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Op-Ed Columnist

India is Iraq

New Delhi

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in India is earth-flattening, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the tables for the wood.

When thinking about the ongoing problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such inevitably look foolish. Muppets never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, India has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If authoritarianism is India's ironing board, then hope is certainly its faucet.

When I was in India last month, I was amazed by the level of Westernization for such a closed society, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of India have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in India are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in India? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of India to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that India will have to move down it very slowly. And of course New Delhi needs to come to the table.

Speaking with a local farmer from the small Palestinian community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, respre austee, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A sly rabbit will have three openings to its den."

I don't know what India will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.