Growing Up in a Time to Wake Up

By Nada Jarad, NEIU Alum

In 1994, the Rwandan genocide that cost the lives of approximately 800,000 lives occurred while the rest of the world remained silent and proclaimed ignorance. Years later, when I was in the 7th grade, my teacher described the events of the genocide to my class and I remember feeling shocked and outraged but not only by the events themselves. I was saddened by those events but what really hurt me was how little the rest of the world had cared. At that young age, I began to understand something about our world leaders, they were really good at pretending nothing bad was happening in the moment and then, years later, commemorating the very victims they had done little to help.

I know it is tempting to ignore what is not right before our eyes, to convince ourselves that what happens halfway around the world is no concern of ours, but what are we and what do we become when we deny our common humanity? Are we still human? It is heart wrenching to know how little we can do but at the very least, we should be informed and make it clear to our world leaders that we know and therefore they cannot pretend that they do not.

Admittedly, I have very strong feelings on the issue because of my Palestinian heritage and my personal experiences. But my opinion is not based on that alone, I was 6 when the genocide in Rwanda began and, believe it or not, that was what changed my life and perspective forever. It may seem like six is too young an age to be very aware of world events but it can be surprising what six year olds pick up on. It helped that my parents were active members of their communities and that they regularly exercised their first amendment rights.

As a child, I had always thought that world leaders did nothing about the Palestinian genocide because they did not know. However, as the genocide in Rwanda began, quickly followed by the genocide in Bosnia, and my parents took me to more and more human rights rallies, I started to realize something. There was no way the President of the United States did not know that there were thousands of people standing outside his demanding his attention.

I learned that world leaders, then and today, make an active choice to remain ignorant of certain inconvenient truths. They choose to not know and they do their best to be sure that their people are ignorant as well. As I grew older that realization became more grounded as fact.

However, just because that is the reality does not mean we should accept it willingly. We do not have to be ignorant. By actively seeking information and demanding that attention be brought to key issues, we show our leaders that we know they can too. Never again should we allow our leaders to proclaim ignorance. Remember, we elect them; we put them in office because we want them to act on our behalf, not to collect government pensions.

I knew a teacher once who told me that he made time every morning to read at least three different newspapers from different cities every day. I know that we do not all have that kind of time, but if we can spend an hour each day on Facebook then we can spend 30 minutes each day listening to world news online while we Facebook.