The great American ignorance 

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Rohingya Muslim woman, Rukaya Begum, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, holds her son Mahbubur Rehman, left and her daughter Rehana Bibi, after the government moved them to newly allocated refugee camp areas, near Kutupalong, Bangladesh.  Photo by Dar Yasin/AP

Rohingya Muslim woman, Rukaya Begum, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, holds her son Mahbubur Rehman, left and her daughter Rehana Bibi, after the government moved them to newly allocated refugee camp areas, near Kutupalong, Bangladesh. Photo by Dar Yasin/AP

As Americans, we have a myopic view on international issues. We are woefully undereducated on issues that foreign nations are facing, particularly issues that do not directly impact our own lives. This results in a population who are dramatically underinformed when it comes to issues like a dictator in Turkmenistan or the massive genocide and ethnic cleansing of the mostly Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar. 

All around the world, people are facing conflict and challenges to their basic freedoms, like their ability to speak out against oppressive regimes and their ability to freely practice their religion. In some places, they’re trying to simply survive. And despite what these people are going through, many in the United States are not even aware of their struggles. We are lucky enough to have a democracy where we elect the people who will form our government. We are so lucky that we often forget those who are not. It’s our obligation as a powerful country who has in the past relied upon others to not simply ignore them. 

In many countries, this is not the case. In Turkmenistan, citizens face nearly total oppression and control on a level that almost matches that of North Korea. The Human Rights Watch reported that the Turkmenistan president, a man named Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had draconian policies that made his country “one of the world’s most repressed.” It goes on to explain that many people have been arrested or vanished for bogus charges because they go against the established system or expressed minority views.  

In Myanmar, massive ethnic cleansing by radical Buddhists has led to huge amounts of Rohingya Muslims fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh, where it is estimated that over 700,000 of them are now struggling to survive. Reports of horrific crimes against this helpless population, including gang rapes, mass killings and widespread arson give a grisly image.

In Yemen, citizens are struggling with some of the most crushing food insecurity in the world. An estimated 17 out of 27 million citizens of Yemen are food insecure, and 14.4 million have no access to clean water or sanitary conditions. This horrific situation is a result of a civil war in Yemen, which began in 2015 and has yet to end. Forces loyal to the president, a man named Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, have been in conflict with a group that champions the Zaidi Shia Muslim minority which has claimed large portions of Yemen and trapped innocent citizens, many of them children, in abject poverty.

Many people would ask why we should do anything at all. After all, these countries are not likely to threaten our shores or endanger our soldiers. But the world today is far closer to one place than it was a 100 years ago. Global trade and communication help show us that isolationism is not the best foreign policy. Many Americans have no idea about the suffering and horrors that are being faced by civilians around the world. This leaves people like Yemeni citizens suffering when the United States, one of the richest nations in the world, could and should help. We have an obligation, not just to help nations with force but to help with kindness. We have spent decades trying to battle foreign powers, only to now sit back and watch as the fallout destroys people’s lives.    

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We have an obligation, not just to help nations with force but to help with kindness. 

On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that the United States was “locked and loaded” to help Saudi Arabia retaliate against those who attacked their oil fields. Imagine if we put that military power towards things that did not directly impact us – towards brutal dictators who seek to wipe out the human spirit, or towards starving children desperate for food and water. We care about Saudi oil fields because we must; their oil helps drive cars and heat homes. We care about starving children because we must; we are human beings who can feel sympathy and pain for others.  

Many American citizens consider us the pinnacle of what a nation could and should be. And yet, we have consistently shown an unwillingness to care about people whose lives do not directly affect our own. All over the world, people are suffering and dying in situations that none of us could imagine, and yet we simply don’t care. We as a nation have committed the crime of ignorance. Our lives are not impacted by their struggles, and so we turn a blind eye and let the catastrophes of the world pass us by without even noticing they’re there.  


Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at ashton.stansel@uconn.edu.

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