I tried thinking of other things to write about today, but my mind keeps going back to the terrorist bombing that happened in Brussels, Belgium today with more than 30 people dead and still counting, and probably dozens (at least) injured. It was the first thing I learned about today when I read Maribeth’s post (it’s excellent) about what happened. The mood she set is with me still…
I tried to think about how and why this is happening. I know that there is a lot of anger, resentment and revenge directed at us…but why? To understand this means taking the time to learn the history of the region (the Middle East), and whatever role we’ve had in shaping that history over the decades. Our intervention has often been in our own national interests…namely, the pursuit of oil. To put it broadly, we have frequently propped up dictators who were helpful to us in pursuit of our main source of energy. People suffered as a consequence of our actions and still do and the younger generation feels we are somewhat to blame for their misery.
I know this is a gross oversimplification because my son, who is well versed in the history of the region, understands all the intricacies of our presence there, past and present. A former student at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, he took several courses that delved deeply into the history, economics and culture of the Middle East and our political involvement. When he starts to go into detail about what is happening and why, I must confess I quickly lose the thread of what he is saying even though I consider myself a motivated listener.
Months before the Arab Spring events exploded, he took a trip to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. He has a close friend, a journalist based in Beirut, whom he visited there. Before going he assured us that Syria had a stable government and that he would be very safe. About two months after he returned, all hell broke loose. He is extremely distressed by the conflict in the Middle East because, overall, he enjoyed being amongst most of the people he met there and was very moved by their ancient history and archaeological artifacts. He spoke of the hospitality he encountered wherever he visited.
So that leads me back to why did this change happen and what can be done about it? I don’t have any answers; I only have my own thoughts to share. I believe that our intervention in Iraq was a major mistake in that we upset a delicate balance of nations who have deep grievances toward one another as well as toward us, while meanwhile Bin Laden roamed free. In a sense, we did open Pandora’s box. I also believe that if not for our intervention, perhaps some other event might have triggered the same results. The Middle East has been a tinderbox ready to burst into flames for as long as anyone can remember.
I, for one, wish I knew more about its history so I could better understand the events taking place. I believe that we Americans as a rule don’t make the best effort to understand much that happens beyond our shores. But now the “beyond our shores” is coming to us. And it’s getting closer and closer.
We owe it to ourselves to become better informed, to demand more of the media than the rabble-rousing and entertainment that is currently dominating the news. After all, lives are at stake both here and abroad.
I believe we need to learn to stop thinking of hate and prejudice as a solution; it only breeds more of the same. The world is shrinking and that will never change. Many of us are teachers, active or retired. What can we do? With such a multicultural student population as we now have in the United States, we must broaden our own horizons, learn more about other cultures, engage in constructive discussions and dialogue, and provide all our students with a role model for working toward compassion and dignity for those who are different from us. This is a tall order; but we can do it. The way I see it, it’s no longer a choice.