History professor Ralph Young wasted little time hitting the crucial topics of the day at the semester’s first weekly teach-in. Last Friday more than 50 students and professors gathered to discuss “The Bush Foreign Policy and World Security.” Julia Foley and Tom Mosher, regulars at the teach-ins, led the discussion by putting forward their views about Bush’s foreign policy.
When Young posed an open question to the forum, “What do you think is the real motivation behind Bush’s policy?”, the question worked as a stimulus to the international students that spoke up to express their feelings that the Bush Administration’s policies have led to disintegration of friendships with their nations.
“The problem I have with this administration is lack of accountability,” said Omar Nawaz, a Ph.D. candidate from Pakistan. “Two men in suits can walk into my house and label me a terrorist. Their trump card is, ‘this is for your protection.'”
Nilgun Anadolu-Okur, an African-American studies professor and native of Turkey, agreed with Nawaz.
“Being a person from a different culture, we have two sets of information coming to us,” she explained. “And in other parts of the world, America has left no credibility. Turks do not like America.”
She described how Turkey’s friendship with the United States has been destroyed primarily because of the Bush administration. In the 1950s and 1960s, when an American naval fleet came to Turkey, they were greeted with flowers. But when Bush visited Istanbul recently, half the city was closed.
“America has no allies left in other parts of the world,” Anadolu-Okur said.
Anadolu-Okur and Nawaz’s responses encouraged the other international students in the room to speak up. A Canadian freshman admitted that most Canadians don’t have a single good thing to say about the United States.
A Pakistani student relayed her experience on a plane when a 14-year-old American girl said to her, “No offense to you, but I hope all Pakistanis die because that’s where Osama [Bin Laden] came from.”
The discussion did not tiptoe around any issues; the students were forthright about their opinions. Rithesh Menon, a native of India, expressed his concern about the increasing global disconnect between America and other parts of the world.
“The problem in America lies at the root – most Americans are completely ignorant about the world around them,” he said. “That’s why people outside America dislike the Americans.”
According to Menon, this ignorance antagonizes people in other areas of the world who have now come to associate American foreign policy with that of self-gain and personal bias.
Nawaz agreed, saying, “It’s actually just the government, but this dislike spreads to everything the American government is associated with.”
“The need for America to form a coalition was important from the very beginning of the war,” concluded Menon. “If they do falter, everyone takes the blame and not just the U.S. alone.”
Young, who has been conducting the teach-ins for three years, said he was impressed by how many international students showed up for the semester’s first event. The teach-ins began when students from Young’s “Dissent in America” class started staying after class to continue the discussions.
In the beginning, these informal gatherings were simply discussions about current topics. Two years ago, Young structured the teach-ins by inviting professors or professionals to do a 20-minute presentation on a specific topic and then lead a discussion on it.
“We try to emphasize the historical background out of which present-day situations have emerged,” Young said.
At next Friday’s teach-in, four Temple students will report on their experiences at the Republican National Convention.
Jinal Shah can be reached at Jshah28@yahoo.com.