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June 08, 2009 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2009-06-08

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Monday, June 8, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

15

All apologies

At some point when you
were growing up, you
probably had a tough time
fitting in. Maybe
the "cool group"
of kids didn't
like you. Maybe
that cute class-
mate who sat
next to you in
math wouldn't
talk to you. Per- CHRIS
haps you were KOSLOWSKI
popular and
tried to reach
out to that strange kid who ate his
boogers, but he totally blew you
off. You might have sought advice
from your parents, who probably
said something like, "Hey, all you
can do is be yourself. If people
don't accept you for who you are,
that's their problem."
I'm sure a mentor in President
Barack Obama's childhood told him
something similar. Sadly, he seems
to have forgotten this guidance
on his recent trips abroad. Rather
than urging foreign governments
to accept the United States as it is,
Obama is apologizing for his nation
and trying to paint it as something
it's not. If Obama wants to improve
foreign relations, speaking dishon-
estly about America isn't the right
place to start.
Before his important speech
about Middle East-American rela-
tions in Cairo on Thursday, Obama
said in an interview with a French
television network, "If you actu-
ally took the number of Muslim
Americans, we'd be one of the larg-
est Muslim countries in the world."
But if you look at the range of dif-
fering estimates, America would be
between the 20th- and 50th-largest.
Obama's underlying point that
the U.S. is a religiously diverse
nation is true. But misrepresenting
demographics is not how Obama
shouldbe promotingAmerica'sreli-
gious freedom. In an e-mail to the
Christian Broadcasting Network,
Obama wrote that the U.S.. is "no
longer just a Christian nation." He
knows our country is not defined
by the number of members in a cer-
tain faith. How many Muslims we
actually have within our borders
should be inconsequential against
the important fact that America
is a fair, nurturing country for all
peaceful religions, regardless of
their prevalence.
Similarly, Obama's promise
in Prague on Apr. 5 to "seek the
peace and security of a world with-
out nuclear weapons" is another
deliberate mischaracterization of
America aimed to garner foreign

support. Any reasonable person
would agree that nuclear weapons
are horrendous and should never
be used. But America prides itself
on responsible management of its
nuclear arsenal. We keep bombs
in order to deter the bad guys from
using them. Pledging to rid the
world of nuclear weapons is analo-
gous to promising world peace -
it's not going to happen.
Instead of spouting pie-in-the-
sky rhetoric while North Korea
tests ballistic missiles, Obama
should be working with foreign
leaders to ensure that nuclear
weapon technology doesn't fall
into the hands of those with dan-
gerous intentions. That has been
the policy of the U.S. since the Cold
War, and despite Obama's utopian
dreams, he knows he will continue
that policy. Why waste time trying
to convince the world that America
is going to do something it's not?
Obama shouldn't
twist the truth
to look better.
In an interview on June 1 with
the BBC's Justin Webb, Obama
claimed his speeches were about
encouraging dialogue, rather than
apologizing for the actions of the
Bush administration. But in that
same interview, Obama chastised
America for imposing its values
on other countries. Reading from
a teleprompter in Strasbourg,
France on April 3, Obama said, "In
America, there's a failure to appre-
ciate Europe's leading role in the
world... America has shown arro-
gance and been dismissive, even
derisive." That sounds apologetic
to me. How often do you hear a for-
eign leader come to America and
apologize for his or her country?
You don't, because they believe
what theyare doing is right. Obama
should think the same way.
The American spirit isn't one of
arrogance. Americans are proud of
what their country stands for, and
foreign leaders will not be fooledby
Obama's attempts to make it seem
otherwise. Obama needs to stop
trying to make America appeal to
other countries through misrepre-
sentation. Instead, he should work
to convince other nations to trust
and respect the U.S. for what it is.
- Chris Koslowski can be
reached at cskos[ow@umich.edu.

At some point, I will be the ex-president, and
then you will find me in France, I'm sure,
quite a bit, having fun."
- President Barack Obama, commenting on his recent trip to France and
future visits, as reported yesterday by The New York Times.
Understanding Africa

omeone needs to tell Oprah
thatAfricaisn'tone country.
This is what Lindsay Louis,

a trainee at the
South African
Department of
Foreign Affairs,
said when I
spoke with
him during my
recent trip to
South Africa.
From his per-
spective, Oprah

JEREMY
LEVY

is one of many
reasons Americans think that all
African countries are identical.
He's right. Most of us know little
about Africa, and our inability to
distinguish between its countries
is, without question, linked to the
continent's portrayal by charities
and the media. Despite our lack of
knowledge, we've 4emonstrated
an immense desire to help Africa
and donate money. But if Ameri-
cans want to make a serious con-
tribution to Africa's well-being,
they can start by recognizing that
African countries each experience
a unique set of problems.
Most everyone knows that Afri-
can countries face serious problems
with HIV/AIDS and poverty, that
the continent is known for slums
rather than cities and that many
countries experience political
unrest. But they don't know how
these problems vary from country
to country, as I found when dis-
cussing my trip with people when I
came home. Many displayed a mild
degree of ignorance, asking if I
stayed in a tent or a hotel, or if I was
at risk of contracting tuberculosis.
Some didn't seem to know that
the country I was in even existed.
One student in my group from the
University of Michigan called her
credit card company to say she was
going to South Africa, to which
the representative responded,
"Which country?"
The misguided perception that

all African countries are the same
isn't surprising. The continent
receives most of its exposure from
celebrity-sponsored charities that
inform us about continental issues.
It'sdifficulttoignore productsfrom
Bono's (Product)Red campaign
against HIV/AIDS or the 2005
Live 8 concert festival intended to
raise awareness about African pov-
erty. Such projects are admirable
ways of providing emergency relief
to a continent that needs it. But
they spread the false perception
that Africa's poverty can be solved
through charity alone, which leads
people to believe that the problems
each country faces are identical.
In reality, each country faces
different problems, and long-term
solutions to those problems will
vary from country to country. In
South Africa, for instance, over-
coming poverty and disease will
require overcoming de facto seg-
regation, which still exists despite
the collapse of apartheid in 1994.
Most South Africans who are
white, Indian or of a mixed heri-
tage earn normal or high incomes
by U.S. standards, and the poor-
est citizens are predominantly of
African descent. For this reason,
solutions in South Africa require
more than just charity. They will
require equalizing a segregated
job market and restructuring a
largely private health care system
that primarily caters to those who
already have money.
Media and news sources also
contribute to the one-country
myth by perpetuating stereo-
types that the continent is run
solely by corrupt governments.
News stories tend to mask the true
progress achieved by developing
governments .and portray Africa
as a continent destined to diverge
into disorder.
Media coverage of South Africa
uses these stereotype by imply-
ing that its government is not
yet a true democracy due to its

lack of a competitive party sys-
tem. When the New York Times
and The Economist covered the
recent South African presidential
election, they focused heavily on
this point. They drew attention
to the fact that no political party
can compete with the African
National Congress, the party that
has won every presidential elec-
tion and controlled South Africa's
Parliament since 1994. But it's the
South African citizens who have
always voted for the ANC in large
numbers. This trend is unlikely
to change in the near future. The
insistence that these results are
disappointing undermines the fact
that South African officials are
elected democratically and fairly.
Hey Oprah,
Africa isn't only
one country.
Charities and media sources
have succeeded in making us
believe that Africa is one giant dis-
ease stricken, impoverished coun-
try engaged in civil war. We are
willing to donate billions of dol-
lars to Africa and simultaneously
hesitant to believe that its govern-
ments are developing democracies.
Because of this distorted view, we
have not realized thatthe countries
that make up Africa are diverse and
the solutions to their problems will
have to be diverse as well. In South
Africa's case, charity alone will not
fix the systematic segregation that
fuels poverty. If we can collectively
change our perception of Africa
from that of a homogeneous conti-
nent, we will find it be beneficialto
our desire to help.
- Jeremy Levy can be reached
at jeremiev@umich.edu.

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