Place Libya on the Map

In an address a few weeks ago, President Obama declared that the operations in Libya helped to avert a catastrophe. He pointed out that it was a humanitarian crisis and that had the US refused to join the coalition of European nations in the airstrikes, many of the Libyans in Benghazi would have been massacred in a matter of days.

I watched the broadcast and the Q&A session that followed and still walked away from it with questions as to what our operations in Libya would mean for the United States in the future. If Qaddafi holds on to power in Libya, will we continue to remain involved? If we are not looking for a regime change, then what is our goal in Libya?

To look into the topic, I turned to articles and news broadcasts. It was still spring break and having decided to stay home in my pajamas all day, I had all the time in the world to flick through the channels on TV and settle on a broadcast that was hosting a “panel of experts” on the subject of Libya. I do not claim to know all there is to know about Libya’s geopolitical situation nor its diplomatic history, but I was immediately disheartened when I heard the members of the panel refer to Libya as a “country in the Middle East”, “ a country with close ties to other Arab governments” and neglected to mention Libya’s large reserves of oil and the years of conflict between Libya and the western world. These and a series of other assertions made by the panel were proven false by a quick google search.

As discouraged as I was to find that the “panel of experts” on a reputed broadcasting network did not know that Libya is in North Africa, I was even more disappointed when I realized that my studies at Andover had not really helped me understand Libya’s standpoint in the conflict. History 300 gives a great overview of American foreign policy and helps us understand the United States’ interests in the region, but only fleetingly addresses other countries’ points of view.

I felt worse still about my ignorance after speaking to some friends of mine who live in Egypt and finding that they were fully aware of the nuclear crisis in Japan, the struggle Obama was having in gaining support for actions in Libya and even the fact that the United States’ Congress decided to cut spending for National Public Radio. Some students in Libya or Japan could even name our Supreme Court Justices, something that many Americans students would find difficult.

I could not agree more with Ben Krapels’ March 4td article in The Phillipian, pointing out that current events do not receive enough attention on campus. As he points out, not all of us can be experts on the politics or geography of every country. However, we are constantly told that we are the “future leaders” and I seriously doubt that before this conflict most of us would be able to locate Libya on a map.

I agree that we have a responsibility to show curiosity and talk about current events with friends, in clubs and in classrooms. Some of the blame for the fact that we are unaware of the events around the world falls on the American educational system that puts a large emphasis on US history, geography and standards but not those of countries around the world.

We can see strong influences of the American educational system on our school. It is understandable that we learn American history, but it is interesting that History 300 is the only modern history class we are required to take. Shakespeare is great and all, but we are never required to study the works of Li Bai, because most of the fiction we study is by Western authors. We study the Jacksonian Era in depth, but are never required to debate the importance of Mao Zedong or Haile Selassie I at length. Andover does not offer geography, even as an elective.

Still, we go to a school with a wide range of resources, speakers and classes. We have the opportunity to take history electives and learn about different religions and cultures. We should take advantage of the resources we have while trying to incorporate geography and world politics into the Course of Study by having ongoing conversations with the faculty.

These grievances may not seem very important to us now; but if I’m forty and invited to speak as an expert on a panel, I want to be able to place Libya on a map.

Tia Baheri is a two-year Upper from Dallas, TX and a columnist for The Phillipian.