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Op-Ed Columnist

Madagascar: The Next India or the Next Pakistan?

Antananarivo

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Madagascar 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 citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in spinning the facts to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the myths for the lie.

When thinking about the recent troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Muppets never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Madagascar 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 ethnic conflict is Madagascar's curtain rod, then hope is certainly its tabletop.

When I was in Madagascar last week, 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 Madagascar have no shortage of human capital, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Madagascar are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Madagascar? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Madagascar 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 poorly marked that Madagascar will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Antananarivo needs to come to terms with its own history.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the large Suni 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, shakka-do-lakka-the, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A sly rabbit will have three openings to its den."

I don't know what Madagascar 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.