Saturday, June 06, 2009

East meets West: President Obama in the Middle East

The Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling (background The article is a little long the key part is last quarter of the article.)

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho' they come from the ends of the earth!

While Kipling is often misunderstood to say East and West can never meet, the point of the the stanza and the poem is that when two strong men stand face to face it is possible for them to meet. Near the end of the poem we are told of the British Officer and the Pathan ruler:

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.

But before the British officer went on his chase into Pathan territory he was warned:

There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen.

He is always at the mercy of the Pathan and if he does not pass muster the trigger will be pulled.


President Obama this week made a speech in Cairo to the Moslem world laying out his hopes for peace and cooperation. Well delivered as always. It was what his prime consistencies wanted him to say and what his opponents were afraid he would say. He has told the more or less westernized leadership in the Middle East where he coming from. But the real question is are there Moslem "strong men" in control the guns and bombs and will they see a another "strong man" with whom they can take an Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt or will they see an just another American politician and tell their followers to pull the trigger.

Well I hope for the best, but with little confidence.


Jeff Wills said...

I don't see much coming from Obama's speech but I guess it can't hurt to try.

hank_F_M said...


Yes, I see little coming from it. It is for a President to put publicly a certain amount of how he sees the situation, promise carrots and sticks etc., but not too much to keep options open. I’m not sure this speech does effectively.

What little I know of that culture is that they accept the man before listening to the argument. My point is I am not sure that people who matter will accept the man. Which could be worse than if the President had stayed home? It is not that I expect little positive from the speech as I am concerned about the negative.

I will be happy to be wrong.

Jeff Wills said...

I teach a leadership class and one of the first things a say to the class is "people must buy into the leader before they'll buy into his vision." I think most of us are like that to a degree. Character counts. Certianly Obama is more popular with Muslims than Bush, but we'll see if that holds out under the real politick of middle eastern countries.

Also, I enjoy Kipling. In fact I read his poem "IF" in that same leadership class. But this poem just doesn't do much for me. I'm not sure someone reading it would get its meaning until after a long look over.

LFC said...

Hank--Thanks for the reminder that there is more to the poem than the often-quoted-out-of-context line about East and West never meeting.

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