quick thoughts: who has time to learn about the middle east?

Posted on Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Attended a conference on journalism in the Middle East hosted at the SF Chronicle today, biked through the Tenderloin at night to get there and back, which was interesting. The conference was a Meetup, and some know my short but funny history with Meetup.com. (Still a Glam Girl at heart... haha) The conference was a random thing to attend; I felt like I was surrounded by all these people who followed the Middle East the same way I follow fashion discount sites and blogs. But thanks to my patronage of NPR, I was at least conversant in the issues and I found the panelists fascinating. An update on the notes I took later, but I just wanted to jot down how revealing this conference was of both how distanced I am from much of the goings-on of this world and what a different, maybe sheltered, life I lead compared to those who grow up in areas like Egypt with oppressive regimes. One panelist mentioned that children "cut their teeth" on the judicial and political systems, because there is a very direct connection between the inner workings of both and their very survival. I thought about my own connection to the judicial and political systems, and how many middlemen separate me from the actual issues and decisions that are made. It's not necessarily good or bad, just different, I might think. But then again, I too depend on these systems for my survival. One moment that really struck me was the video they showed of a young girl, 26, urging and begging her people to rise with her and join her at Tahrir Square on January 25th. This video went viral a few days after it was posted in January 18th, and indeed many of the leaders of the uprisings were women. I'm going to write about this on askmissa but quickly, it may be just a coincidence of numbers but I couldn't help staring at her and thinking: I'm 26. She's 26. How different we are. Among other things, they were talking about what a bad job American journalists were doing of covering the Middle East, only jumping in when there was "bad news," and they began to list sites and shows we should look up to get the real stories, the real lives, of these people. I thought of the people I'm friends with and the people I know, and not many of them are Middle East aficionados. Who has the time? We're all stressed already with our busy lives, and "sensationalist media" screams at us from every magazine cover and TV screen which completely drowns out and snuffs any kind of "enrichment media." I wonder, who of the "average Americans" has the time to learn about the Middle East? I'm trying my hardest by getting my Google reader set up with the latest RSS feeds from as many sources as I can, by playing NPR at home and in the car when I can, but still-- my mind is so full of other things that I don't feel like I can devote the time and energy it would take to have a true understanding of the complexity of... anything going on in the world. And this includes US politics, Canadian politics, China's development, the state of the Euro, the Middle East and its historic ties with the US and how aid shapes its politics, South Africa, South America... It boggles me, scares me, and overwhelms me how much I don't know about this world. And another side of me thinks: it doesn't affect me personally; I am not striving to be professor, expert, journalist (or am I?), writer, speaker, on any worldly topics that I'm aware of. I am not on a need-to-know basis for any of this stuff, and can go on living and dying without ever really having a full understanding of this world. How sad.