Sincere Ignorance And Conscientious Stupidity

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously announced that “nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”. Those words have never seemed more apt than when Public Policy Polling (PPP) released the results of a report on Friday which stated that 30% of American Republican primary voters said they supported the bombing of Agrabah. For the many who are so apparently unaware, Agrabah is in fact a fictional country from the Disney film ‘Aladdin’. Worthy of note, and perhaps less covered in the headlines, is the fact that 19% of Democrats also said they would support such action.

“Welcome to Agrabah, a city of mystery, of enchantment, and the finest merchandise this side of the river Jordan, on sale today. Come on down” are the opening lines from the popular Disney film made in the nineties. And yet, of the 530 Republican primary voters polled this week on foreign policy issues, almost one third were in support of bombing this fictional nation. Similarly worrying were the other beliefs that the report uncovered. For example, 36% believed that thousands of Arabs in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11, a view promulgated by the increasingly controversial Donald Trump in November.

The ignorance became the subject of many jokes on Twitter yesterday, with tweets such as “If we can make #Agrabah a pro-western democracy, we can usher in a whole new world order” (Jack Kringle) and “Deeply concerned by claims of 70,000 moderate rebels in #Agrabah. Most equipped only with large swords, poorly integrated with airpower” (Shashank Joshi).

However, the reality of the situation is far from humorous. In fact, it is incredibly dangerous for international politics and a serious impediment to attempts at conflict resolution. When so many people are ignorant enough to blindly throw their support behind violent intervention in a place that they have never even heard of (let alone a place which isn’t even real), foreign policy is in serious trouble. The lack of geographical knowledge is troubling in itself, but more so is the reluctance to simply admit to not having heard of the place and instead opting to just assume that it should be bombed.

These views are surrounded by a whole plethora of increasingly racist beliefs, especially in the United States, in reaction to the threat that ISIS has recently posed. Republican candidate, Donald Trump, recently called for a “total and complete shutdown” of the country’s borders to all Muslims, and although he has come under serious international disapproval, these remarks do seem to have resonated with some GOP voters. One in four polled by the PPP said that Islam should indeed be illegal in the US.

There are a number of things that we can learn from this. Firstly, that international awareness and geographical knowledge is critically important, and yet seriously lacking in many parts of the Western world. Secondly, that there is a tendency towards knee jerk reactions for violent attacks in response to conflict, even when there is no actual threat from the region, and this needs to urgently be addressed. We are increasingly becoming a society where our first choice for dealing with a dangerous situation is by contributing even more conflict, despite there being other, often more effective, solutions which should be prioritized. Thirdly, that this comes amidst dangerously racist and generalizing beliefs; that Agrabah would be assumed dangerous simply because of its Arab sounding name is a terrifying discovery which places 22 Arab countries and 1.6 billion Muslims at risk, simply because of the actions of a tiny minority of radicalists.