Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Political Theater

In a land far, far away from the sterile conference rooms of DC think tanks, a young American entered the “Green Salon” of the Volksbuehne (People’s Theater) in Berlin. Stuffed green couches, green lounge chairs and 1920’s-style chandeliers decorated the room. Cigarette smoke hung in the air, illuminated by the theater lights. An eclectic mix of Berliners nursed their first drinks of the evening.

But they were not waiting for a jazz quartet or poetry reading to begin, they were waiting for a debate: “The Arab World is Ready for Democracy.” The two debaters were a conservative American and a liberal German—quite a lively dichotomy. While one basically argued for the status quo, the other argued that Muslim clerics are slowly embracing the idea of “one man one vote.” He said, however, that America better be prepared for more anti-Americanism and even a backslide in womens’ rights in the region as democracies take root. Democracy will come to the Middle East, he said, but it might not be American-styled, at least in the beginning. At one point, he commented, "you couldn't have Thomas Jefferson without the Protestant Reformation. As you in Europe might remember, that was a bumpy road." Though the theater lights spotlighted the debaters, the evening did have the spirit of a European salon; ideas were exchanged, questions were taken from the audience and you could hear discussions continuing even after the debate ended.

The topic was fascinating and the atmosphere was intriguing. All in all a good evening!