Greetings from the world's largest and loudest democracy. This last column of the year comes to you from New Delhi where I have spent the past few days talking to many different types of Indian people and visiting the Taj Mahal. It has been an experience, to say the least, especially after coming from a total benevolent one-person rule like Dubai. The one thing that is certain about both India and Dubai is that Christmas has overtaken both, and there are trees and Christmas music in both countries. It was quite a shock to go to Mall of the Emirates and hear Christmas music with words such as "Christ the Lord" etc. More surprising is the men and women wearing the local attire while having their photos taken in front of the Christmas trees in the malls. The hotels make a big deal out of Christmas, and the locals and ex-pats in Dubai all partake in elaborate Christmas buffets. American and Christian culture has made its mark both in the Middle East and in the subcontinent. Westernization coincides with lifestyles from 400 years ago.
What is so amazing about India is how the democracy functions. The papers here reveal similar political fights we see in the United States. Legislation is quickly passed without debate before the holidays, and the papers and opposition parties are screaming. However, there is fear here not dissimilar to what we all experienced after 9/11.
Every hotel's security is stringent. No one can walk into a lobby without getting frisked and their hand luggage and purses examined. People are hyper-vigilant and scared, and no one trusts their neighbor to the north, Pakistan. Border issues abound, and people are afraid that some kind of war will break out if Pakistan does not become more forthcoming with information about the terrorists. There is even more distrust of Benizar Bhutto's husband, who many think looked the other way at her murder and looks the other way at terrorism. There is no real evidence of his complicity in her murder or of his support of terrorism, but no one trusts the neighbors to the north.
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What has become clear is that there will be no lasting changes in this area of the world unless there can be some structural changes that allow growth and economic prosperity. During eight hours of driving yesterday, I saw an India that many of us know about. But seeing is really a different experience. The streets are filled with cows wandering about, oxen, water buffalo and camels pulling carts of firewood and agricultural products, people on bicycles and many cars and trucks. Apartment buildings abound while even in New Delhi there are people living in shacks of wood and makeshift tents on the street. Right above their humble abodes are billboards advertising education for MBAs and computer technology. There is a similarity when riding through India and the worker's area in Dubai. You feel like you're in a "Star Wars" movie, the scene where the most modern space ship transports the protagonists to a planet that has the same feeling as an old bazaar with shop walls made from hard clay.
There are three things that must be done to give hope to this part of the world and to make sure it does not become a breeding ground for terrorism:
First, cut down on the sheer number of people. I am not recommending the forced abortions that occur in China, but there can be incentives to have less children. At the current birth rates, there simply will not be enough food to feed and take care of burgeoning populations.
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Second, there must be free education available and incentives for families to send children to school rather than beg on the streets or be sent away at an early age to work in some area or country that needs cheap labor. Groups such as One Laptop Per Child can also make education happen without building more expensive infrastructures.
Lastly technology is the only thing that can save this part of the world. From being able to keep track of citizens who can vote, to moving away from making a living by having the local camel haul polluting firewood, it is the only hope.
India is making great progress in the direction of extending technology, but the haves and have nots are painfully evident. We must support these "noisy" democracies and not view them as just competition for American jobs. It is important for our survival as a democracy and a free nation, as well as theirs.