Country in Education, and more particularly in Humanities (3) [Archives:2004/765/Opinion]

August 19 2004

By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
B. Exploring Yemenite Identity, and Opening new Horizons in Education

1. Engineering or Humanities?
The study of the Past is not a pleasant, complementary function for colleges, universities and institutes that are mostly versed in Engineering, Mathematics, Law, Medicine and Economics. We all know that, throughout the world, several academic sectors, especially those related to the technocratic sphere, prevail and tend to be almost exclusive within universities. It is understandable to see a small African country putting a lot of effort into Medicine. It is expected that an average Third World country in Asia or America finds the need to form a young class of Civil, Mechanic, Electric and Electronic engineers. It is only natural that a country progressing towards Democracy and a Liberal Economy prepares a great number of barristers and brokers. But if the Humanities are minimized or not focused on, the efforts will fail. At the best, the country will be a Third World outpost, something like South Korea or Thailand, but can we truly compare these two countries' participation into the Global Cultural and Academic development with the leading positions of Spain (yet, with lower per capita GDP than that of South Korea!) or Poland (almost at the same level with Thailand with regard to per capita GDP)?
With the Spanish Archeological Institute at Athens and Cairo, with its celebrated Academy and Archives on the Discovery of Americas at Sevilla, Spain is a significant power in the re-establishment and the representation of the Antiquity, offering in several universities classes in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Ancient Greek, Phoenician, Aramaic, Arabic, Farsi, Syriac, Mayan Hieroglyphics, African and Asiatic languages and scriptures. With its venerated participation in the 'Sauvetage de la Nubie' vast archeological exploration and saving excavations, carried out under the auspices of the UNESCO in the 60s in Upper Egypt and Sudan (with the purpose of saving excavated and non-excavated monuments that would be found under the surface of the water in the lake then under formation behind the High Dam of Aswan), Spain was given as present the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod that now stands far from the Egyptian sky and the vicinity of the Nile!
With the Polish leading archeological research in Coptology, Egyptology, Meroitic Studies, and Christian Sudan, it is not strange that, following its participation in the aforementioned UNESCO campaign, Poland was given an important number of frescoes from the Faras cathedral of Nobatia, the northern of the three Sudanese Christian states, while the rest have been transferred and exposed on the 1st floor of the Khartoum Museum. Polish universities are well versed in Humanities research covering all continents.

2. The Western European Search for Identity led to European Supremacy
It is essential not to idealize situations, and to be always accurate; Poland and Spain imitate other North – Western European countries, notably Germany, Italy, England and mostly France. It is mainly in Italy, France, Holland and Germany, where the great interest for the Antiquity started with the Renaissance, and then continued with the Classicism, the Romanticism, the establishment of Modern Classical Studies (based on Modern European Philosophical and Ideological Background – 'studies' of the Antiquity existed even in the Dark Ages), and last but not least with Orientalism.
But it must be clear, especially to non-European and non-American ears, that when we say Renaissance, i.e. Re-Birth (in French), we mean literarily Re-Birth of Classical Antiquity, as the ideological and political, cultural and academic choice of those who contributed to this Re-Birth. The reason Western Europeans opted for that was precisely owing to their search, their quest for their identity, that was ultimately misrepresented by the Christian Dark Ages. It was a decisive step of rejecting a cultural identity (the Medieval Christian identity they had) in search of another, more genuine, more authentic and therefore more efficient identity, that they created by using ancient stuff, the literature and monuments they had in their hands.
Having been left for almost 1000 years at the margin of world developments that were mostly taking place between the Eastern Mediterranean and China (encompassing the Eastern Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate and its dependencies, as well as China), the Western Europeans realized that power means mainly Self-Knowledge, Self-Understanding, and correct Cultural and Political Representation of one's Identity.
Misrepresenting your Identity leads you to Death, this was the pillar of the Thought of Gigantic intellectuals, who searched in the Greco-Roman Pool to find out their real Identity, and extract from it the power to survive, expand and ultimately dominate the world. And they did do, because there was no equal Self-Knowledge, and Self-Understanding, and no correspondingly correct Cultural and Political Representation of Identity among their opponents – i.e. the Islamic World and China – to face them.

3. Western European Rise to Power, and Islamic Collapse
What is even worse is that, during the very critical phase 1500 – 1700, those who were conscious of the problem, (the class of Ottoman, Persian, Mogul Indian and Moroccan intellectuals, erudite scholars, and enlightened magistrates and rulers), were loosing power to obscurantist, ignorant, perverted, false religious leaders and semi-barbaric sheikhs, who were demanding urgently from the Sultan and the Shah, the decapitation of scholars and researchers – accused of being Satan's Instruments, and as Black Magic sorcerers – by gradually mobilizing the even more barbaric and analphabetic masses. Thus, Islam was engulfed to total disappearance.

Three simple dates are significant:
1449: the Turk Ulugh Beg was in Samarkand the world's leading astronomer and mathematician, whose books were translated in Latin, and were to be studied by Copernicus (80 years later) and Galileo (140 years later).
1577: Taqf ad-din, leading astronomer at Istanbul, was continuing a 4500- year old Oriental tradition of Science, Exploration, Research and Knowledge, as depicted in miniatures from the Shahinshah-Nameh. But the magnificent Observatory of Istanbul was closed down two years later (1579) because of the perverted demand of the semi-barbaric sheikhs.
1799: When French scholars accompanying Napoleon studied Ancient Egyptian temples, the illiterate, ignorant and uneducated sheikhs of Egypt were mobilizing the barbaric masses against study, exploration, and excavation projects. But at the top of the Islamic civilization, 1000 years earlier, study of the Past was considered as top intellectual activity and leading endeavor for a Muslim intellectual.
The collapse was complete in 1799. In terms of Tabari, Ibn Rushd and Makrizi, Islam did not exist anymore.

4. Imposition of the Colonial Cultural, Educational Scheme
The imposition of Colonial rule occurred in parallel with the development – mainly by France – of the Colonial Ideology that consists in a perplex system that

1) in its practical aspect takes the form of
a) an academic and cultural dependence (of every 'colonized' country) on France and more generally on Western Europe, and
b) total absence of interconnection, interrelationship and interaction among two 'colonized' countries.

Two brief examples will clarify the two points.
a) An Egyptian studying Egyptology, an Iraqi studying Assyriology, a Tunisian studying Ancient Punic, a Greek studying Classical Archeology, an Afghani studying the History of the Great Empire Kushan, an Indian studying Prakrit, and an Abyssinian studying Gueze have certainly a far better ability to study their subject matter in Paris, London, Muenster, Louvain, Den Haag and Rome than respectively in Cairo, Baghdad, Tunis, Athens, Kaboul, Delhi or Mekele.
b) You cannot study Cuneiform Assyrian Babylonian in Cairo, or Prakrit in Baghdad, or Egyptian Hieroglyphic in Tunis, or Gueze in Athens, or Classical Archeology in Kabul, or Punic in India.

2) In its theoretical aspect, the Colonial Ideology takes the form of
a) erroneous Greco-Romano-centrism
b) forged Orientalism
c) lack of interconnection among several fields, since many subjects should be developed within the framework of an inter-disciplinary approach.