The brouhaha over a pending July 28 presentation at the Strand Theatre by the Washington bureau chief of the news service Al Jazeera English does little to elevate American discourse, and says much about the danger of reactionary politics in a world already too volatile.

Abderahim Foukara, of Al Jazeera news service, has been invited to be keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the General Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston, because of his knowledge of the Middle East, that part of the world now so integral to the shaping of our national and foreign policies. Foukara is to discuss recent events in the Arab world, and the hopes of greater freedom, stability, and the rule of law they have raised, according to the media release.

Some opposing Abderahim Foukara’s visit to the Midcoast say Al Jazeera presents an anti-Israel bias, and therefore he represents an anti-American organization. Others say he represents a terrorist organization.

The Museum could have done a better job, at first, in explaining to its members the relevance of the topic under discussion, the Arab Spring, and its parallels with the American Revolution. However, it is admirable that they are hosting this international speaker, and it presents a unique opportunity to gain a perspective from current events that illuminates a period in our own history that is too often presented as a one-sided drama where all Americans are heroes and all others villains. Revolution is not just George Washington, valiantly guiding his beleaguered troops across the Delaware. It is also the shattered lives and bodies of unknown fighters and civilians, and the tortured political compromises made in order to advance the goal.

Our history has led us to do great things, but not without costs. As we seek to understand our place in events in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya and beyond, we must gather all the information we can, from all perspectives available. Only then can we make an informed judgment as to where we fit in this ever-changing, and yet sadly repetitive political landscape. That applies not just to foreign policy makers inside the Beltway, but to us here on the coast of Maine.

Benjamin Franklin said: “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”

We exhibit a collective lack of accurate information about Foukara, Al Jazeera and the nature of the events and political relationships that continue to keep the Middle East simmering at the point of anarchy. Combine that with a tendency to shut out diverse opinions, and approach each political debate like it is a football game – to be won or lost in a clash of helmets – and we end up in an even tighter box of self-imposed ignorance.

Instead of shutting down the thoughts of Foukara, let’s listen, and learn something.