Thursday, May 17, 2007


Reading history books is not the only way to do this. Many films tell forgotten or ignored stories that shed light on what's going on today. "Lawrence of Arabia", although highly romanticized, is an obvious example. But it only reminds us of things we already know. "Khartoum", an equally old technicolor enterprise, tells a story that most people probably didn't pay much attention to when the film came out. Yet it goes a long way toward explaining the crisis in Darfur, and Sudan generally.

In particular it shows where the Sudanese government's high handedness probably harks back to: the time when Sudan was a pawn in the power games played by the waning Ottoman Empire, Britain and Egypt. When school means learning Sudanese history instead of British or American history, populations and their leaders are likely to have attitudes that flow from events which we ignore. A disposition for revenge is the least of these attitudes; not accepting to be told what to do by outsiders is the greatest.

Both agendas of the Sudanese government are sequels to history. The first, vividly portrayed in "Khartoum" is affirming Islam by the sword, with the result that it currently treats black aminists as less than human. The second is standing firm against U.N. involvement in peacekeeping - which Sudanese history labels as just one more instance of imperialist interference.

If you have more faith in books, try reading "The Last Mughal", by William Dalrymple, and reflect on the fact that a vast country like India was for centuries ruled by Islamic Mongol (Mughal) rulers, who were as enlightened for their time as we wish our own rulers were today.

I'd like to hear from history teachers as to the urgency of vastly enlarging the scope of our mandatory history courses.

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