Thursday, December 21, 2006

One of my favorite columnists, and one of the most perceptive observers of that festering snakepit generally called The Middle East, is Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Mr Friedman has served as the Times' bureau chief in both Beirut and Jerusalem, and his experiences there led to his superb book From Beirut to Jerusalem, which is full of brilliant observations and commentary on Lebanon, Israel, and the Middle East in general.

I still remember one of his simple, yet profound comparisons between Israel and its Arab neighbors: he noted that the symbols of the nations said a great deal about how they thought and viewed the world. The symbol of Israel is the Star of David - all straight lines and angles, reflecting a direct, straight-ahead style of thought and action, reflected even in the design and layout of towns with straight streets and neat, right-angled turns. The symbol of the Arab Muslims, on the other hand, is the crescent moon - a blend of soft curves, reflecting a more indirect, roundabout approach to politics and life and likewise represented in the much more chaotic layout of villages.

Mr Friedman also included in his book a set of rules for journalists covering the Middle East to live was funny and insightful, and I was pleased to see that he has updated and reissued it in an article published yesterday in The New York Times titled "Mideast Rules to Live By." There are 15 rules in his list; here is just a sample:

Rule 3: "If you can't explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don't try to explain it at all - they won't believe it."

Rule 7: "The most oft-used expression by moderate Arab pols is: 'We were just about to stand up to the bad guys when you stupid Americans did that stupid thing. Had you stupid Americans not done that stupid thing, we would have stood up, but now it's too late. It's all your fault for being stupid.'"

Rule 12: "The Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary."

You can read the entire article online at the New York Times website, but only if you have an online account there. It's worth your time in searching out a copy of the paper, though, and reading the article for its humorous, yet profound observations on the reality of the Middle East.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


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