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Juan Cole: God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography

23 January 2012 General 6 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Juan Cole: God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography

Prof. Juan Cole notes that in a poll taken a few years ago, three-quarters of Americans couldn’t find Iran on a map and another two-thirds couldn’t find Iraq.  This fact didn’t stop a majority of Americans from supporting the invasion of Iraq by a ratio of two-to-one.  What does it say about a people when they support bombing a country before even knowing where it is?  But anyways, why are those Muslims so violent and warlike?

God’s Way of Teaching Americans Geography

by: Juan Cole

With all the talk of Iran and Israel among the GOP presidential candidates, it is worth remembering that in this poll of a few years ago, three quarters of Americans could find neither Israel nor Iran on a map. Despite the US being at that time the occupying power in Iraq, some two-thirds couldn’t recognize that one, either.

A few more did recognize Iraq than the others, reminding one of Ambrose Bierce’s dictum that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”


I suggest a new regulation on war. If a majority of your country cannot find the enemy country on the map, they aren’t interested enough to justify making war against it.

As for why Americans cannot find countries on the map, I personally think this unfairly maligned contestant got it right:


  1. What a great article, the ignorance shown by the Muslim world by both statement and actions boggles the average person’s mind. Their adherence to cultural traditions despite Koranic prohibitions, Their willingness to riot over the actions of people who hold no political or worldly influence, the expectation that others will obey cherry picked religious precepts even though they are not Muslim simply floors me.

    Most people, until recent times, could have cared less where Iraq, Iran, or many other small countries were located as had little impact on their lives and constituted only about one week of learning during world history. Being able to find a place on a map within a set small timeline means nothing. Give the same people in the survey about 5 minutes to find Iran or Iraq on a map and they will find it because they have an education. Give that Muslim, who murdered the mother who was part of a UN force over the Koran burning, three hours to find the state of Indiana on a map and I am sure she will fail because she is not and millions more like her are not.

  2. So what your saying is…
    If we are muslim, were dumb?
    Well thank God! Now i can i can stop pretending. >:/

  3. Criley.

    1. As for “boggling the average person’s mind”, considering there are 1.5 billion Muslims, I think there’s a pretty good chance that an “average person” would in fact be a follower of the Prophet.

    2. The willingness to riot over people with no significance… this is an attribute limited to those living in the Muslim world? What about the Rodney King riots, I ask? One of the most expensive riots in American history caused by a misunderstanding of a situation in which police used force to subdue a suspect. I suppose you refer to that Floridian pastor and his “Burn A Qur’an Day”- yet I have no doubt that if a Muslim world power was occupying Texas, Ontario, or Wales on a flimsy pretext and their citizens had a “Burn a Bible Day”, you’d be right out there assaulting their embassy.

    3. I agree, fundamentalists are insufferable. People who want to force their views on to others are insufferable, and people who attempt to do so through violence are pure evil. Yet, such a small minority of Muslims do so, and the ones that do are more vehemently hated in the countries that they operate than they are in the countries they operate against. Why? Because more Muslims have died thanks to the 9/11 attacks than Christians or Westerners, and more Muslims have been killed in terrorist attacks than same.

    4. You’re right, most people don’t care about Iraq, Iran, or Idon’tgiveadamnistan. But this isn’t a unique survey- most Americans can’t locate ANY given nation on a map. We call this “apathy”, or better, “complacency”, because most Americans feel as though they don’t need all that useless knowledge. And yet, they seem so ready to go to war with a given nation if they are told they have been slighted- perhaps the article is attempting to imply that Americans aren’t knowledgeable enough to understand why they go to war? Maybe it’s to imply that they are easily duped, and ready to throw the lives of millions of innocents away? Maybe the author sees that as, I don’t know, a problem for anyone who ISN’T American?

    5. In America, we have a public school system, and at least in all the schools I’ve ever attended, geography/history is a required class. I remember not being able to name most of the countries on the map in seventh grade, too, but they were taught to us for years. My point being that ALL Americans are educated to this degree, and yet still have difficulty recalling this sort of very simple information. As for uneducated Muslims (and specifically you chose to implicate women), you’re probably right, they’d have a similar level of difficulty without an education. But what’s the difference? Most pre-dominantly Muslims nations are not within the First World, and most nations outside of the First World have very limited education infrastructure. That’s called “world domination”, criley, and it’s the result of hundreds of years of imperialism and colonization at the expense of native peoples.

    It’s that simple. I won’t deny that there are radical Muslims out there with radical agendas. But that doesn’t mean one and a half billion people (as in, about a sixth of the world’s population) should be lumped in with a few thousand individuals. This website attempts to dispel the prejudice levied against Muslims in the West by showing how Westerners mistreat them on a daily basis, and to show that Muslims are human beings like any other. I don’t expect this comment to change anything about your viewpoint, but for the next person that comes along, I’d like them to know that someone is taking a stand against your hurtful lack of knowledge on this subject. Just to let them know that just like every Muslim is not a terrorist, not every Westerner is ignorant.

  4. Ok tyler thank you!

  5. LOL! I wonder what most of the GOP candidates will think of this…

    Rick Perry: “Three terrorrist organizations have been active in Mexico. Hamas, Hezbollah, and…uh…I can’t remember the third one…Anyway, the only way to solve this is to invade Iran!”

    Press: “Mr. Perry, where is Iran located on a map?”

    Rick Perry: “…Get out of here.”

  6. I may have narrowed my comments but since the article was using broad brush strokes to make claims of mass ignorance I just thought I would join in. As to your comments Mr. Tyler, I agree with most of them, I simply do not like nor agree with the comments about the majority of Americans being labled as ignorant and unable to make a informed decision in regards to a war or military action. Of course it would be nice if the government would give out factual information before going to war instead of lying through its teeth to get what it wants.

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