United States citizens need to stay informed on global affairs and realize how events occurring overseas affect the U.S.
Petra Brayo, a sophomore neuroscience major, said her philosophy class discussed the protests in Egypt about a week after they began.
When a student in Brayo’s class said she saw a video on “some Arabic site,” Brayo said classmates were curious about what she had seen. Because the student couldn’t pronounce the name of the news site, she wrote “Al Jazeera” on the board.
What’s important is that her classmate made an attempt to stay informed about some truly revolutionary events outside the United States, which is more than what about half of her fellow U.S. citizens did.
In a recent poll of 1,385 adults by the Pew Center, 51 percent reported they knew little to nothing about the protests in Egypt. That is despite the fact Egypt occupied 56 percent of the stories featured in 52 news outlets during the week of Jan. 31.
Similar demonstrations that have unraveled in the Middle East and North Africa are playing out in the media now. But the question remains the same: If the information is so readily available, then why are Americans actively choosing not to pursue it?
One potential answer is they do not see how the protests affect them personally.
“Even though foreign policy analysts know the Middle East is critical to foreign policy interests, to your average American … the Middle East is not a truly integral part of their lives,” said Sean Yom, an associate political science professor who specializes in the Middle East.
However, these events will likely start affecting U.S. citizens very soon. For example, in a Feb. 24 Bloomsberg News report, the threat of civil war in Libya prompted oil prices to jump over the $100- per-barrel hurdle for the first time in more than two years.
That will likely get the attention of U.S. consumers, who Yom noted are concerned with other matters at home very quickly.
“I think that, for various reasons, most U.S. citizens are understandably more worried about domestic problems and the economy now than foreign affairs,” Yom said.
There is another reason Americans should care about protests in Egypt and elsewhere – the demonstrators who are out in the streets risking their lives are real people. Brayo is all too aware of that. She moved from Egypt to the United States when she was 16 years old but still has many friends and family members living there. She said watching the news includes hoping nothing bad has happened to someone she knows.
Brayo said she feels like many of her peers lack an understanding of what’s going on.
“I felt like people were just trying to pretend like they knew everything about [the protests], but they had no idea what was going on. They just wanted to say something when the topic was raised,” Brayo said.
No one expects every person to become an expert on global affairs, but staying informed on the current events should not be difficult for even the busiest of U.S. citizens to manage.
“There are only so many hours in a day,” Yom said. “The most we can ask is that they just watch the news more, read the news more, and they try to become more aware of what’s happening.”
Considering the magnitude of the recent developments, that sounds like the bare minimum to ask.
Zachary Scott was be reached at email@example.com.