America’s absurd UNESCO policy

The U.S. is denying funding to the cultural organization for including Palestine.

Trent M. Kays

Last fall, a majority of member nations of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted to admit Palestine to the agency’s membership. This was an important vote not only for global educational and cultural issues but also for the United States. It was important for the U.S. because it signaled that not every country in the world holds to the U.S.’ view on education and cultural institutions.

Unfortunately, the U.S. immediately pulled funding from UNESCO — $80 million or so —in retaliation for admitting Palestine, drawing on a 20-year old law to do so. The law in question indicates the U.S. can’t provide funding to any organization that recognizes the Palestinian Liberation Organization as having the same standing as other member states. Therefore, because a 20-year old law says so, UNESCO, an organization dedicated to the advancement of cultural understanding and education around the world, will suffer, as will those who rely on the organization.

Our nation and world are in desperate need of cultural understanding and education, but this need apparently eludes members of Congress and others who spiritedly pulled funding from an organization whose only job is to address said need. This doesn’t make any sense. For a nation as powerful as the U.S. to not recognize that education is the cornerstone of understanding and that it is only through education our world can truly change and peace can be secured is baffling.

The U.S. has increasingly engaged in antagonistic behavior on the world scene, and often U.S. law supports this antagonism. While it is true U.S. law forbids contributions to UNESCO now, there’s nothing stopping Congress from changing the law, except for Congress’ own hubris and inefficiency. What’s at stake is not simply funding for UNESCO; what’s at stake is the United State’s image on a world scene that grows weary of our meddling in global affairs. Education and cultural understanding should not be poker chips to be dealt away over petty issues. They are important and will secure our place in history, either as a nation dedicated to selfishness and war or a nation dedicated to peace and understanding.

Perhaps even more egregious are the types of programs that have lost funding due to the United States’ ludicrous foreign policy. A recent segment on “The Daily Show” tackled this issue in stark contrast to the show’s normal satirical tone. Presenting the facts of the situation proved enough to elicit laughter and awareness from the show’s audience: No satire was needed to prove the point of ridiculousness.

In an interview with former Rep. Robert Wexler, John Oliver highlighted the absurdity of the U.S. pulling funding from an organization that manages programs bringing basic education and clean water to thousands across the world in impoverished circumstances. Wexler smiles and declares, “We’re the good guys!” It appears Wexler’s absurdity knows no bounds. How can the U.S. be “the good guys” when we pull funding from programs that bring water to thirsty African children in drought-ridden regions of Africa? Or teach Afghan police forces literacy? Does that make any sense?

This entire ordeal reeks of a mother scolding her child for wanting a glass of water, and it’s despicable. There is nothing greater and more powerful than education, and it comes in many forms, from basic first grade programs to college coursework. It makes me ashamed to know our country is so petty it would deny difference-making money to an organization dedicated to peace and understanding.

Palestine’s admittance into UNESCO was only possible through something the U.S. supposedly supports: democracy. However, it appears democracy is only important to the U.S. when said democracy doesn’t fly in the face of U.S. interests. The global dynamic obviously is unimportant to the U.S. unless it includes some aspect of military force. UNESCO isn’t just about educational and cultural understanding; it’s about the future of humanity, and the U.S. has signified it doesn’t want to be part of that future.

Education is already under assault in our own country, and now it is under attack outside of it. Even more than this attack, the mere knowledge that a small child may be denied fresh water because of a 20-year old law about an issue that, frankly, is none of the United States’ business is reprehensible. I can’t imagine the original authors of this law intended for this type of action, yet it is happening.

John Oliver of “The Daily Show” perhaps said it best: “[W]hen you physically cut off your nose to spite your face, you’re sending a message. And that message is don’t [expletive] with me. Because if I’m willing to do this to myself, what am I willing to do to you?” I couldn’t have said it better myself, and Oliver’s frankness illustrates the U.S. is willing to alienate itself from the rest of the world to follow a law that is only being used as a political tool for manipulation and intimidation.

Education and cultural understanding shouldn’t be pieces in political maneuvering. After the wars, after all the death, and after all the destruction humans cause in this world, we need these things to ensure we will continue to live and prosper. We need these things because they are the only things capable of propagating harmony and peace across a world in desperate need of it.