Cafe Besalu, that I finally managed to hang out in for an hour or two with my New Yorker and Issy in tow. The whole while, we just chilled at the table, ate our pain au chocolat, and played Leapster/read. It was superb. Minus the Leapster, Issy would have been climbing up and down the chairs and been antsy to get a move on.

So yeah, he's been pretty plugged in. At least up until last week, when the Leapster started acting spotty. We ended up having to send it back to Leapsterland and wait for a replacement. Meanwhile, Issy was like a crack addict having withdrawals. Every time we walked near the mailbox over the past week, he'd open it up and say, "Is my Leapster here yet?"

And today it finally was. Iss got up from his nap to discover I'd taken it out of the box and outfitted it with fresh batteries. He was ecstatic. He went straight to it, turned it on, and signed himself in: "I-S-S-Y spells Issy." Not too bad for a three year old. Guess he's been learning a little something. . .

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Seattle happenings

There's a lot going on in the next few weeks in the Seattle Arab community. This upcoming Saturday night, Simon Shaheen, the Palestinian oud and violin virtuoso, plays at Town Hall. For those of you interested in checking it out, get your tickets at the Arab Center website. After the Shaheen concert, the Arab and Iranian Film Festival will hold a reception open to all to kick off this year's festival.

For the past few weeks, I've been planning the reception and getting to know lots of Arab restaurant proprietors here in Seattle. As a result, I definitely have a clue where to go when I get a hankering for some good kubbeh or mahshi. So that's been a nice perk.

The film festival runs from Friday, March 31 to Sunday, April 9th. James Longley's Iraq in Fragments, which just won a slew of awards at Sundance, is the opening night feature, and I'm particularly looking forward to the Angry Arab's lecture on Saturday, April 1 at 1 pm. Check out the program here--and come on out, those of you who are close by. It's gonna be a lot of fun!

Oh, and did I mention that Samer's going to be the featured artist at this year's festival? My film, In the Land of the Free?, is also going to be shown as an installation throughout the festival's duration.

Monday, March 20, 2006

No bread in Gaza

It's getting grimmer by the day in Gaza (source). Perhaps this is what Dov Weisglass meant he said Palestinians should be "put on a diet" after Hamas' parliamentary victory in January.

All of the bakeries in the Gaza Strip are closed. Dependent on imports of flour, the 1.2 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, the most crowded place on earth in terms of population to land area, are now facing an unprecedented food crisis due to Israeli closures that have prevented the import of the grain.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Weekend workouts

Probably the greatest thing about being back in the U.S. is the sheer abundance of stuff to do. Back in Amman, nearly every single Friday (the equivalent of Saturday here) Samer and I would get up and mope about how we wished we could bop down to some galleries and just kind of wander around like the old days back in Boston. In Amman, our choices would be limited, pretty much, to going to a restaurant (one of the same 3 or 4 we always went to), seeing a cheesy Hollywood flick or attempting to take a walk on our neighborhood's laughable sidewalks. Don't get me wrong, there were some nice Fridays to be had, but near the end it was just too grim. There were too many things we were missing, and Amman on the weekends just wasn't getting it for us.

I'm now starting to feel weekend fatigue, though, after almost a year of going out and about on the weekends in the attempt to make up for lost time. We usually catch at least one movie we're really excited to see, have a great dinner out, take a lovely walk by the lake or somewhere beauteous, do something arty and hang out in one of the gajillion cafes here in Seattle. It's getting to be a bit of an overload, but all the same it's been just what we've needed.

I'm still fascinated by the tons of stuff to do. It's kind of like going to Safeway here and seeing the 87 different brands of toilet paper after getting used to the 3 or 4 kinds back in Amman--you kind of just don't know where to start. We seem to be finding our niche all too well, though, so I'm hoping for a bit of a break this weekend.

Anyway, I came across this very interesting piece today in the New York Times about another wonderful way to pass the time out of the house--at a lecture, book reading or debate. Spoken-word events are enjoying a huge surge of popularity back here in the States, and it's certainly not just me who finds them amazingly compelling.

Rachel Corrie R.I.P.

Ok, I stopped getting a subscription to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer because it just wasn't too relevant. Or intelligent, really. Today, though, I came across Robert Jamieson's brilliant piece on Rachel Corrie (Remember her? The girl the Israeli bulldozer plowed down when she was protesting against the destruction of a Palestinian family's home?) and the ridiculousness of how her story has been all but silenced here in the U.S.

Today marks three years since she was killed, and Jamieson has some great things to say about the complete insanity pro-Israeli groups engage in to hush up the reality of what's going on in Palestine. And this is great, too:

The unease surrounding Rachel makes me wonder if she hits too close to home.


Corrie

Corrie

Her life follows the Aristotelian prescription of a good story. It features a protagonist with a desire for peace that takes her on a vision quest far away. She's smart, young, idealistic -- a female character that would draw A-list actresses.

The story overflows with potential villains, starting with the Israeli government, which illegally uses bulldozers as weapons of terror; Palestinians who resort to suicide bombs as an insane tool of revenge; and, even, U.S.-based Caterpillar, which counts the money as its bulldozers are used to spill blood.

There's room for cameos by the State Department, which could ramp up pressure to get answers, and by concerned Israeli citizens who also want to know if the bulldozer operator, as he claims, didn't see Rachel in her bright orange vest. There's the bigger question of why no "Palestinian evil" was unearthed at the home Rachel died trying to protect.

The story presents another surprise -- the unlikely transformation of Rachel's parents, who have gone from being middle-class suburbanites to advocates for Palestinian justice.

When I spoke with Craig and Cindy Corrie a few weeks ago, they'd just come back home to the Seattle area after a rattling episode. In the Middle East, Palestinian activists had tried to kidnap them. The activists had a change of heart when they were told the couple's last name. If that is not a powerful testament to Rachel's legacy, I don't know what is.

Last weekend I went to "Daughter Courage," a well-meaning production based on Rachel's writing staged by Vermont's Bread and Puppet Theatre. And speaking of the insanity, many of the cars parked around the venue got plastered with flyers stating something like "Supporting Palestinian rights is akin to Nazi-ism." It was completely bizarre.

And here's another good article I found at Naseem's blog that mentions the Caterpillar corporation as being complicit in Rachel's death and other deaths and injuries that have occurred in Palestine by Israeli occupiers. I mean, if your company's making these machines that are used in illegal destruction and bodily harm, you might want to keep them out of the guilty party's hands lest you be charged yourself, eh?

Since 1967 the Israeli military has destroyed at least 10,000 Palestinian homes and left approximately 50,000 homeless. During the second Intifada, an estimated 2,370 Palestinian homes have been destroyed and several inhabitants killed in the Gaza Strip alone.

Contrary to statements made by the Israeli government, the majority of home demolitions are carried out for administrative and strategic purposes, such as seizing land for the separation wall and building more Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mama musings

I'm feeling kind of burnt out with the continuous politics running through my head. The headlines are dismal: Israelis storming a Jericho prison, Dubai Ports bowing out due to American racism and ignorance, etc. It goes on and on.

We're gearing up for a spring trip to Amman. More info soon--and we're really looking forward to it.

In my bid to be off politics for a few days, here's an article/interview with Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of "Mommy Wars"--yet another recent book on the work/not-to-work dilemma mothers invariably face. Steiner claims that

. . . women have got to stick up for each other more. We should be fighting with men, we should be fighting with the government, we should be fighting with employers, and say this country would be better off and kids would be better off if women had more flexibility in terms of work and more support being mothers.

No kidding. I can't imagine ever having the cush situation I had back in Amman--nanny with Issy and working a half-day at home. Many moms here I know who work have pretty flexible situations, which is cool and perhaps speaks to a trend, but the general situation across the country is no bargain.

There's been tons written lately about the tension between working and non-working moms, which I find kind of interesting. Especially since I don't have much a clue about how that plays out. Here in Ballard, everyone's a stay-at-home mom, pretty much, which must mean this is total yuppieland.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's time, already

I'm a fan of Kofi, but this editorial lobbying for a female UN Secretary General is right on:

In the 60 years since the United Nations was founded, no woman has served as secretary general. And despite the body's stated goal of achieving gender parity within the system by the year 2000, women remain grossly underrepresented. The numbers are embarrassing: Only 16 percent of undersecretaries general are women.

In 1995, at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women, governments called for the development of "mechanisms to nominate women candidates for appointment to senior posts in the United Nations." More than 10 years later, no such mechanism has been developed for nomination to the most senior post.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Moussaoui trial hearing suspended

Was this trial not a shoe-in anyway? What the heck was the prosecution doing coordinating witness testimony? Did they think there was a snowball's chance this guy wasn't going to get the death penalty? This is the U.S., whose government is the guardian of world security, remember?

Leonie Brinkema, the judge at Moussaoui's sentencing trial, angrily suspended the hearing after it was found that seven government witnesses from the Federal Aviation Administration had been shown transcripts of the opening statements and other testimony before they testified, a blatant violation of a court order aimed at stopping witnesses coordinating testimony.

"In all the years I've been on the bench, I have never seen such an egregious violation of a rule on witnesses," Judge Brinkema said, noting it was the second significant error by the prosecution. On Thursday, prosecutors asked an FBI witness a question that had already been ruled out of order.

Does this mean perhaps Moussaoui's trial might end up being more than just a predictable exercise?

Don't these guys have something better to do?

The Marines just aren't interested in forgiving and forgetting, looks like. The Guardian reports that Allen Abney was arrested on the U.S.-Canadian border today for deserting during basic training 38 years ago.

Since he took over the marine corps Absentee Collection Centre in 2004, chief warrant officer James Averhart has reopened cold cases and claims to have tracked down 33 deserters. "I have a different leadership style than the guys who have had this job. My job is to catch deserters. And that's what I do," he told Florida's St Petersburg Times . . .

Legal observers said the new drive to hunt down Vietnam deserters is designed as a deterrent for soldiers being sent to Iraq. "They're really hardcore about this," Ms Abney said. "I think there have been a lot of these young guys now trying to get refuge in Canada, and they decided they were going to set an example."


A more palatable conservative

The New York Times takes a look at a new book by Rod Dreher which reveals that not all conservatives are as into to the Wal-Mart/Fox News lifestyle as one might have thought (source). "Crunchy Cons" eschew modernity in the way hippies do, but with their conservative social views they're better pegged as right-wing hippies:

Dreher's greatest passion is the devotional approach to eating and food that he considers essential to the crunchy-con way. After he spelled out his principles in a National Review Online article called "Birkenstocked Burkeans," Dreher writes, he was deluged with responses like, "We thought we were the only evangelical Christians in the world with a copy of 'The Moosewood Cookbook.' " He introduces several evangelicals who say they are organic farmers "because we're Christians." And he raves about the European Slow Food movement and about "The Supper of the Lamb," a classic 1967 cookbook and devotional by an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon.

Taking the rap for a safer America

An editorial in yesterday's Washington Post reveals just how hard it is for any Muslim charity here in the States to do the business they're set up to do: assist those in need in the Muslim world.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, six American Muslim charities have been shuttered in this fashion. The government still doesn't have a single terrorism conviction against any of the employees or board members of any of those charities. Similarly, the government has never been able to document a bona fide trail showing how money from the charity got into the hands of actual terrorists. Never.

We believe it is possible to provide sustenance to people in need without supporting terrorism. But the message we are hearing is this: "All Muslims are suspected of supporting terrorism. Your charities are guilty of this crime until proven innocent. But don't bother trying to prove your innocence because you won't have the chance." The government has not taken action against a single non-Muslim charity that works in the same region helping to feed, educate and sustain people who had also received assistance from the Muslim charities accused of financing terrorism.

Thanks again, Patriot Act.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Just the stuff we need

You've just gotta love those things that remind us of where we came from. For one guy who has recently moved back to Afghanistan after years in America, it's cafe culture. The Guardian has a great article about Kandahar's one and only coffeehouse and the man who's making it happen.

My man of the day is Malik, the owner of Mama's, up on 152nd and Aurora. I went to talk to him about donating food for the Simon Shaheen concert/Arab Film Festival reception and was amazed to discover not only really good shawarma and hummos but also all that stuff I've been missing lately: zaatar, shanklish (can you believe?!), molokhia and even shraak bread. Oh man, I'm so stoked! Now I'm going to have to figure out how to make an edible molokhia.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Photos

I'm beat and am turning in early tonight. Which is a great opportunity for me to not think too much and write but instead put up some recent photos of all of us. Here goes:





Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Just one more, please

Probably the last thing anyone wants to hear about is the cartoon saga--and whether it represents freedom of speech or plain old racism. But Samer was asked to write something for a local publication about the whole brouhaha, and I loved the way he talks about it:

What made me angry wasn't so much that the cartoons depicted the prophet, or that they portrayed him (and by extension all Muslims) as a terrorist. The point of contention for me was the pretense that the re-publication of these cartoons was somehow a defense of free speech.

You can say and publish many things that would offend or hurt many different groups, but a REAL demonstration of freedom of expression can only make sense in defiance of those who can shut your newspapers down; i.e. your own government. As a Muslim, I felt that the constant republication of these cartoons was just about rubbing it in; the message: "we will insult Muslims not just in fringe journals but in 'respectable' mainstream media as well".

Publishing these cartoons suddenly became every second-rate newspaper's cheap ticket to being relevant, the blue pill that was supposed to place them on the front lines of the battle for free speech. Why not? We live in an age where wars and battles have apparently become fashionable and Muslims the fashionable enemy. In the eyes of many Muslims, however, this was merely cheap posturing at our expense, and very few people in the west were prepared to call these journals and newspapers on it.

This is not about free speech. The real question is why insulting Muslims has become such a cheap proposition.

Which one is it, guys?

The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, seems to be quite worried about things erupting in Iraq (source). Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, asserts that all is under control.

Mr Khalilzad suggested the situation was so dangerous that without a substantial US presence, a civil war could suck in other Arab countries on the side of the Sunnis and Iran on the side of the Shias, creating conditions for a regional conflict and disrupting global oil supplies. "That would make Taliban Afghanistan look like child's play," he said.

Hmm. I'm stumped. Who do you think we should believe?

Leave something out?

I was reading the New York Times article on Hamas' first day in parliament and skimmed over the added-on info about an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City:

Separately today, an Israeli airstrike on a car in Gaza City killed four people, including two members of the Islamic Jihad faction and one young bystander, according to Palestinian medical workers. There were conflicting reports on whether the fourth person killed was an Islamic Jihad member or a bystander. Several people were also injured.

Israel's military confirmed that it carried out the airstrike against Islamic Jihad, but said it had no information on casualties.

Islamic Jihad has been responsible for many of the recent attacks against Israel, including continuing rocket fire from northern Gaza that is directed into southern Israel.

Also, two Palestinian teenage brothers were killed in a blast in central Gaza that was caused by a bomb that apparently went off accidentally while they were handling it, according to the Palestinians.

Then I read Naseem's blog and saw that there was a little more to it than that--three kids were killed. And that bomb? Well, just check out Naseem's blog.



Monday, March 06, 2006

Unashamed misfits

Mondays are generally crazy around here. I'm always running around trying to do too many things and never catching up. But this little piece of advice from Salon's Cary Tennis brought a smile to my face. It touches on that elusive sense of belonging that being stuck between a few different worlds makes challenging. But more than that, it celebrates the fact that for all America's faults, it still really is the best place on Earth to be yourself--or just be a total weirdo trying to figure out who that is.

Friday, March 03, 2006

"The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration"

Hmm. That one sure got my attention. Check it out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Talib in Connecticut

Did anyone see this one about the former Taliban student now studying at Yale? It's from last weekend's New York Times Magazine--a fun read.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Atlantic Monthly editor

The Atlantic Monthly has at long last named a new editor--James Bennett, who was previously the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times (article here.)

Hopefully this means the Atlantic will stop publishing annoying, know-it-all pieces on the Middle East by Bernard Lewis.


Berlin's frumpy coolness

I was so happy last year when I finally got the chance to go to Berlin. It's such a eclectic place, and I'd move there in a heartbeat.

Nicolas Kulish believes Berliners don't seem to realize just how appealing the city's quirkiness is. In today's New York Times, he remarks on plans to raze the Palace of the Repulic, an old Communist building located prominently on Unter den Linden. What will be done with the space? A replica of an old Prussian castle that was demolished in 1950.

As an on-and-off resident of the city, I have played host to many tourists in Berlin and not one asked to see castles, of which there are several originals. Will they clamor to see a reconstruction? My visitors wanted to see the Berlin Wall. They wanted to see Checkpoint Charlie. The history that matters to tourists coming to Berlin is 20th-century history.

I have never met a German who moved to the city because it was the imperial capital. It is Berlin's liveliness and strangeness that attracted them. For many West Germans part of that was the allure of the old East Germany, in all its splendid ugliness. History happens. It cannot be engineered.

Well said. Here's more.

Democracy rules?

Robert Kaplan's got a brilliant commentary in the Washington Post about the need for us in the West to stop thinking democracy is the cat's pyjamas. In most parts of the world where democracy has no historical basis, the challenges are much different than over here in these parts.

A few snippets:

America basically inherited its institutions from the Anglo-Saxon tradition and thus its experience over 230 years has been about limiting despotic power rather than creating power from scratch. Because order is something we've taken for granted, anarchy is not something we've feared. But in many parts of the world, the experience has been the opposite, and so is the challenge: how to create legitimate, functioning institutions in utterly barren landscapes. . .

. . .For the average person who just wants to walk the streets without being brutalized or blown up by criminal gangs, a despotic state that can protect him is more moral and far more useful than a democratic one that cannot.