The need to increase citizens’ knowledge of the Middle East

Posting semiweekly about Egypt has made me think about the world…and my lack of knowledge. In order to fulfill requirements for both my international affairs minor and a prerequisite to travel on the Dialogue of Civilizations trip to Egypt, this semester I enrolled in Islam, a religious studies course at Northeastern University. At the beginning of the semester, Professor Whitney Kelting assigned a map to fill in with given nations, capitals and regions. I had a difficult time identifying some of the places because I had never heard of them – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, to name a few. Understanding geography is another aggravation of mine because I don’t think my generation has the slightest clue where many important places are located on a map. Also, because I have never been educated extensively about the Arab world in high school classes nor in previous Northeastern courses.

The Middle East

I will, embarrassingly, admit my lack of knowledge about Egypt, which is the main reason I chose the country for my blog beat. As a matter of fact, I don’t know much about the Middle East or the entire Arab world. The lack of knowledge is a problem. And I think it’s problematic for everyone: Many American students aren’t educated about certain regions of the world unless we actively seek information ourselves. The United States has extensive involvement in the Middle East, so why don’t we talk more about the logistics of the region in classes?

The protests in Tunisia, Egypt and now other countries in the Middle East should be more than enough of a wake-up call and justification for increased exposure to cultures around the world and the need for everyone to be informed, global citizens.

In this week’s issue of The Huntington News, Northeastern’s independent student newspaper, an adjunct lecturer in the university’s philosophy and religion department wrote a response letter to my column from last week. My commentary focused on the need for American citizens to educate themselves about the Middle East. The author of the article, Fathi El-Shihibi, said:

“At first, it would appear that the only way to gain knowledge about other countries and cultures is to take one of the many culture, language, religion or politics courses offered by Northeastern University…There are several ways involving regular interactions between students and educators in and outside of classrooms, including lectures open to the public.”

El-Shihibi provided various ways for students to become more educated about the Arab world. But, at this point, when the United States remains deeply intertwined in the Middle East, citizens shouldn’t have to seek information actively. It should be readily available, just as information about colonial Africa and European history are presented in high school courses.

I’m not sure if my interest in journalism and world affairs has caused me to feel bitter about the majority of Americans’ lack of knowledge about the Middle East, or if it is a national feeling. But I think the viewpoint must change – quickly. With the uprisings in other areas of the Middle East in recent days, I am guessing news reports will continue to increasingly focus on the Arab world. Rightly so.

Inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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