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Op-Ed Columnist

The Full Comoros Experience

Moroni

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Last week's events in Comoros were earth-flattening, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Comoros's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The current administration seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the fields for the wheat.

When thinking about the ongoing turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such are going to come across as foreign. Computer programs never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Comoros 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, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Comoros's curtain rod, then hope is certainly its flowerpot.

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

So what should we do about the chaos in Comoros? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Comoros's leaders to attention. 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 poorly marked that Comoros will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Moroni needs to feel like it is part of the process.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the large 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, xi fe li sen, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Cultivate money and you grow rich, Cultivate mind and you raise culture."

I don't know what Comoros 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.