Dinner with a Stranger in a Strange Land

I had a random dinner with a stranger last Friday night while bellied up to the bar at the Legal Sea Foods mothership in Boston, MA. I was on my iPad. He was on his iPad. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed scribble on his screen, like cursive manuscript. This caught my eye. On a glance I noticed it looked like Arabic. Introducing myself, I questioned about how well non-English characters, particularly Arabic characters were rendered and how easy it was to read Right-to-Left. It was surprisingly easy.

After a bit of chit-chat, and upon learning he was studying at a local university, I broached the topic of religion. I simply asked, “I make no assumption about whether you are religious and if so if you are Muslim; however, I recently spent some time studying the [Holy] Qur'an as part of a study of World religions. I downloaded an electronic version of the Qur'an and didn't find the application and presentation very easy to navigate. Would you know if there is a iPad app that is easy to use with English-Arabic interlinear so that I might better understand what the Qur'an says?”

This led to a two-hour discussion of religion, the foolish Zionist movement and by extension the powerful Pre-Millennialist lobby affecting foreign policy decisions and the U.S. meddling in the affairs of other Nation States. It wasn't long until we began to discuss related current affairs, the inflammatory anti-Islamic video that caused the recent outbreak of violence, and then the subsequent attack on the Libyan Embassy, the Death of the US Ambassador to Libya, the Information Officer and their security detail.

My new acquaintance made two very sobering points as we sipped our iced tea surrounded by those imbibing. They were:

  1. Muslims abroad don't hate Americans. They hate our government.
  2. The U.S. Government has consistently and repeatedly allied with the “wrong side” of peace and civility, exploited that relationship to command or provide a presence in the region largely to influence trade relations, often for the purposes of consuming natural resources such as oil, precious metals, and rare earth minerals.

For me these were two painful truths.

There was a third painful truth that my Egyptian dinner guest had failed to grasp, or maybe that I'm naive about.

The truth is that because we are representative Republic, you can't separate Americans and the government of the United States of America. Either this is the truth, or we are no longer a representative Republic made of citizen officials, citizen soldiers and citizen servants serving an involved citizenry. If it is the former, then an attack on a U.S. Embassy, its Ambassador and diplomats is an attach on Americans. Or, we are no longer a representative Republic and our government is an organization bordering on authoritarian rule over its subjects. Of course this is two extremes of a condition and the truth lies somewhere along the continuum between the two extremes.

It does beg the question… towards which end are we currently leaning?

An even more interesting question is what cognitive bias are you bringing to the opinion rolling around in your head. My dinner partner was bringing the cognitive bias of an outsider looking while being inside the very object he was attempting to articulate from an outsider's perspective. Myself, I am an insider looking out through the perspective of someone that has clients and associates in the U.S., Europe, India and China.

I think the jury is out and likely with return with a “hung jury” verdict. There is a part of me that wants to come down on one side or the other, but for our Nation to stop its obvious duplicitous message to our fellow sojourners on this special ball in space.

I dedicate this post to the late Foreign Service Information Management Officer Sean Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens. Two visionary servant leaders who never gave up hope that the People of Libya could rule themselves peacefully and provide a beacon of stability in an ever-destabilizing region. My heart goes out to their loved ones. I can't imagine the pain they must be feeling. For me personally, I do feel a loss having served them in their work.


Post Disclaimer

The information contained on this post is my opinion, and mine alone (with the occasional voice of friend). It does not represent the opinions of any clients or employers.