Tara Sonenshine and geographical confusion: Journey without maps

by Rashmee

Posted on January 29, 2014



imagesCAQPOMEBTara Sonenshine, formerly of the US Institute of Peace and more recently the State Department’s Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, has been talking about the blurring of borders and how hard it is to teach geography in 2014. Foreign Policy’s Gordon Lubold sounded the alert. It is a must-read for anyone who cares a hang about the world map, the news, current affairs (or just likes a bit of a laugh).  Indians will be specially riveted. It is, quite literally, a journey without maps and you’ll see why in a minute.

Ms Sonenshine argues that the US “may be one of the few ‘countries’ left” in a world that’s being taken over by “pseudo-states, groups and strange bedfellows.” She lists Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan as examples of the current nature of geographical “confusion”, which is an odd if probably acceptable point to make by someone who was paid to provide foreign policy direction. But then she makes the remarkable assertion that “India is a growing tourist destination for Americans, but don’t try to name the nine states within India.”

Yes, that’s right. She really did write that.

When did she study geography? India never had nine states. Before it became free of the British, it had 565 (some accounts say 562) princely states. Soon after Independence, it had 27 and one so-called Part D state (the Andaman and Nicobar Islands), which was administered by a lieutenant governor appointed by the federal government in Delhi. There has been much chopping and changing since. But there has never been any “geographical confusion” about this fact – India never had nine states. Unless, that’s some obscure reference to nine states of being?


Rashmee has lived and worked in several countries in the past decade, including Afghanistan, India, Haiti, Tunisia, the UAE, US and UK

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