11.06.2011 _____________________

Most Sundays when I was growing up, my family would pile into my brother’s Chevy and drive to Lawrence, along old Route 28, to visit relatives, many of whom, like my father, were immigrants from the “Old Country.”

I remember those trips — where the pavement turned from black to red near Andover, State Farm Potato Chips in Salem, Burma-Shave signs, and where chestnut trees shed their treasure. The varieties of landscape, even on short trips, were ever-changing. Driving home, at night, spotting “Pediddles” was our challenge.

Later, on road trips with my daughter, geography games and conversation whiled away miles. Video games and earphones were left at home. Today, she lives abroad.

I live in New Hampshire, where today I celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, to honor Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God.

I have attended prayers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, witnessed prayers at the Wailing Wall, spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, dipped my toes into the Ganges, visited temples in Japan and made Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Daily, I am touched by the faith of my friends and companions. I read Rumi and Hafiz, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh and Frederick Buechner.

I get responses to my columns from Singapore and Sacramento, Rye and Greenland, for which I am grateful.

I believe there is much that is known about this world, and much that is unknowable. The earth is billions of years old. Evolution. DNA. We know the Nile, Amazon, Euphrates, Oxus and Ganges have sustained life for millennia. We know a sneeze in Mongolia can cause sickness in Manchester. We know the Red Sox will go on breaking our hearts.

We know we can believe in miracles: the parting of the Red Sea, the Eucharist, the Miraculous Night Journey, without denying science.

What frightens me these days is not SARS, Iran, the apocalypse or Grover Norquist. What frightens me is a general embrace of ignorance, the lack of curiosity and responsibility for this beautiful, glorious and fragile planet we share with seven billion others. What frightens me is the willingness of leaders to pander to the lowest common denominator, and of the willingness of citizenry to embrace the pandering.

At Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service there is a required pass/fail course, “Map of the World.” A student cannot graduate without passing it. It’s designed to consider “… regional overviews of the evolution of the world political map since 1800 … to enhance your basic working knowledge of the political map of the modern world as a first step in understanding world events and international relations.”

This study of sovereignties, borders, rivers, maps, territorial conflicts and areas of tension should be required for every presidential candidate. Give them a world map with borders and tell them to fill it in. Seventy percent needed to pass.

Candidates should know the road that goes though Herman Cain’s “small and insignificant” “Ubeki — beki — beki beki stan,” is the road necessary to supply Americans in Afghanistan, keeping those troops alive.

Americans should know that for Democracy to flourish we must all be educated. Not just to know Route 28 but to know Central Asia’s Silk Road. Democracy demands education.

All Americans should know Libya is in Africa. They should know colonialism’s legacy and why we can, and can’t support every freedom and democracy movement in exactly the same way.

Americans should know where Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and nine other countries that voted with America against Palestine’s inclusion in UNESCO, are located.

Americans should know who opposes President Obama’s declaration that, in fulfillment of President Bush’s agreement, American troops would be out of Iraq by year’s end. We should know why we don’t get to stay where we are not wanted.

Rick Perry, being advised by neocons John Bolton, Liz Cheney and Doug Feith, says that ending the Iraq War is “irresponsible” and “putting our kids’ lives in jeopardy.”

What is really putting our kids lives in jeopardy, I believe, is ignorance, in believing that knowledge doesn’t matter, that nuance is irrelevant.

Herman Cain doesn’t know China has a successful nuclear program.

Mitt Romney has taken on Walid Phares as an advisor, a minor Lebanese academic whose writings place him amidst known Islamophobes. Picking Phares is “…akin to turning to David Duke to get advice on race relations,” said Omid Safi, professor at UNC—Chapel Hill.

Today, those still agitating for war with Iran should know the Straits of Hormuz. Globally, of oil transported by sea, one-third passes through Hormuz — nearly all Saudi, Iran, Iraq, and UAE oil passes through this extremely narrow, vulnerable passage. One sunk tanker can close the Straits for months.

Find that on the map.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.