We should respect all other nations

What an April Fools’ Day it was this year! World Student Association members were fooled into thinking that they could peacefully draw different nations’ flags on the rock located between Saddlemire Student Services Building and the Kreischer Quadrangle. To kick off week-long activities for International Week 2003, WSA students from Brazil, France, Germany and Lebanon, just to name a few, gathered in friendship and mutual respect to paint the rock with flags from around the world.

The next morning, I walked by the rock to assess our paintings from the evening before. I immediately realized, however, that we had been duped, victims of an April Fools’ joke instigated by a group of “patriots.” The rock was covered with red paint, and messages like “Support the USA” and “F.U. Liberal Hippies” obscured our flags.

It was naïve of us to think that our drawings would have stayed on the rock for more than 24 hours, much less one week. We should have known better than to expect our right to express ourselves would be respected in today’s climate of militancy toward those who appear to not whole-heartedly agree with the opinions and actions of the U.S. government, although one of the University’s core values is respect for others.

Despite international education programs, despite study abroad opportunities, despite globalization and the emphasis on cross-cultural understanding, the vast majority of the University’s students have not yet received the message that the United States is not the center of the universe. This was apparent by the lack of participation in the rock painting activity on Monday. Like cowards (or perhaps tip-toeing in the darkness like in the good ol’ cow-tipping days on the farm proved to be too irresistible), our vandals preferred to sneak to the rock in obscurity to destroy our work instead of participating in our activity and conversing with people of different nationalities.

April Fools’ Day revealed more than one fool, however. These vandals are not patriots or whatever other name they may assign to themselves. They are rancid, xenophobic people who would be found associating with the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis in another era. They thought they could hide behind the mask of patriots, yet their actions reveal their true identity. The joke is not only on WSA, it is on them, because we know what their true sentiments are. The most amazing aspect about the incident is that people who did not even participate in the rock painting turned an innocent activity whose goal was to promote cultural dialogue and understanding into a political event. There are 600 international students representing 82 countries at Bowling Green State University. WSA’s gathering on Monday night was not a political rally, but an opportunity for these students to share with the rest of the campus the richness of the world’s different cultures. Many, however, feel threatened by what is unknown to them and prefer to remain within the realms of a rhetoric that is familiar to them. Like a drug addict’s dependence on chemical substances, some people have been sucked into the “us-them” discourse and cannot escape its grasp. This type of rhetoric, which is currently being used by many, is errant in all its tenants. It denies the basic dignity of human beings who live outside the boarders of this country. When human beings are stripped of their dignity, neither peace nor justice can be achieved. Pope Paul VI recognized the importance of respecting each other’s fundamental rights when he said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

In response to our vandals, I am calling on the entire campus community to participate en masse in the activities planned for International Week for the remainder of the week. By doing so, we are displaying our solidarity with the international students and showing them that they are welcomed on this campus and in this country. Together, we can show the vandals that they are the real fools.