The View From Yemen

I wonder how typical this is of the impact Obama is already having around the globe:

My wife and I are serving overseas in Yemen and I wanted to share a quick anecdote with you about Obama-buzz here in Sanaa. While getting my haircut several weeks ago, I was surprised when my barber Mohammed drifted from his usual aspersions about George Bush to suddenly inquire about Barack Obama.  My Arabic is fairly limited, so it took me some time to understand that Mohammed and the other Yemeni patrons had seen Obama during an appearance with Oprah on Al-Jazeera.  All of them agreed that of the people seeking to become President, Obama offered the only redemptive option for America. 

After my haircut was nearing an end - a nearly 60 minute process - Mohammed said that "if a black man can become President, then maybe the story of America isn't a lie after all."

A few weeks later I was surprised at the end of a meeting with Yemeni government officials, when my hosts broke out into spontaneous praise for Obama and simultaneous incredulity that a man of color could win the American presidency. These two stories are just blips on the Yemeni consciousness, but it's worth noting that the advent of satellite television enables even the poorest families in the Middle East's poorest country to follow the US election.  Those two stories stand out as the most dramatic to me, but they're not the only ones.  Obama's mere candidacy has restored a fraction of the prestige and credibility we've lost - at least in Sanaa.

My own belief is a simple enough one - not enough for real progress, but a start:

It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this manBarack Hussein Obamais the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.