July 11, 2003 - Yahoo News: Richard Reeves says many of our problems are because of our own uninterest and ignorance in how the other half lives and thinks

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: July 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: July 11, 2003 - Yahoo News: Richard Reeves says many of our problems are because of our own uninterest and ignorance in how the other half lives and thinks

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Richard Reeves says many of our problems are because of our own uninterest and ignorance in how the other half lives and thinks





Read and comment on this op-ed from Yahoo by Richard Reeves who says that many of our problems are because of our own uninterest and ignorance in how the other half lives and thinks.
"What do you think of our Peace Corps?" a proud President Kennedy once asked the prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. A good idea, Nehru replied; privileged young Americans could learn a lot from the poor villagers of South Asia.

Kennedy was not amused. But Nehru, a prickly sort, turned out to be right. The greatest impact of the Peace Corps over the past 40 years has not been to bring sanitation or other modern wonders to the "primitive" of the Earth, but rather to create a core group of tens of thousands of Americans who came home with some sympathetic knowledge or knowledgeable empathy for the way much of the world actually lives. Peace Corps alumni have enriched the United States beyond all hopes in politics and government, education and business.
The Third Goal of the Peace Corps is more important today than ever. With passage of the "Peace Corps for the 21st Century Act" expected later this year with its Peace Corps Innovation Fund to further third goal activities, this op-ed with ideas on what RPCVs can do to further the Third Goal is especially timely. Read the op-ed at:

SOME STUDENTS TRY TO BRING THE WORLD HOME*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



SOME STUDENTS TRY TO BRING THE WORLD HOME
Fri Jul 11, 8:01 PM ET

By Richard Reeves

WASHINGTON -- "What do you think of our Peace Corps?" a proud President Kennedy once asked the prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. A good idea, Nehru replied; privileged young Americans could learn a lot from the poor villagers of South Asia.

Richard Reeves

Kennedy was not amused. But Nehru, a prickly sort, turned out to be right. The greatest impact of the Peace Corps over the past 40 years has not been to bring sanitation or other modern wonders to the "primitive" of the Earth, but rather to create a core group of tens of thousands of Americans who came home with some sympathetic knowledge or knowledgeable empathy for the way much of the world actually lives. Peace Corps alumni have enriched the United States beyond all hopes in politics and government, education and business.

I was reminded of the Kennedy-Nehru encounter when I saw that the student group Americans for Informed Democracy, which I had reported on after its founding at Oxford University in England, was shifting its emphasis from telling foreigners about the United States to talking with Americans about the world. A good idea. Don't take it too personally, dear fellow Americans, but many of the problems we are having these days are because of our own uninterest and ignorance in how the other half lives and thinks.

AID, not to be confused with the United States' official foreign aid mechanism, the Agency for International Development, was formed at Oxford and publicized as a group standing up to the anti-Americanism that has been running wild around the world as American legions moved into Afghanistan (news - web sites) and Iraq (news - web sites), and the Bush administration began telling anyone who would listen that if you were not for us, we were against you. But both the problem and the group turned out to be much more complicated than that.

The Yanks at Oxford organized last year over two small incidents -- I am not making this up -- at the McDonald's in the middle of town. Just after Sept. 11, 2001, Jason Wasfy, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (news - web sites) graduate studying politics as a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, was standing in line and a young woman behind him said: "Are you an American? ... Because I'm really so sorry about what happened, and I want you to know that all of us here in Britain were absolutely horrified."

Months later, another American, Seth Green, a Princeton graduate from Florida, was standing in the same line with friends when a British student grabbed one of the Americans by the scarf and said: "Is George Bush your hero? ... If I could get a bomb and get over to the United States, I'd blow myself up to kill you all."

That was the beginning of AID -- 250 of the 900 Americans at Oxford joined, and other young Americans abroad were recruited on the Web -- which held a series of high-profile conferences with titles that included "What Is Driving Anti-Americanism?" and "Clash of Civilizations or Common Ground?" (The latter was co-sponsored by another Oxford group, the Pakistan Discussion Forum.)

Now, with some of the organizers back home, AID is putting together a program called "Hope, Not Hate," scheduling Sept. 12, 2003, discussions on relations between the United States and Islamic countries at universities across the country. So far, 55 American campus groups have signed on for that day.

"Basically we are multilateralists coming home with a message," said Green. George Bush is not his hero -- he has written for the online edition of The American Prospect, a liberal magazine published in Washington -- but he says that what the group is about now is telling foreigners that the Bush administration is not America, and telling Americans that French president Jacques Chirac does not speak for everybody else. Actually, he added, the voice most likely to trigger knee-jerk anti-Americanism is that of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who oozes contempt for anyone not constantly pledging allegiance to America.

What is the rest of the message, I asked Green, who is 23 and headed for Yale Law School. His written answer was: "If America returns to unilateralism, it will be sowing the seeds of its future insecurity. My generation was not around when we won World War II, rebuilt Western Europe and protected South Korea (news - web sites) from communism. Even the fall of the Berlin Wall is a preteen memory. As my generation has begun to form opinions of America, it sees a generally unilateralist foreign policy that prioritizes force over diplomacy."

Rumsfeld, and President Bush (news - web sites) as well, might not like that phrasing, but they should start to listen to it. If they don't, it's going to be more and more dangerous to go to McDonald's anywhere outside the war capital.



More about Americans for Informed Democracy



Read more about Americans for Informed Democracy at:

Americans for Informed Democracy

Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) is a non-partisan organization that seeks to raise awareness in the U.S. about world opinions of American foreign policy and to counteract anti-American sentiment overseas, with the goal of inspiring greater multilateralism in world affairs. AID fulfills its mission by fostering international dialogue, publishing opinion pieces, articulating positions on issues of global importance, and organizing demonstrations. Currently, AID has over 275 members, representing more than 25 U.S. universities and residing in more than 10 countries.

Since its establishment in October of 2002, AID has brought together hundreds of young Americans, Europeans, and Muslims to discuss anti-Americanism, transatlantic relations, and the compatibility of the Western and Islamic worlds. AID members also have written op-eds in the L.A. Times and Christian Science Monitor, and been interviewed by the New York Times, MSNBC, and CNN.


Expanding AID's Mission to the U.S.:

We are currently in the process of expanding our multilateral mission to college campuses and cities throughout the U.S. As part of that expansion, we are looking for individuals to serve as "AID representatives" to universities and urban areas across America.

Being a representative will require an incredibly small time commitment, but will be incredibly meaningful. Basically, a representative will have two roles. First, AID is building contacts with policymakers, academics, and activists from around the U.S. Sometimes, these scholars are interested in speaking to groups in their hometown area. We want to put interested scholars in contact with representatives from their hometown area to setup AID speaking events. Second, on a quarterly basis, AID is going to send out detailed plans for an event to foster dialogue and raise global consciousness at universities across America. We will send this information to representatives, and then if representatives have time they can try to organize an event in line with AID's national agenda.

If you are willing to serve as a representative to your campus or city, please e-mail seth.green@new.ox.ac.uk and specifically put in the subject title of your e-mail the words "AID representative".


Clash of Civilizations or Common Ground?

On Wednesday, May 21st, Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) and the Pakistan Discussion Forum (PDF) co-hosted an international student forum on the compatibility of the Western and Islamic worlds. Over fifty young leaders from North America, Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East participated in the forum, which was held at Oxford's American Institute.

The forum began with seven-minute presentations by Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi (Iraq Scholar Whose Work was Heavily Plagiarized by Downing Street), Dr. Vahid Karimi (Counselor of the Embassy of Iran), and Dr. Josef Boehle (Author of "Inter-religious Cooperation & Global Change: From a Clash of Civiliations to a Dialogue of Civilisations").

The forum then broke up into two mini-discussion groups, which each considered a different topic related to Western-Muslim relations:

1. Is cooperation between the Western and Muslim Worlds possible in the aftermath of the Iraq war, or do the West and Islam inevitably conflict?

2. Is American foreign policy, its misperception, or both responsible for the current divide?


During the forum, participants made the following observations:

There is no coherent "Western World" or "Muslim World". Within the West, there are divisions between countries, such as the U.S. and continental Europe. There are also disagreements within countries, such as between American secularists and the Religious Right. In the Muslim World also, there are tremendous differences. There are both Muslim moderates and fundamentalists, and the meaning of each group changes in certain respects across countries.

The Western and the Muslim Worlds see one another as imposing and view themselves as tolerant. The West generally sees its capitalist structures as forms of freedom that are tolerant of differences, while viewing the Muslim World as replete with authoritarian rulers who are willing to impose their will on public groups such as Iranian students. By contrast, the Muslim World tends to see the U.S. as an occupying force, while it views itself as tolerant of other countries' different, more secular ways of organizing their societies.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to Western-Muslim relations. Each time the discussion group moved toward thinking about Western-Muslim cooperation, the question of who would take the first step toward peace in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute inevitably emerged. Would Americans more forcefully pressure Israel to stop settlements? Would Arab governments more forcefully denounce suicide bombings? Several discussion participants saw resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as critical to averting a "clash of civilizations."

Please note: The views of the speakers do not necessarily reflect the views of the eventís organizers. Americans for Informed Democracy (AID) disagrees with some of the policies of the Iranian government, but supports dialogue.


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After Sara Evans was assaulted she left the Peace Corps and returned to the United States. But her ordeal was only beginning. Read about a volunteer's courage in this story.
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