March 1, 2016

HABR | Intro to the World

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I walked up the stairs to the sixth floor of Balch carrying a box of my belongings. A shy and anxious freshman on move-in day, I was eagerly awaiting my first human contact at Cornell. I met my first hallmate once I reached my floor and we exchanged nervous smiles and greetings. “Where are you from?” I asked.

“California,” she replied, “what about you?”

“I just moved from Kuwait,” I answered.

“Oh…” she laughed dismissively, “I don’t know what that is.” I was shocked. Gob Bluth’s voice echoed in my head: “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I began to wonder if I had misjudged Cornell. After all, what use is a degree, a great GPA or a perfect test score if it does not bring with it knowledge of the world in which we live?

In a world so connected, structuring educational curriculums around providing international perspectives and promoting multiculturalism is crucial. Students must learn about the world beyond a useless one-week trip to an African country to build a house or a semester abroad in Paris or London. Classes need to engage with international issues and address how the state of the world affects the subjects we learn about in our U.S.-centric studies. It is our responsibility to become more internationally-aware global citizens, not just to gain a competitive advantage in the job market, but also to be able to interact respectfully with those around us and make more informed decisions. Learning to understand others is the essence of being human and imperative to humanizing others in the world.

Due to increasing economic competition, college has become just as much of a job factory as a place of higher learning. Instead of focusing on broadening perspectives and learning about different cultures, college is seen as an opportunity just to advance prospects in the work market.

Learning about different cultures is now just another hurdle to jump through: languages are learned to pad resumes and classes about different countries and cultures are taken begrudgingly to fulfill a single “cultural requirement” that encapsulates the whole non-Western world.  Students learn languages largely without regard for the people who speak them and without respect for the cultures they represent. Students learn to conjugate verbs and craft sentences yet they do not humanize what they learn and connect language to the larger heart of a population. They learn Arabic, only to join the military and help fuel Western imperialism; they learn Spanish to gain a skill for their resume or to capture Latinos as customers, yet disregard the experiences of Hispanics and Latinos in America and look down upon those that speak English with an accent.

More internationally focused classes are often seen as burdensome requirements. The Industrial and Labor Relations curriculum, for example, requires one class that fulfills a “cultural perspectives” requirement: three or four credits out of 120 to learn about a country that is not America. It is fine that classes are U.S.-centric; after all, the United States is where most students will live after graduation. However, there does seem to be a disparity in the weight given to learning about different areas of the world.  American high school curriculums focus only on the United States, failing to provide students with adequate knowledge of other countries around the world. It is no surprise that United States college students are so U.S.-centric — that is all they know how to be. The system reinforces itself, as ignorance breeds indifference and stifles students’ curiosity to learn about the larger world.

Living in the United States, it is easy to dismiss things happening in other countries or to feel like we do not need to learn about the world because we are the center of it. This attitude is evident in the nonchalant mistakes we make. Even professors lecturing about their subjects of specialty are dismissive of geography, providing misinformation or finding humor in not knowing where particular countries are. Not knowing what the modern day equivalent of Rhodesia is or mischaracterizing Christian Assyrians as Muslim may not seem like great offenses, but they are a symptom of the disregard for and othering of diverse people from around the world.

Misinformation and ignorance matter because they spawn dehumanization. Not caring enough to correctly identify the religion of the demographic one is teaching about shows a lack of respect for that group of people. These are small symptoms of underlying issues that manifest themselves in large problems such as large-scale violence and imperialism: all fueled by ignorance and lack of respect.

Students need to embrace the insight being an international citizen can bring. In learning about the world, we access new ways of living and new perspectives that reframe and challenge the ways in which we perceive the world, as well as the notions we take for granted as being normal and true. We are challenged to think more critically and engage with issues more deeply, and along the way we learn respect and understanding. Curriculums (starting before college) should focus more on integrating knowledge of a subject with its global implications and stimulating students to think more broadly and learn more about the world.

Katy Habr is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell. Comments may be sent to On the Margin runs alternate Wednesdays  this semester. 

  • Arafat

    Katy writes, “They learn Arabic, only to join the military and help fuel Western imperialism;…”

    In fact Muslims are imperialists and colonialists far more so than Western powers.

    It is not as if England any longer controls land in India, or Africa, or anywhere else other than small islands. Contrast that with Islam. Islam has violently conquered and now controls lands from the Maldives all the way north to NW China and southern Russia, and from east to west from Indonesia all the way to Morocco. All of North Africa now belongs to Islam. All of the Middle East (except for Israel which Muslims tell us belongs to them) now belongs to Islam. How is this NOT imperialism and it certainly is colonialism.


    And even within the last 30 years Muslim jihadists violently conquered Sudan – killing, gang-raping and torturing the Animists and black Christians into submission – and now Sudan belongs to Islam. The same exact thing is currently happening in Nigeria. Is his not true, Katy?

    Tell us Katy, why do you always put the cart before the horse? What sort of psychological blindness do you suffer such that you cannot see what your own people do (no matter how barbaric) while at the same time you exaggerate and unfairly criticize the infidels?

    • Guest

      I think you just missed the entire point of this piece by focusing on a little bit that you had an issue with. Do better.

  • Arafat

    Here is some cultural context on Assyrians since you mention Assyrians as being poorly taught in Western universities. The following article was written by Uzay Bulut

    The recent invasions and massacres committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq and Syria have brought a persecuted but mostly forgotten people to the attention of the world: the Assyrians.

    The Assyrians, a native people of Mesopotamia, have been exposed to massacres before — throughout history, in fact.

    Due to these campaigns of extermination, the demographic character of the region has been changed greatly.

    Before 1915, the population of the territory that is now Turkey was about 15 million, about 4.5 million of which was Christian (nearly a third). Today, one can hardly even talk of a Christian minority. The approximate population of Turkey is 80 million, but there are only around 120,000 Christians, less than 1% of the population.

    In 1915, a slaughter of minorities took place, the purpose of which was apparently to “Turkify” and Islamize Anatolia into a country with one language, one flag, one religion and one nation. To achieve this objective, all non-Turkish communities — Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Jews, Yezidis, Kurds and others — were targeted.

    But there was a difference between Christians and non-Christians. Non-Christian minorities were to be assimilated; Christians were to be exterminated.

    According to the founder and the president of the Assyrian Genocide and Research Center (Seyfo Center)[1], Sabri Atman, there are links between the massacre of the Assyrians and the current massacres of Christians in the Middle East:

    “Just like all Assyrians, when I was a child, I heard what had been done in 1915. The people were going through a trauma. Especially the elderly people still with fear in their voices fear about what they had experienced. Now I tell about the grievances of my people to try to get support for them.

    “In the Ottoman Empire in 1915, the Ottoman-Turkish Party of Union and Progress slaughtered Christians — Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Most of the Assyrians were murdered with swords. Many Kurdish tribes also joined in the killings, using their swords — Seyfos — against their neighbors, the Assyrians.

    “It is hard to give an exact number of victims; about 350,000 to 500,000 Assyrians lost their lives. The carnage was not only about murdering people. The lands and property of Christians were also seized. One of the most important outcomes of 1915 for many Turks was the wealth they built on the property of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Today there is not a single Assyrian in provinces where once there were so many — so what happened to their lands, goods and property?

    “It was the same with the Armenians and Greeks. The Cankaya Palace, the residence of former presidents of Turkey in Ankara, was originally the property of an Armenian, Odian Efendi. If you go to provinces where Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians used to live in Turkey, you would learn that all of the old and magnificent buildings you see used to belong to Armenians, Greeks or Assyrians.

    “Some of the wealthy elite ruling Turkey became wealthy from property they forcibly took from the Christians. So one of the reasons they deny what happened in 1915 is that they are afraid one day they might lose the wealth they took cost-free.”

    Other slaughters include:

    Massacres by Badr Khan Beg, a Kurdish emir, against Assyrian Christians known as Nestorians. They took place in 1843-1846 in the province of Hakkari and throughout the Ottoman Empire.
    Massacres against Armenians and Assyrians by the Hamidiye Corps in the Ottoman Empire in 1894 and 1896.
    The Simele Massacre of August 7, 1933, by the armed forces of the Kingdom of Iraq. More than 3000 Assyrians were slaughtered, not only in the town of Simele. It also took place in the 68 Assyrian villages of the provinces of Duhok and Nineveh in Iraq.
    “A lawyer who was profoundly influenced by the Simele massacre coined the term genocide,” Atman continued. “Raphael Lemkin called it genocide. He used word for the first time in 1944, and applied it to the Armenian massacre, the Holocaust and Simele massacre.”

    In 2015, the extermination of Assyrians is still going on, as Assyrians and other Christian communities are being uprooted from countries in Middle Eastern. According to Atman:

    “All of the data at hand shows that 1915 was a project of homogenizing Turkey. The Turkish Republic is a state largely established on Christian slaughters. But massacres against Assyrian people are not very much known even in Turkey. They have intentionally been hidden.

    “Upon the prompting of Germany, on November 14, 1914, in all mosques of the Ottoman Empire, a call for jihad was made. Their main objective was to have Muslims in the British and French colonies start a riot, which would have empowered Germany and the Ottoman Empire. But things did not turn out the way they had planned.

    “After the mosques sent out the call for jihad, many Muslims started massacres against Assyrians and other Christians. After all, killing the ‘kafirs’ [non-believers of Islam] was a ‘good deed’. They were told ‘their place in heaven was guaranteed.’ Just like ISIS gangs, they were also promised – based on the Quranic verses and the hadith – that they would get ’72 virgins’ and that they would also take their relatives in hell to heaven.”

    When ISIS invaded Mosul in August 2014, Christian families were told by ISIS terrorists that they would be killed if they did not pay a protection tax (jizya) or convert to Islam. The warning was read out in Mosul’s mosques and broadcast throughout the city on loudspeakers. “We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment… if they refuse this, they will have nothing but the sword,” the announcement read.

    On September 23, in Syria, ISIS executed three more Assyrians by gunshots to the back of their heads, the Assyrian International News Agency reported.

    They were part of the group of 253 Assyrians abducted by ISIS on February 23, when it overran 35 Assyrian villages in Hasakah Province in Syria.

    In the video recorded by ISIS that shows the execution, ISIS said that if ransom for the remaining Assyrians is not paid, they will be executed as well. ISIS has demanded $50,000 for each hostage, a total of more than $10 million.

    On November 25, ISIS released ten more Assyrian Christian hostages in Hasakah Province, but over 150 remain captured and threatened with death.

    “There is a great parallel between 1915 and what is going on in the Middle East today — in terms of destruction of non-Muslim civilizations and the continuity of Islamic jihad,” Atman said. The problem, according to Atman, does not stem from people’s belonging to certain ethnic groups; the problem is the denial of the realities of the past.

    “Similar calls for jihad against Assyrians and Yezidis were made 100 years ago. Women and girls were raped; the Seyfo (sword) was used to behead people just as it is today.

    “When the massacres and human rights violations of the past were not sentenced sufficiently, it paved the way for new massacres. The most effective way to prevent future slaughter is to condemn past slaughter. But the wish for genocide still exists in the Middle East, including Turkey. Turkey is still ruled by a President who says ‘Muslims do not commit genocide.'”

    Left: A memorial in France commemorating the 1915 Assyrian Genocide in Turkey. Right: An Islamic State member destroys a Christian tombstone in Mosul, Iraq, in April 2015.
    Throughout centuries, Islamic jihad has not changed but, sadly, even in the 21st century Turkish children are still taught a distorted version of history at their schools; as a result, generations are being raised to have a Turkish-Islamic supremacist mindset.

    “We all have been exposed to a historical narrative based on lies,” Atman said about Turkish schools. “The official history of Turkey is, ‘Turkish propaganda for Turks.’ Information such as ‘The state of Turkey fought against imperialism’ is incorrect. The Ottoman Empire joined the First World War with imperialistic desires and formed an alliance with Germany. The war, presented as ‘the Turkish war of Liberation,’ was in a way a war to annihilate Christians, Alevis, Yezidis and other non-Muslim groups in Anatolia. So it would not be wrong to say that the Turkish Republic was established on Christian massacres and the denial of Kurds.”

    Atman said that during his time in Turkey, he saw non-Turkish and non-Muslim children being exposed to forced assimilation at school.

    “I was born in Turkey and went to primary, middle and high schools there. Before our classes got started, we sprang to attention and were made to read at the top of our voice the Turkish Student Oath in which we said, ‘I am a Turk’ and ‘My existence shall be dedicated to the Turkish existence.’ Textbooks claim that in the First World War, Assyrians and other Christians ‘stabbed Turkey in the back in cooperation with the imperialistic states’ and that Assyrians were ‘treacherous’. They brainwash Turkish schoolchildren like that; then the Muslim children look at the Assyrian children with suspicion.”

    “When I was at middle school, we had a teacher; the moment he entered the classroom, he asked ‘Are there Christians here? Christians, raise your hands!’ A few children would shyly raise their hands. The look in his eyes spoke volumes. But the attitude of one teacher is never a criterion for assessing a whole society. The problem is not which ethnic group a person belongs to, but the monist ideology of Turkey [one language, one nation, one state, one religion] and its denial or distortion of history.”

    Turkifying Anatolia and denying the identities of others is still rife, Atman said. “Turkish authorities still say that ‘Turkey belongs to Turks.’ That is a big lie. Before Turks came to Anatolia, we had been living there. But ‘Turkey belongs to Turks’ is still the slogan in the logo of one of Turkey’s best-selling newspapers.

    “In any event, Assyrians are one of the most deeply-rooted indigenous peoples of Mesopotamia. Assyrians have lived on that land for more than 5000 years. The Turks came to Anatolia only in 1071. At least, that is what the Turkish textbooks say. They came later and drove us out.”

    Assyrians still live with the consequences of the extermination campaign they were exposed to 100 years ago. The destruction is still going on. But that campaign of extermination is still denied today. Denying such a big crime means its continuation.

    “In Turkey, there are still threats such as, ‘We will root them out’ or ‘We will exterminate them.’ To a large extent, they have succeeded. They murdered more than 300,000 Assyrians and forced almost another 300,000 to be exposed to assimilation in many countries across the world.”[2]

    Today, in Turkey, there are only about 15,000 Assyrians left, and they are not officially recognized as a people.

    “Assyrians are recognized only as a religious congregation, so that state authorities can benefit from them. They let these few stay to show Europe and the world how good-hearted and tolerant Turkey and Islam are. They talk about the ‘great tolerance’ of Turkey and Islam. And they say, ‘Assyrians lead their lives so happily thanks to this great tolerance!’

    “What some people in Turkey proudly say is, ‘Elhamdulillah [thank Allah], 99% of Turkey is Muslim.’ They brag and boast about it. It should actually put them to shame; we know very well how they made it happen.

    “What is done to Assyrians, Yezidis and others should concern everyone; what is massacred there is the humanity of everyone. If it happens there, it can happen to them. We ask all great powers of the world, everyone, to hear the screams of our people and help.”

    • Guest

      Are you getting paid by the word or page to insert comments completely unrelated to the article, just to prove to your employer that you are following up!!
      You really do not impress anyone by your inane comments. I suggest to your employer to replace you… May be your replacement will be somewhat smart.
      Go suck on a Popsicle.

  • Guest

    Nice article Katy. You nailed it. Most Americans have absolutely no idea what goes on in the world. If the graduates of schools like Cornell and their teachers are strangers to this issue as well, they will have a hard time understanding the world, let alone dealing with it.
    I hope people with decision power read and understand your point of view. Well done.

  • cchhcc

    yoo2borne rabikk