Sunday, January 29, 2017

"The Middle East" -- A Geopolitical Hotdog

This Friday, my Theory of Knowledge class was fortunate enough to have a sociologist and visiting professor at West Georgia, come talk about his experience, what lead him to sociology, and the benefits of studying abroad, especially for learning a new language.

His presentation focused mainly on the Middle East, specifically Iran and Uzbekistan. This was really interesting for me, because aside from a few foggy facts from AP World History, I knew next to nothing about these countries. All I knew up to that point was that we previously had problems of a nuclear variety with Iran, and Uzbekistan was near Kazakhstan, which is, according to Borat, the number 1 producer of potassium.

These things, of course, were nowhere near the truth of those places. The professor is half Iranian, and described his family fleeing to the United States after the Iranian Revolution. Later on, he continued to be interested in Middle Eastern studies, and learned several different languages from the region. He traveled to Uzbekistan in order to learn Uzbek, but was shocked to find that the majority of the people in the city spoke Russian, and looked upon Uzbek with contempt. This came from the fact that the Soviet Union had only just collapsed at this point, and gerrymandering of the country was done in order to push ethnic tension and keep those countries dependent on Soviet leadership from Moscow. He said that his year in Uzbekistan was the best year of his life, and he has spent a large portion of his life devoted to a region I can hardly label on a map.

For all my time in debate, and all of my strong feelings about U.S. foreign policy and social issues, the speaker's presentation very clearly showed me how little I know about the Middle East. From the myriad languages spoken there, to the history that made those nations who they are, to their status in the world today, my knowledge is severely limited. I hold strong beliefs about what the U.S. should do in that area, and while I still feel that my beliefs are correct, I feel uncomfortable passing judgments about the area. For me, the Middle East has been a lot like a hot dog: something I see and consume often but know very little about what comprises it. The speaker's presentation pushes me to be more informed about the region and its diversity.

I acknowledge my limited perspective, but a lot of those in our government don't seem to do the same. How can someone with limited perspective make a decision for the best of others? With recent executive orders halting the entrance of Muslim refugees and blocking the entry of people from majority Muslim countries, our government seems to be doing a lot to keep Muslim and Middle Eastern people out of our country. I haven't looked into it, but I'd venture to say that Donald Trump and Steve Bannon know a lot less about the Middle East than the speaker does. The problem with limited representation in legislation is that you've got very few white men who are aware, or even realize they are unaware, of the perspectives of other groups of people. The speaker was the first Iranian person I've ever met but I've still talked about the country as if I know everything, and I cannot possibly know what it's like to be a Middle Eastern person in our current Islamophobic climate.

Experiences like the presentation are the reason why I loved going to New York so much this previous weekend. Diversity was everywhere, celebrated and normal. Seeing hijabs and yarmulkes beside giant cathedrals was a much more accurate cross-section of the world than Carrollton, Georgia. Even as I approach my eighteenth birthday, I have yet to actually meet and talk with a Muslim person. Going to a place where a group of hijabi school girls walks across the street with the same feelings and thoughts and hopes as me was truly humbling, and gave me a much needed reminder of my tiny place in this big, beautiful world of ours.

The speaker ended his presentation by advocating for a year abroad, saying that "the world is much safer than a lot of people would have you believe." I don't doubt this in the slightest, and with God willing and my bank account able, I'd like to try and study abroad in college. I wish for my standpoint to be ever expanding, and there is no better way to do that than to step outside of this American milieu. I believe that for some people, myself included, the best way to make America great is to take a break from it, and view it from the outside.

1 comment:

  1. Great work here. I, too, was being constantly reminded of how little I know. It is one of the reasons I open the course with "Does knowing Geography make us better people?" Because I often think, for myself, the answer is a resounding YES! The more I know about WHERE a place is (its location, its relationship to nearby places, etc.), the more I come to understand the complexity of humanity in OTHER PEOPLE that I take for granted in myself and my community.