The image above shows the Omni Hotel (located in Dallas, Texas) lit up in the colors of the Pakistani flag following the tragic suicide bombing in Lahore on Easter Sunday. However, while this image seems both straight-forward and heartwarming, it points to something complex and disappointing: this is one of few commemorative efforts made by western countries to show solidarity with Pakistan.
Landmarks lit up in solidarity with Paris following November 13 attacks.
When terrorist attacks occur, it is easy to follow what buildings are lit up on behalf of the attacked country, what, if any, hashtags are emerging on Twitter, or what kind of media coverage is occurring. What isn’t so easy to do is find what leads to disparities in the reaction to terrorist attacks that occur in non-western countries versus those that occur in western countries (North America and Europe), and find a way to decrease those disparities. Nevertheless, while doing so may be difficult, it is not impossible. Both the cause and the solution to this problem lie in education.
The difference in reaction to attacks in places such as Lahore and Baghdad, where 25 were killed and even more wounded in a suicide bombing two days prior to the Lahore attack, versus reactions to attacks in Brussels and Paris is due to the inability of the West to identify with those regions that are hit. While attacks in non-western countries such as those in the Middle East and Africa may evoke condemnations from some political figures, they don’t often evoke exceptional news coverage or response. Such lack of media coverage and international commemoration is directly related to coverage of such regions in the education system. K-12 history is beautifully concise, but detrimentally Eurocentric. The general timeline of world history often takes a European route, where European culture, as depicted through study of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, takes a front a seat to that of other regions, such as the flourishing culture of Baghdad during the Abbasid period. If the creations of non-western regions and the lives of non-western peoples are not valued in history classes, why should they be valued once they are destroyed?
Identification with non-western peoples starts with emphasis. Though such emphasis can be difficult in a K-12 setting, especially one plagued by specific testing standards, emphasis is less about information than it is about equality. Instructors should be providing students with curriculum by which they are learning just as much about British colonization of Pakistan as they are about Pakistan prior to colonization. Though imperialism plays a large and unavoidable role in world history, and happens to have been performed by a largely European lineup of countries, it should not be the sole means by which non-western countries make history textbooks. The histories of regions prior to colonization are important. During these periods we find their unaltered culture. By studying the culture of non-western countries both before and after colonization (depending on whether or not the country was colonized in the first place), we will be able to identify with these countries more.
So, in changing how history is taught, where do we begin? The beauty in the study of history is that it involves a collaborative effort by scholars, publishers, and professors alike. However, this is also history’s downside, in that changing how we teach history can take as much effort as changing the course of history. However, a simple start is to start with summer reading assignments. These is where teachers have the most room for leeway in their curriculum, and, more importantly, where us students have the most room for interpretation in our studies. Luckily, postcolonial literature has grown increasingly popular on suggested summer reading lists, with books such as Achebe Chinua’s Things Fall Apart, topping off Prentice Hall’s current “Suggested Reading for High School (Grades 9-12” list. In reading postcolonial literature and literature studying immigrant culture, which are often the literature of choice for world history classes, we should pay as much attention to the culture of the region in focus as we do to the impact of colonialism on this region. We should understand that the term “postcolonial” is not an indication of culture, but a fragment of history. Countries have so much more to offer beyond their colonial experience. Once we see countries for more than their experience in subordination, then we can begin to see them as our equal, to identify them, and to shine our brightest LED lights for them.
Lights, hashtags, and media coverage only do so much to combat terrorism – this defeat being the ultimate goal we search for in seeking unity in the first place. However, the fight against terrorism is more than just an end to attacks. It is an end to hate and opposition. Whether we see it clearly or not, by not standing alongside our counterparts in Lahore and Baghdad, we are engaging in a kind of opposition ourselves. Though unity can be achieved in more ways than one, bettering education on non-western countries is a major step towards solidarity.