As my children gather around their interactive globe this morning I smile. The computer voice asks the question. “What is the capital of Tunisia?” They spin the globe around looking for the answer, find it, and press the right button. The globe was a gift from their uncle and aunt currently in Germany. It has been the biggest hit of Christmas.
When I was a child, and even now, I would fall into atlases and maps. I can remember one atlas from my youth that my parents used to have their friends from other countries sign before they passed out of our lives and back to their home country or some other distant post. I was surrounded by geography, and I loved it.
As my children’s computerized globe asked what the capital of Tunisia was this morning it occurred to me that in the past few days the world has been turned upside down in that country. The former president is now in exile and chaos currently fills the streets. But most Americans couldn’t care less. There is a football game on this afternoon and that is the concern. Why in the world should we care about what is going on in some God forsaken corner of the Arab world. It is Arab right? Somewhere over by Saudi Arabia? Whatever, the game is on.
It strikes me how a country such as ours, with bases in every corner of the world, from Europe, to Africa, to the Pacific, and nearly everywhere else, could care so little about the world beyond it’s boarders.
We are much better than we were. Since the attacks of September 11th 2001 at least a good number of Americans have an idea where Iraq and Afghanistan are. One tends to pay attention to the country to which one is deployed or one’s child is deployed. However I would still bet that most Americans would find locating Tunisia on a map challenging.
We do a very poor job of educating our children of the broader world. In fact I can remember as a child that the first indication of which track a child would take in high school, college or non-college, was whether he or she chose to take history or geography in 9th grade. The college kids took history, the non-college kids took Geography. This struck me as ridiculous then, and even more so now.
One should know one’s place on the globe and how it relates to the other places on the globe, or at least have some sense of this. Why is it that we should we care about little Arab Tunisia for instance? How could this past week’s events in the desert state have any impact on our insulated American lives?
Tomorrow they likely will have none. Whether your team covered the spread this afternoon will impact your next week a good bit more than what is happening on the Arab street, especially if you have money on the game. But in the long run the events in Tunisia COULD impact your life in profound ways. They likely won’t, but they could.
In Tunisia the youth have taken to the streets and have deposed their president for life Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Apparently the young people used Facebook and Twitter to organize themselves and focus action. Now the revolutionary sentiment may be spreading to Libya where rioting has broken out, people are communicating via Twitter, and Youtube has just been banned.
Meanwhile Lebanon, Israel’s northern neighbor is again in turmoil (also hard to find on a map,) with Hezbollah, Iran’s resident Shia army in Lebanon preparing yet again for war.
Hezbollah has cheered the events in Tunisia, though the revolution in Tunisia looks to be very much of secular origin. Any chaos in the Arab world is good for Hezbollah is pretty much how they see it.
The Israeli Prime Minister has called for “round the clock” talks on the Palestinian question just as Wikileaks has exposed an implicit alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel, at least with regard to Iran and the question of Iranian nukes.
Things are getting hotter in an area that is permanently set on simmer.
The events in Tunisia, which seemed to have been sparked by the Marie Antoinette like habits of Ben-Ali’s wife, may herald a period of increased instability in the Arab world at a time when tensions are already very high. If the dictatorships of the Middle East begin to feel that they are under direct threat all sorts of weird things could happen. If Kaddafi falls watch Egypt and Hosni Mubarak freak out.
Egypt is home to The Muslim Brotherhood, the root of Al Qaeda, among other repressed political groups, some good and some bad from a US perspective. Regardless a Cairo in tumult, a Lebanon in tumult, a restless Iran with a proxy army poised on the northern Israeli boarder, and the rest of the regions Arab despots clearing the streets of any protest is probably not the best thing for world peace.
If our leaders decide that some sort of response, beyond the diplomatic kind is necessary in the region knowing that Tunis is the capital of Tunisia probably would be a good thing. I think the kids and I will spend a few minutes going over the Maghreb on the map this morning. Now where is Mauritania?
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