Monday, October 8, 2007

The Bi-polarity of college life

Last night, Orange Crush played to the ever affectionate crowd of Middlebury College. They are a really good 80s cover band that biannually returns to Midd. The college is in the midst of trying to raise $500 million over the next several years. They raised half of it last night. This brings me to my point, there were a few hundred of the smartest college students, myself included, dancing like idiots to Madonna and Bon Jovi. All I could think about was how these crazy people were going to run the world someday and make that $500 million several times over. Many of them have Teach for America and Goldman Sachs interviews planned alongside shots of vodka.

I mean I know everyone needs to loosen up and have a good time, but imagine the feedback of 20 yr old facebook pictures of Steve Jobs or Donald Trump passed out on a couch in a college dorm. How will social networking sites shape the future - it shall be interesting indeed.

In other news, James Piscatori , a noted Middle East scholar at Oxford spoke at Middlebury. I went to his key note address and came away appreciating the voice of British academics. They have a way of capturing eloquence in speeches unheard in the states. Or as my friend Dexter said about Anatol Lieven, "he talks funny."

The substance of his talk was interesting as well. Well not really, because he was quite general, but the intersting thing he said was that there are factions developing in the Middle East and they have some political power. Pluralism is prospering. This is promising but also very scary. The power of Islamists can rise and fall with the attitudes of public opinion. In Morocco and Turkey, Islamic parties have swept into power and have largely gone about their tasks through peaceful means.

In Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, and other places, politicized Islamic groups have not responded through peaceful means and continue to threaten the stable order in those countries. My thoughts after reading and talking with friends who have travelled to the Middle East and the Islamic world is that countries that are open will choose peaceful leaders. The young and moderates in Iran don't like their president and want normal relations with the world. The Algerians I taught English to were more pragmatic about US middle east policy than a lot of Americans I've talked to.

So I thought it was really promising that Piscatori said factions were developing, but it doesn't mean democracy is proliferating. There is a lot the US can do to promote these various groups. The other intersting thing I took away from his talk was the idea of a larger Sunni and Shia blocs developing in the region. The various groups in Iran and Iraq are cooperating to a larger degree than I had thought, and doing it despite US warnings. This is me not Piscatori: America would be within its soveriegn rights to attack Iran for this action, though I think its a bad idea.

While the development of factions is promisng, the idea of large religious ideological blocs is a bit scary. Still the development of the reformation led to the rise of the nation-state and eventually democracy so we should be weary of criticizing all macro religious developments.

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