An astronomer on Arab reality [Archives:2006/948/Opinion]

May 22 2006

By: Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh
Contemporary scientists can rarely address issues outside of their specialization with clarity and fluency. Among the rare ones who can, is Dr. Farouk Al-Baz who is currently working within the fields of geology, space and remote warning systems and recently gave a press interview to a gulf magazine. As Arab scientist, Farouk Al-Baz enjoys enormous popularity around the world. A man who refuses to be captive to a lab, he goes beyond them coming out every so often to closely study social reality, particularly the Arab reality. A situation that is worsening and deteriorating quickly, due in part to the carelessness of Arab leaders and its people as well as the prevailing ignorance of their unlimited resources.

I met Dr. Al-Baz twenty five years ago and our friendship has blossomed and grown stronger over the years. What I admire him the most for is his avid interest in Arab social reality and its pervasive problems. Contrary to those who have similar scientific interests, Al-Baz does not mind, when speaking about these problems, to be quite frank and bold. Although his commentary raised many issues in my mind, I will not address them all. He pointed out many things that deserve to be read and reread, demanding we come out of our inattentiveness that has lasted longer than expected even by Arab enemies.

I will confine myself to certain points from that interview, the most important point being our cognitive backwardness. We really are backward and I can quote him as saying, “in regards to producing knowledge: we do not read, write, publish or qualify enough number of scientists. The production of knowledge results in industrial, commercial and economic diversity. Any deficiency in knowledge means deficiency in production and in everything that boosts the economy. We are lagging economically because as we do not add anything new nor provide new commodities

When it comes to the increasing calls for reform within Arab countries, Dr. Al-Baz believes such calls for reformation need be preceded by knowledge of the kind of reform that Arabs need in order not to transform the process into corruption. From his view point, “all commentaries on the topic are good to whatever extent they have; yet you can not initiate reforms in cases where you do not know what to reform. Arab citizens need to recognize the problems and difficulties that they will face in order to embark on any reform movement. But such movements can not exist in vacuums where only thinkers and scientists exist because they can decide upon a situation in a more defined and scientific way. People can also decide how we address such problems and start reforms here and there. Ultimately, commentaries on reforms are insufficient, yet they represent the first steps towards reforms.”

Dr. Al-Baz's in his interview he speaks of migrating minds and the absence of an Arab scientific environment. The current environment discourages scientific research and hinders the transformation of scientific research results into practical programs and long term projects. The absence of stable environment pushes Arab minds to migrate, causing movements in development and to come to a halt. He states, “We, as scientists, studied and succeeded abroad. Some preferred to return home and they occupy high posts. At a careful glance, we realize our generation hasn't achieved anything for we haven't added anything correctly. Even with wealth is available our situation in the whole Arab world is deteriorating at all levels. It is even worse than the past when it comes to culture, science: everything. This means we have not done what we need to do…”

I think there are enough signs to know what the non-scientific and non-cognitive reality of our nations is at the moment. The reality is that even though we have resources, minds and opportunities in this modern age, it all goes in vain.

Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh is Yemen's prominent poet and intellectual. He is the director of the Yemeni Center for Studies