Ahmed Rashid Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Rise of Militant Islam: Conversation with Ahmed Rashid, author and journalist: 3/26/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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If students were to watch or read this fascinating story, both the story of Central Asia and your involvement in it, what advice, other than reading your two books, would you give them in terms of preparing for the future?

One of my real complaints, especially for my colleagues in the media in America, is that there has been a horrible dumbing down of America in the last decade on foreign policy issues. The ignorance in the United States is huge. I think the media -- and the government, perhaps, but certainly the media -- is very much at fault here. There has to be a much greater awareness of foreign policy issues. U.S. governments have got away with either doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing, or getting involved under various pressures, because there has been no real domestic debate about foreign policy. Foreign policy issues are not on anybody's agenda. It's very important for young people to get involved with foreign policy issues, and to understand the world around them.

And for these students, what would be your thoughts about the lesson that they might learn from your personal story of somebody who landed on his feet with a story that many people weren't aware of but became of global importance?

In today's age -- I mean, I'm an old man now -- but I think in today's age, what I admire so much about so many students I talk to at universities is their multidisciplinary approach. Yes, you have to focus on your degree and your subject and your discipline, but you've got to be interested in other things also. We're here in the heart of Silicon Valley and I hear that these computer experts don't read newspapers, they don't follow foreign affairs. That's not the kind of world that we need to grow up in now. I would love the students who come out of American universities to be interested in everything, curious about everything. It can mean travel, it can mean reading the newspapers, it can mean watching different TV programs, whatever. But I think there has to be a curiosity about what's going on in the outside world.

Going back to my mother: [like her] I'm still immensely curious. I never met Osama bin Laden, and I never met Juma Namangani either, but I'm very curious about what makes these guys tick. Why is it they do what they do? And to understand that, it's not just understanding the individual or the personality, it's understanding history and culture and tradition and geography and anthropology, and all sorts of things. I would love to see that kind of curiosity among students.

Ahmed, on that note, I want to thank you very much for exploring your reflections on this region that you've covered for the last twenty years, and your thoughts about your own involvement in that region. Thank you very much.

Thank you, so much.

And thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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