We must overcome ignorance

December 27, 2005|By DOUGLAS MACKINNON

WASHINGTON -- Ignorance is far from bliss. In fact, ignorance is quite dangerous and has been the root of unnecessary death and destruction since recorded history.

Of late, ignorance fueled the blind and twisted hate that emboldened 19 hijackers to kill 3,000 innocent men, women and children. Ignorance next picked up the baton of hate and passed it off to an uncounted number of people around the world who unfairly channeled their anger, pain, blame and frustration against one religion.

Ignorance is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of knowledge. In a world gone mad, ignorance is a failing we no longer can afford. While all of us, from Bill Gates to Condoleezza Rice, are ignorant about something, when it comes to relations with the humans who share our planet, we need to eradicate misunderstandings, misinformation and mistrust. Should we not, the price of failure is obvious.

Recently, while in Egypt, I was given a timely lesson in such ignorance eradication. I was fortunate to witness a celebration that was one of the most wonderful and beautiful I have ever seen. I was in the historic Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where, after observing the holy month of Ramadan for 30 days, what seemed like the entire population of the city turned out into the streets to celebrate Eid el-Fitr.

Part of the tradition of celebrating the three-day Eid is for Muslim parents to buy their children new clothes. By the tens of thousands, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents had filled the sidewalks and streets of Alexandria, and everywhere I saw families walking hand in hand - all smiling, all laughing and all enjoying a spectacular evening.

I was on a bus full of British and American tourists returning from the pyramids at Giza. What struck us, as our bus many times came to a complete stop because of the thousands of people in the streets, was the love of family that we saw. Teenage sons and daughters held the hands of their parents and grandparents as they strolled the sidewalks. A British woman sitting near me said, "I've never seen anything so moving or lovely. Most of the teenagers in England are angry, disenchanted and hate all of us parents."

We all agreed we had never seen anything like it before. Many, if not the majority, of those Egyptians lived near or below the poverty line, but they found real happiness in family and faith.

More than a few of the Western passengers on the bus had been anxious about the five-hour round-trip from Alexandria to Cairo. They wondered how safe they would be in a Muslim country. All of those fears were dispersed when they were greeted with nothing but smiles, waves and shouts of, "Thank you for visiting Egypt."

During my two days in Egypt, I spoke with a professor who told of the ignorance of some in the Muslim faith. "We hear half-truths, the propaganda and outright lies of those who would twist our faith, and too many of us take it as fact," he said.

He turned his attention to the war in Iraq. "While I don't think the United States should be in Iraq, what some sick Muslims did to your country was wrong. Ultimately, this is a problem that can only be solved by Muslims and not the military might of America. We ourselves must stop those who hate among us."

As much of the world pauses to find the good in our fellow humans and as we enter a New Year, those of us in the West must redouble our efforts to understand that which we fear. Not only will we be pleasantly surprised by the exercise, but we will reinforce a truth we must not forget: Ignorance is killing us, and only the haters are rejoicing.

Understanding is out there. Who among us is willing to pass that baton?

Douglas MacKinnon, who was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole, is also a former White House and Pentagon official and an author. His e-mail is dmackinnon@sandw.com.

Columnist Trudy Rubin is on vacation.

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