While deciding content for the week, both Features editors automatically assumed very distinct roles. UK and EU politics were Ossie’s domain, while my mind drifted towards rather different international issues. Although this would be a convenient kind of status quo, we realised the extent of our myopia. Beyond our respective comfort zones were separate worlds, neither of which stood still.
It is understandable that the public of any country would be concerned only by its immediate surroundings. However, it is also true that geographical distance is no longer as significant as it used to be. Today’s world is one of overlapping (sometimes conflicting) interests, as well as economic destinies. The recession did not only have dire consequences in the West, but spelt disaster for trade and employment overseas. Who controls natural resources, who is capable of uranium enrichment and why they would be interested in it, all are questions of international concern.
There are other questions, too, which do not seem immediately relevant to the average citizen of Country A. The education policy in Afghanistan, for instance, will determine the future of an entire generation that has seen a foreign invasion. Support offered to weak or corrupt leaders will determine the lives of millions of people and how they will react to the rest of the world. Countries that may never have been mentioned in the West are thrown into the limelight when catastrophe strikes closer to home. Then there is talk; moreover, there is action. Then, however, it is too late to delve into the background.
At the same time it is equally true that much of the Third World demonises the abstract idea of “the West” without troubling to understand it. Conspiracy theories abound; everything that goes wrong in Pakistan, for example, is blamed on some kind of outside influence. There is a general sort of interest in who comes to power in Europe and America, but little actual knowledge. Uninformed hostility cannot be healthy.
This is not to underestimate the effects of globalisation. When it comes to culture, there seems to have been quite an effective transfusion across borders and fibre-optic cables. It no longer makes sense to bring gifts and curios from my part of the world; they would not be considered a novelty in London. Children grow up watching the same kind of television in Asia as well as Europe and America; teenagers worship similar icons and fashion gurus. While food and music tastes are never homogeneous, urban populations across the globe may access a range of fairly similar options including rock, jazz, curries and tiramisu. The concept of cultural sensitivity means that most of us are quite careful about treading round the feelings of others. Even if beliefs or cultural values are not quite understood, they are treated with a polite kind of respect. Every time I decline alcohol, I get the same kind of serious little nod.
When it comes to politics, the scenario is different. It may not be enough to nod and look away. While it is of the utmost importance to respect the sovereignty of nations, it is also necessary to develop a dimensional understanding of the world. Perhaps nurturing a simple interest in other parts of the world would be the way to start caring about casualties on both sides of existing and potential battlefronts. Correcting short-sightedness in the public today may just be the way to sidestepping international crises in future.