6:00am

Mon July 18, 2011
Commentary

An Easy Source for Knowledge for Americans

Some of the most meaningful conversations take place around the dinner table. But sitting down together almost seems to be a lost art in our 24/7 society. KUNC commentator Pius Kamau says such gatherings could do a lot to help us learn more about the world in which we all live.

Our discussion was like a river, rapidly flowing from one subject to another. The five of us from three continents – Africa, Asia and Europe – have broken bread regularly for years. Our most recent discussions were lent a certain seriousness by the urgent changes taking place in the Middle East. Our talks about world history, politics and geography always inform me of new facts, and new aspects about old subjects. I think this is life’s ideal, to continue to learn, until we die. Thinking back to that evening I see something was lacking. An American’s voice, presence and opinion. We sorely need an intermingling of informed opinions and rational voices in this country.

My friends had expected Tunisia, Egypt and Libya to blow up even as the West papered over their peoples’ discontent with billions of dollars. Money can only buy shadows, never men’s minds. Done with that we traveled to India’s partition and the creation of modern Pakistan whose role in Afghanistan is a subject under American scrutiny. I learned that a landed gentry rules Pakistan with the aid of her Army that was created by the British from the Punjabi region. 

But then the British did this wherever they went. Choose a given tribe and train a future Army. They did so in Nigeria and Kenya at the dawn of the British colonialism in the last century where they chose marginal, outsider tribes. And just like in Pakistan, Nigeria’s army had no national representation. The Muslim Hausa army from north Nigeria has ruled by martial law even as its generals have plundered Nigeria's oil wealth, impoverishing the southern Christian half of the country.

All across Africa and the Middle East colonial powers left behind a tapestry of countries that tribal and ethnic peoples had little in common other than animosity towards each other. This explains the genocide in South Sudan and Nigeria’s political turmoil.

We all agreed that many American actions and interventions were a result of misguided national policies or gross misunderstanding of facts. And yet, I wish we were discussing this with our American neighbors. Had more of them been informed of the history and acts of previous governments, wouldn't America today be in a different place in the Middle East?

America has more immigrants than most other nations. But we do a poor job of availing ourselves of the knowledge of that other world where the immigrants come from. It’s heart sickening to watch Americans turn their backs on historical reality in preference to simple, un-nuanced pronouncements. If every American could surround themselves with a group of men and women from across the oceans - they could expand their worldview about our place in the community of nations. Perhaps all it takes is to invite an immigrant work place colleague or neighbor to break bread with us occasionally.

 

Related Program