The Misinformation-Age

It would seem that in the political turmoil between the United States and Iran, not all human compassion has been lost. Last week, thirteen Iranian fishermen who were kidnapped over a month ago by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea managed to gain control of a radio on the ship. They desperately called for help in Urdu, a language their captors wouldn’t be able to understand. Little did they suspect who would come to the rescue. A few miles away the signal was picked up by an American aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John C. Stennis. The carrier, which ironically had just been ordered to leave Iranian waters, turned to answer the call and successfully rescued the fishermen. Just a couple days later, another six Iranian mariners were rescued by an American ship after their boat had broken down in the Persian Gulf. Both rescues have been praised as positive humanitarian acts by both Navy officials and Iran’s foreign ministry. However, Iranian news agencies have claimed that the rescues were staged or dramatized and used as American propaganda. While I don’t put much stock in these Iranian conspiracy theories, it is true that naval rescue is a relatively standard procedure. And while the Iranian media has erroneously reported these rescues as acts of misinformation on the part of America, the western media has been equally flawed in its lack of recognition for several rescues made by the Iranian navy in similar circumstances. Given the nature of these media interactions, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that relations between the two countries remain as tense as ever. The United States continues to report that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons research, while the Iranian government is ordering American naval forces out of the Persian Gulf. However, while war seems imminent, it is not necessarily inevitable. These rescues are an excellent example of how, in its simplest form, the growing rift between the Western world and the Middle East is one that stems from rampant misinformation. Public support of violence is fueled by misunderstandings of cultural differences and distorted exaggerations perpetuated by mainstream media on both sides of the conflict. This is why I believe that the first step to mending our relationship with Iran and its neighbors is education. Especially in an age where technology makes distance unnoticeable, borders need be nothing more than what they are: imaginary lines. Modern life is much too clouded with rumor and misinformation. It’s time for the truth to come out. It’s time for a wake-up call. No longer should people take everything they hear or see at face value. To do this, though, firsthand experience with people from other cultures is a necessity. Here at Andover, we have the very rare and very precious gift of diversity that makes it possible for people to tear down cultural barriers. We see students of different ethnic backgrounds struggling with the same issues that we ourselves face. Under this common burden, a bond is formed. We begin to see people for who they are instead of hoow they look. It is this common bond that is sorely lacking in our global culture. For any progress to be made towards rebuilding the bridges of friendship between the Middle East and the Western World, individuals must strive to get to know the other side of the issue. After all, reaching out and communicating with others of all colors, shapes and sizes is the best way to remember that other people – whether soldiers or fishermen, American or Iranian – are just that: people. Alex Anderlik is a two-year Lower from Missoula, MT.