Idea Butterflies: Random Thoughts from My Notes

When I travel I collect ideas like butterflies as they flutter by. I jot them down, never knowing if they will find a place in something yet to be composed. Here are some random, thought-provoking “idea butterflies” I caught but didn’t know what to do with. I’m not saying they are right, so all you hair-trigger partisans should hold your fire for this one. These are just some ideas I found interesting and wanted to share:

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I was told that 400 years of Ottoman control — followed by European colonialism — destroyed the social fabric of the Middle East. In other words, much of the frustration we have with the lack of progress in the Middle East is due to centuries of occupation, colonization, corruption, and dictatorship brought on by the Ottomans and the West.

When I consider the many extreme political ideologies that I believe undermine peace — from fringe groups in the USA to fundamentalist organizations that inherit power for lack of any good competition in places like Egypt and Iran — I find that many have a foundation in religious passion. When you travel, you understand how fundamentalism (whether your religion’s or someone else’s) can lead to fear and violence.

I was once told that a “massacre” is when at least five people are killed by force without fighting back or without an opportunity to fight back. It occurred to me that this is arbitrary…but then I wondered, what makes a “massacre?”

Someone explained the rise of Islamists throughout the region this way: Autocrats and dictators have long kept the left-wing opposition in their countries weak by giving conservative religious groups room to grow and organize politically. Suddenly, with the Arab Spring, the dictators are gone, but there’s nothing organized on the left. So the right-wing religious groups (as we see in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Gaza) grab power over the less-organized, secular left. Also, in many troubled places like these, locals wanting freedom have a choice: the USA-supported faction or the religious right. The effect is just the opposite of what the neocons who brought us the Iraq War predicted: a “domino effect” yes…but of right-wing fundamentalist Muslim “democracies” almost inheriting power by default.

Islamists — from Cairo to Kabul — are smart. They build outside of politics. Over time, they infiltrate society by providing people what governments should (e.g. decent schools and a social safety net). Today, there are more veils on the street than ever. Even girls from modern secular families feel the pressure at school, and many come home requesting that their parents get them scarves. They just want to fit in.

A person in a poor and ramshackle city told me, “I remember my first time in USA. I saw old people bagging groceries. We have only a little money, but our old people will never be treated that way.”

You meet far fewer tourists in the West Bank than elsewhere, but those you do meet are really interesting.

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