interesting spin on domestic workers in the Arab nations... I don't like the tone of this piece. The last thing that we need is more discriminatory and unequal treatment of the South Asian and other workers in the Middle East.
Maids vs. Occupiers
June 17, 2004
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
BEIJING - Visiting India and now China in the past few months tells me how much we Americans need to finish our business in Iraq and lower our profile there - not so we can wash our hands of the idea, and necessity, of promoting reform in the Arab world, but so we can advance that effort.
We can't dictate reform to the Arabs. Look at how even a watered-down reform proposal from the G-8 summit meeting - the Broader Middle East Initiative - was received in the Arab-Muslim world. No one paid any attention to it. The whole concept was dead on arrival because it was made in America, which is now radioactive in the Arab world.
The pressure for change has to come from within, and I think it can - if we lower our profile. Then the Arab world will have to look clearly at the fact that China, India,
Sri Lanka and the Philippines - all the countries that provide maid service for the Saudi and other Arab ruling elites and manual labor for their construction - have leapt so far ahead with their own development that they are now taking good jobs away from America.
To put it another way, there are two ways for the U.S. to promote reform in the Arab world - where there is an ocean of untapped brainpower, particularly among women. One way is to try to dictate it, which is not working. American policy has become so unpopular in the Arab world that anti-reformers can easily delegitimize the reform process by labeling it a "U.S. plot to destroy Islam," and
reformers are silenced because they don't want to be seen as promoting a made-in-America agenda.
The other way for us to promote reform is to get out of the way so people in the Middle East can see clearly that many of their maids' children - from India, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines - are excelling at math, science and engineering, leaving Arab children, not to mention many American children, in the dust. (Over one million Indians work in Saudi Arabia alone.)
Only when the Arabs focus on how their maids' children are doing in the world, not what the Americans are doing in their region, will they revisit one of the most famous sayings of the Prophet Muhammad: "Seek knowledge, even unto China. That is the duty for every Muslim."
I hadn't been to China since 2001, and one of the first new things I noticed here was the number of women selling phone cards for cellphone minutes. While Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Saudi Arabia are using cellphone technology and cars to create bombs, China and India are making themselves the world's new-car manufacturing centers and are inventing new profit-making uses for Internet-enabled cellphones - none of which involve blowing anything or anyone up.
An Arab journalist friend living in London told me that there is today - sadly - an all too pervasive sense in too many quarters of the Arab world of a once-great civilization having been left behind, not unlike Weimar Germany. Because Germany was already a modern state, it created a massive military response to its humiliation: the Third Reich. "The Arabs can't," he said. "So they create bin Ladenism instead, which can't build a state, only demolish one."
So how does one get a healthy reform debate started? "You need a courageous intelligentsia," he said. "You can't have that as long as people feel besieged. The new historians in Israel only emerged during Oslo. When you feel besieged, you will never start a debate with your brother and sister. Now it is the battle against the enemy, be it real or imaginary."
All the more reason why we - the perceived enemy - need to hand over power to an elected Iraqi government, and move our troops into the background. If we can do that, I would suggest that next year the G-8 invite both India and China to join, and hold the next G-10 summit either at one of the manicured campuses of Indian outsourcing companies or in Shanghai's manufacturing hub. Then invite Arab leaders to attend. India and China were once seen as their equals.
Real change happens when people see something in those they compare themselves to, and draw their own conclusions - not when it's imposed on them. Our job was to smash Iraq's old order and lay the foundations for a new one. Now we need to lower our profile so people in that Arab-Muslim world can
see clearly something we've been obstructing and they've been deliberately ignoring: that the world today wants to invest more in their maids' children than in their own children. Once that reality sinks in, so, too, will reform.
link to article (for the next 2 weeks)