France, Paris, Politics, Travels


On my way to the Metro this morning, I ran in to Naomi again. She was on her way back to Spain. We made good-bye with the Latin kiss on alternate cheeks, which Nagi had surprised me with when I saw her off at Amsterdam. This time I understood what was happening, and reciprocted. It was tricky, considering that vast difference in height, but in my opinion, this is one awesome way to say goodbye.

The evening wound down in conversation with my Algerian roommate, who introduced himself as “not a terrorist.” Among the questions of where one is coming and going, what one is studying, and whether one is engaged or happy to sample the lovely ladies met on the road, we drifted in to politics. I was treated to a new spin on a contemporary frustration: “Why does George Bush hate Arabs?”

While in America we see the occasional crazy Muslim trying to threaten random lives, Arabs see autocratic regimes propped up in nations like Saudi Arabia, and people starving as the indirect result of sanctions against Iraq, the frustrations of a dozen Arab nations with American foreign policy, which seeks to divide and conquer a downtrodden corner of the world, to ensure in this backwards “stability” a steady flow of oil.

I lamented the fact that we failed to finish the war in Iraq, leaving instead this ugly detente of a stalemate. Arabs see hungry Arab children on TV. Americans will not soon forget the desperation of people jumping from the higher floors of the World Trade Center. Detente. I described an emerging concept of America as the reluctant World Empire, that ought to outsource her burden by promoting the growth of regional powers, that can ensure a self-interested stability in remote parts of the world. But today we retain the bloody corpse of Iraq, to keep Iran at bay.

America has an abundance of everything it needs to enjoy its tendancy for isolationism. An abundance of everything except oil. I believe the practical course is to promote democracy in the Middle East. If Iran lets the people vote, let them have some influence in the region. It is in the self-interest of a stable regional power to ensure the steady flow of cash-producing exports.

Another problem is the rising abundance of young people who lack opportunity. The paradox is that as we make it harder for Arabs to pursue opportunities in America, we leave more frustrated young men amenable to the poison of fundamentalist reactionaries. It was heartening that here we were, two such young people, with the opportunity to travel, encounter, and better understand each other.

And all that was expressed somewhere between my limited French vocabulary, and his limited English vocabulary, with the occasional Spanish. Wow. Un jour de tranquiller.

After reading about Normandy, tomorrow I am off to Bayeaux.

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Categories: France, Paris, Politics, Travels

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