The most frustrating type of person to deal with is the militantly ignorant. I say "militantly" ignorant because we are all ignorant of some subjects. There is too much knowledge for one person to absorb, but the difference between the intelligent person and the ignoramus is that the intelligent person remains open to learning.
The ignoramus is a closed book. He reacts with anger and indignation if someone tries to insert a bit of new knowledge into his head.
You can see this in the reaction of some Christian groups and TV commentators when the University of North Carolina required its freshman class to read a scholarly book on the Koran. The Koran is the Muslim "bible" and contains what Muslims believe to be the word of God as revealed to the prophet Mohammed.
One of the Christian groups tried to get the federal courts to prohibit the assignment. It failed. Some commentators railed against requiring students to read something that had to do "with our enemies."
Muslims, of course, are not our enemies. It is interesting that when Protestant and Catholic terrorists were going at it in Ireland, nobody ever said that Christians were the enemy, yet there they were: two distinct groups of Christian terrorists. In Ireland, the differences were secular, not religious, and in our troubles with the Middle East, the conflict is over policy, not religion.
Nevertheless, there is no more ignorant a fool than a man who refuses to learn anything about his enemies. So, if you assume that Muslims are the enemy, then it is more important, not less, for students to know about Islam. As for any fear that reading the book will "convert" Christian or Jewish students to Islam, that merely shows an ignorance of scholarly books. The most often heard criticism from the students is that the book is "boring." Most scholarly books are. They are written to explain, not to exhort, convert or entertain, and general readers rarely share the enthusiasm of the scholar for his subject.
What is most alarming, however, is the elevation of ignorance by making celebrities out of ignoramuses. There is nothing glamorous about ignorance, and, naturally, nobody is more opinionated than the ignoramus, who already "knows" everything about every subject.
Such people have always been with us. Most bars and taverns have their regulars ready to hold forth on any known subject. What is different today is that these kinds of people are given their own radio or television shows. They use loud voices and unsubstantiated assertions to override any intelligent person who makes the mistake of appearing on their shows.
The world is too complex and dangerous, the margins for error too thin, for Earth's leading nation to become anti-intellectual and ignorant. If you go back to such men as John Stuart Mill and read his essay on liberty, you will find that the pragmatic justification for a free society is the spread of knowledge.
Knowledge is the human race's sole means of survival. God knows, American college students need more, not less, knowledge about almost any subject. They need knowledge of their own language so they can communicate accurately with the written and spoken word, because we humans are herd animals and must communicate and cooperate lest we perish. They need to learn the rules of accurate thinking.
None of this will come from journalism or from groups ready to ask the government to forcibly prevent people from reading books the groups don't like. There is no such thing as dangerous or evil knowledge. Ignorance, however, can be dangerous and can be a source of great evil. Posted courtesy Nahid Abdul-Khaaliq.
Last updated 29/06/2004