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Op-Ed Columnist

Nepal is Iraq

Kathmandu

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Nepal is unique, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the tables for the wood.

When thinking about the ongoing troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like muppets, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Muppets never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Nepal has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, freedom is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If authoritarianism is Nepal's curtain rod, then freedom is certainly its flowerpot.

When I was in Nepal last June, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Nepal have no shortage of human capital, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Nepal are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Nepal? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not ignore the problem and pretend it will go away. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to peace is so narrow that Nepal will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Kathmandu needs to cooperate.

Speaking with a young student from the unpopular Protestant 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, won tin jin hao, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Dump husband in September, you have to get rid of the spiders."

I don't know what Nepal 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.