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Disputed does not mean a free-for-all
With less than two years separating them, my children volley between being the closest of friends and the most cutting of enemies — especially regarding something they both desperately want to possess. My Kindle is a frequent item of contention, with timers and turns sometimes buckling under tired tempers. During those times, I sometimes step into the argument, extract the device and place it on an out-of-reach shelf to worry about whose turn it is another day.
I don't expect someone I've never met to walk into my house, pluck the Kindle from the shelf and walk out, all because it wasn't currently claimed by either of my children.
A princess is made with a single flag
Jeremiah Heaton believes disputed land is up for grabs to anyone with an internet connection, money for a plane ticket and a flag. When his daughter, called "Princess Emily" by her family, began asking about being a real princess, he didn't simply explain that some countries have princesses and some don't. He began searching the internet for unclaimed land, where he found an 800-square-mile parcel of arid desert along the Egyptian-Sudanese border. Heaton spoke with Egyptian officials and had nothing but lovely things to say about the people there — though the Washington Post notes embassy representatives from neither Egypt nor Sudan have responded to requests for comments.
After his internet search, he flew across the world from his home in Virginia and claimed the land for himself by planting a flag. His daughter's dream of becoming a princess came true when he declared himself king of the area he refers to as the "Kingdom of North Sudan."
Claiming disputed land is not a joke
Locals, however, call the land Bir Tawil, and the fact that there are locals makes this whole idea jaw dropping for many people. The area itself is unpopulated, but it's crucial to note how small Bir Tawil truly is. Eight-hundred square miles is smaller than Rhode Island, and it is surrounded by Egypt — 386,700 square miles — and Sudan — 967,500 square miles. This newly-claimed land is a teeny, tiny bit of land in the middle of two other distinct governments.
Border disputes don't mean the land is available for plundering, no matter what the intentions of the plunderers. That Heaton spoke with representatives of only one of the nations bordering the land speaks volumes about the manner in which his claim should expect to be welcomed by the neighboring nations. Without pretending to know the thoughts of the people living in areas near Bir Tawil, I have to assume they were not fretting in their homes and waiting for salvation from a man who'd never set foot on the land until it arose in an internet search. Heaton's claim, thankfully, isn't enough to grant him political control over the land. He'll need recognition from neighboring nations, at the very least.
Heaton wants people to know he's planting a flag, just like founders of other nations have done — lands like the U.S. He's planting that flag in "love," though, and acting as though that's enough to supplant the needs and expectations of the people living near the land. His claim is one that shows arrogance and privilege, supposing that his daughter's fairy tale dream is a legitimate reason to lay claim to land.
A fairy tale ending or indulgent parenting at its worst?
The Washington Post further reports that Heaton claims he wants to turn the land into an agricultural center — though he works in the mining industry and not as an agricultural expert. Princess Emily of the Kingdom of North Sudan apparently wants to be sure the people in the region don't go hungry. Much like the way Heaton determined where to plant his flag, a quick internet search shows arid desert farming can be productive — but comes with an entire set of specific, often-complicated issues including water supply and invading insects. Without a native population to help build his agricultural center, Heaton may not be the benevolent leader he is positioning himself to be.
Claiming land with a flag and without respect for the surrounding regions is a serious example of indulgent parenting. His princess may now have her kingdom, but Heaton isn't teaching her much about respect for other cultures, the complicated nature of geographical boundaries or how to use her imagination — instead of her economical privilege — to become a princess.