Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sapere è mezzo della battaglia

Tomorrow is September 11th.

I am in Italy, and from here you would never know that tomorrow is a day that carries a lot of weight for a lot of people. The news features some American politics, but most of it is coverage of the mudslinging between candidates and of parodies of the race from sources such as JibJab.

The news showed Palin cracking a joke: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull?"

She paused, and then gave the punchline: "Lipstick."

The news followed with Obama's response: "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig."

(The news didn't show it, but his quote continued, "You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough.")

But nothing about September 11th.

It makes me wonder about our own news. How much does the common American insulate himself or herself from knowledge about the workings of the rest of the world?

I remember a former cohort from the teaching world who asked his students if they knew the name of the president of France, and almost no one knew the answer.

Perhaps I'm naïve to expect a mention of 9/11 here in Italy. I don't really know why I thought the Italians would care. Do we Americans care about politics in Italy? Do we even know who the head of their country is?

Perhaps I wanted a mention in the news so I could know how the day will be remembered. How many of us will take a moment to reflect on the tragedy? Do the events still hold a place in the mind of the "average" American?

And how often will the numbers, 9/11, be tossed about as some sort of generic rallying cry?

One Family Guy episode features Lois running for mayor. Her campaign speech starts to fail, so she stouts spewing random phrases such as "9/11!" "Osama Bin Laden!" "Terrorists!" The crowd roars into an approving frenzy.

Here in Italy, people have asked us things such as, "Obama is the only person I see on TV. How can he not win?"

We tried responding with talk of demographics and such, but people's interest only runs so deep.

Obviously, each of us cannot know everything about the politics of the world. And I don't want to sound like a GI Joe public service announcement from back in the day: "And knowing is half the battle!"

But we do need to educate ourselves, and be smart about how we do it.

I remember a presentation a classmate gave way back in eighth grade social studies class. He claimed that Martin Luther King was actually a self-hating racist who was secretly working with the Ku Klux Klan. When the teacher asked him about the source, the student produced a stack of papers that he acquired from who knows where.

With a media system that thrives on the juicy bits, the mud slung back and forth, it's becoming harder and harder to know what to think and what to believe.

Soon, our nation makes a decision that affects not just our nation, but our nation's place in the world. America does not exist in a vacuum. If we do our best to educate ourselves about other countries, perhaps those other countries will respond in turn, making foreign policy a policy that is a little less foreign. Dialogue, by definition, flows more than one way.

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