Once upon a time… Beirut, Lebanon was considered the “Paris” of the Middle East. Writers like Tom Friedman drop references to this beloved destination with ever-so-earnest tales of “coffee on Hamra Street,” and spending election night with Saad Hariri in his home before “…a gigantic wall-size television broadcasting the results. Along the main TV were 16 smaller flat-screen TVs with electronic maps of Lebanon.” With rare exception, I wonder if Friedman has any concept how utterly condescending his dispatches sound. The obviousness of it all, as if to say “see, see, there are civilized people in the Middle East.” It offends polite company.
More than ever, the internet age and the 21st Century command us to learn more. To understand more. Whether it is Lebanon, or Northern Africa – the tension between our cultures is palpable. It’s also manageable if we are honest and practical. Certainly, we do not have to agree on each policy, or with our leaders. We must pursue truth more aggressively. We all coexist as neighbors, like it or not.
As I have more than a passing interest in Africa, I recently began reviewing and investigating the positions Congressional leaders, as well as some within the Obama Administration, are taking on human rights, foreign aid and the like. Given President Obama’s policy directive and efforts to reach out to Muslim countries, I chose Morocco – thinking it would be a slam-dunk. Morocco has been a reliable ally in the War on Terror. They are historically tolerant. People of Muslim, Jewish and Christian backgrounds all worship openly.
Geographically, and even culturally to some extent, Morocco is closer to her Southern European neighbors than to her cousins on the Arabian peninsula. Here is a country with such rich culture. If Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East, then Marrakech is the Paris of Africa. This nation, with a solid reputation and proven record of religious tolerance, is currently under the microscope of Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission…