Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 16th, 2010

“Why the Arab World is not free?” : Reactions

Note: I decided to post a reply to the comments on my book review “Why the Arab World is not free?” by Moustapha Safouan

            One of the commentarors wrote: “I am the son of two civilizations that have formed a happy marriage. The first civilization is seven thousand years old of Pharaonic Egypt; the second is Islamic of one thousand four hundred years old.  One day the great Pyramids will disappear but Truth and Justice will remain for as long as Mankind has a reflective mind and a living conscience.

            A Moslim Caliph returned prisoners of war to the Byzantium Empire in exchange of ancient Greek manuscripts in philosophy, medicine and mathematics. This is a testimony of value for the human spirit in its demand for knowledge; the believer in One God demanded the fruits of a pagan civilization.

            It was my fate to be born in the lap of these two civilizations and to feed on their literature and art. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debaucherer, and that Man remembers what hurts more than what gives pleasure. Our great poet Abul-3Alaa2 al Ma3ari was right when he said: “A grief at the hour of death is more than a hundred-fold Joy at the hour of birth.”

            When the Moslem’s Armies extended their territories from Spain to Persia, they took possession of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Archimedes, and other Greek thinkers. One of the prime reasons attributed to Moslims’ intellectual enhancement in the Middle Ages is the considerable influence of Greek philosophy to a rational new religion. Up to the nineth century Muslim intellectuals valued reason in their interpretation of the Koran and Hadith.  Our present day Moslem heroes associate with the rational past.

            In early Islam there was a philosophical debate that started with al-Ghazali and resumed by Ibn Rushd and led the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II (1451-1481), the conqueror of the Capital Byzantium, to order two of the Empire’ scholars to compile books to summarize the debate between Ghazali and Ibn Rushd.  The philosophy of al-Ghazali was attacking the ideas of Avicenna or Ibn Sina (980-1037) and Farabi who were inspired by Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus.  Avicenna is known as al-Sheikh Rais (Leader among the wise men); in the west, he is also known as the “Prince of Physicians” for his famous medical text Qanun “Canon”. In Latin translations, his works influenced many Christian philosophers, most notably Thomas Aquinas. The spread of Hellenistic philosophy in the Moslim world was expounded by the first Arabic philosopher Kindi (800-865) who wrote many works on Greek science and philosophy. As a mathematician Kindi realized the importance of Aristotelian logic. Farabi’s ideal rulers would be chosen for their intelligence and educated in science, philosophy, and religion. According to Farabi, the best ruler for this Muslim state would be a “philosopher-king”, a concept described in Plato’s Republic. One of the most important contributions of Farabi, beyond his political views and scientific philosophies, was to make the study of logic easier by dividing it into two categories – Takhayyul (idea) and Thubut (proof). He wrote several sociological books, including his famous work – Al-Madina al-Fadila (The Model City).  In Andalusia (Spain) Ibn Rushd commented on Al Ghazali argument by argument defending the power of rational and investigative thinking; his work became the foundation for Europe Renaissance in understanding Aristotle.

            This part of history needs to be written; there are no takers yet. Orthodoxy in Islam rarely allows the treatise of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980-1037), Kindi (800-865) and Ibn Rushd (Averroes) to become the syllabus of mainstream thought process.  A Moslem student might revere Avicenna and Averroes but he is not offered the opportunity to read their works. If Avicenna and Averroes’s thinking were part of the dialogue within Islam then the sun of the golden era would have never set. We cannot cite Khayyam as an example of a great poet and completely forget the message he gave. We may disagree with Khayyam but introducing his thinking will help us to determine what pluralism is all about. The works of our thinkers need to be revisited and their books should form an integral part of our academia. Khayyam is described as an atheist, philosopher, and naturalist.

            The constant themes of Khayyam’s poetry are the certainty of death, the pointlessness of asking unanswerable questions, the mysteriousness of the universe, and the necessity of living joyfully the present. This is clearly reflected in the verses taken from Rubaiyat: “…How much more of the mosque, of prayer and fasting? Better go drunk and begging round the taverns. Khayyam, drinks wine, for soon this clay of yours will make a cup, bowl, one day a jar….”

            The Iranian Shirin Ebadi is another Nobel laureate suffering at the hands of the radicals. Shirin Abadi, Islam’s most famous civil rights activists and a Nobel Prize winner, said in her acceptance speech: “Allow me to say a little about my country, region, culture and faith. I am an Iranian. A descendent of Cyrus The Great. The Charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights. I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: “Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion”. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Mowlavi [better known in the West as Rumi] and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.”

            The dark ages within any civilization is characterized with dogmatic extremism that denies civil liberties, including freedom of religion and justice or the right to a fair trial. ‘Golden age’ on the other hand should be about the freedom of expression and availability of justice for the downtrodden. A society is judged not by its standards of the richest but by the way the under privileged and the poorest live. A minor renaissance within the regions under the influence of Islam can be traced but the conditions that help ‘seeds of reason’ to take roots that are essential for freethinking were just not allowed to be nurtured.

            Unfortuntely, in the current Arab world, the true values are rarely ever discussed freely. During the ‘Golden Age’ periods there was particularly strong tradition of rationalism known as the Mu3tazalah. They stressed that man is inherently free and were skeptic on the predestination concept that everything was foreordained. The Mu3tazilat carefully cultivated an ‘enlightened moderation’ and allowed for the growth of knowledge and actively promulgated the Sciences as a part of the religion doctrine.

            Muslim countries supply 70 per cent of the world’s energy requirements and 40 per cent of its raw material exports. With all of their oil wealth, two-thirds of the world’s poorest people live in Muslim countries. This state of misery is unparalleled; Islam’s inability to translate its economic prowess into general good has baffled the intelligentsia of the world. In the last 20 years over one million people died in conflicts involving intra Muslim wars. Why are democracy and the rule of law nonexistent in most Moslim states? Why are most of the worst acts of terrorism carried out in the name of Islam? Whenever wicked fundamentalists have taken over reins of affairs they have gone for the jugular. Extremists have a single point agenda whereby ‘worldly decadence’ needs to be abolished for blessings and rewards in the after world. No devotion can gratify the extremists; every strain of deviancy over times has its own brand of virtuous approach; these anarchists at one point have inflicted devastation on embryonic societies of Islam.

            Renaissance cannot be tainted with colour of ideology, it cannot be “Islamic or Christian”,  it is a collective effort of minds to seek freedom from dogma and seek answers to complex questions of purpose of existence on this planet. Free thinking, logic and rationalism have to be the corner stone of any serious attempt to induce renaissance in the Islamic world. Pluralism of ideas and the prosperity of any land are intertwined. Freedom of minds and skill to ‘think the unthinkable’ is how humanity has progressed; when minds are incarcerated nothing endures.

            Renaissance within all three monolithic religions was built around norms of free mind; Renaissance was about literature, architecture, arts and chiseling of marble to exquisite forms. The statue of David could only be created by the love of the free labor of Michelangelo: an enslaved mind could never be an artist or a creator. Physically enslaved men with free minds led revolutions and changed the world: they were ready to accept death instead of compromise with totalitarian or dogmatic despotism.

            The first and foremost challenge that Islam has to face is freedom of intellectual enquiry, ability to ask the unthinkable and still be able to live in peace within a society. Prof. Ahmad Zewail’s use of the fast laser technique can be likened to Galilei’s use of his telescope that he directed towards everything that lit up the vault of heaven. Zewail tried his femtosecond laser on literally everything that moved in the world of molecules. He turned his telescope towards the frontiers of science. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry because he was the first to conduct experiments that clearly show the decisive moments in the life of a molecule – the breaking and formation of chemical bonds. He has been able to see the reality behind Arrhenius’ theory.

            Prof. Ahmad Zewail acceptance speech like Ebadi’s referred to his richness of twin civilisations that of Islam and Egypt; he said: “Let me begin with a reflection on a personal story, that of a voyage through time. The medal I received from his Majesty this evening was designed by Erik Lindberg in 1902 to represent Nature in the form of the Goddess Isis – or eesis – the Egyptian Goddess of Motherhood. She emerges from the clouds, holding a cornucopia in her arms and the veil which covers her cold and austere face is held up by the Genius of Science. Indeed, it is the genius of science which pushed forward the race against time, from the beginning of astronomical calendars six millennia ago in the land of Isis to the femtosecond regime honoured tonight for the ultimate achievement in the microcosmos. I began life and education in the same Land of Isis, Egypt, made the scientific unveiling in America, and tonight, I receive this honor in Sweden, with a Nobel Medal which takes me right back to the beginning. This internationalization by the Genius of Science is precisely what Mr. Nobel wished for more than a century ago.”

            Professor Ahmed H. Zewail, the only Arab to ever win a Nobel Prize for science and, since the death of the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, the only one among the 1.2 billion Muslims with that honor.  Dr. Taha Hussein in his Nobel acceptance speech said: “The end will begin when seekers of knowledge become satisfied with their own achievements.” Unfortunately the embryonic renaissance in the late 700’s to 1300 of Islam was not extinguished by the satisfaction of its scientist’s queries; rather it was killed on the altar of dogma.

            Abdus Salam once wrote: “The Holy Koran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.” Sad and tragic is the reality that this scion of Pakistan was not allowed to be buried in his homeland; an orphaned son of a nation thanked the luminaries on behalf of a nation who had disowned him. In his acceptance speech Abdus Salam said: “… I thank the Nobel Foundation and the Royal Academy of Sciences for the great honor and the courtesies extended to us, including the courtesy to me of being addressed in my language Urdu. Pakistan is deeply indebted to you for this. The creation of Physics is the shared heritage of all mankind. East and West, North and South have equally participated in it. In the Holy Book of Islam, Allah says: ‘Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze comes back to thee dazzled and aweary.”

            On the global stage, it is these “heretical” scientists who are disowned by the Moslem orthodox clergy who have earned the greatest respect for Islam. Historically, we have distorted our real heroes into heretics, and the witch-hunt still continues. Dr. Abdus Salam is not the only one treated as heretic; we have the modern rationalist, Naguib Mahfouz – Nobel laureate in literature. Citation of his work, ‘Awlad Haratina,’ in the Swedish Academy’s declaration of award of the Nobel Prize to Mahfouz in 1988 greatly angered the Islamicists. His novel appeared in English under the title, “The Children of Gebelawi.” Shortly after the eruption of the Rushdie affair, the leading fundamentalist, Omar Abd al-Rahman currently imprisoned in the US for his role in the attack on the World Trade Centre—declared that if they had killed Mahfouz in 1959 for writing ‘The Children of Our Alley,’ Rushdie would never have dared write his novel. This was taken as a fresh fatwa to kill Mahfouz.

            In 1994 a failed attempt on his life leaft Mahfouz paralysed in his right arm. The crime of association of present day heroes of Islam with their past intellectual ancestors has marginalised them. It was the same Mahfouz who presented the case of his twin civilisations so adequately in the forum of ‘Swedish academy of sciences’ and quoted the great Muslim rationalist poet Abul-‘Alaa’ Ma’ari who asserted everywhere “the rights of reason against the claims of custom, tradition and authority.”

            The world cannot remain hostage to medieval concepts; this modern fight has to be seen in its intellectual, historical and geographical context.  The Islamic world today is trying to re-ignite its lost “renaissance” but is led by demented people with medieval minds; they are supposed to cure our ills but are out in the open to slaughter and maim thousands. Respect of life is the first sign of an educated mind.

            The Arabic language was synonymous with learning and science for 500 hundred years; a golden age that can count among its credits the precursors to modern universities, algebra, and the names of the stars and even the notion of science as an empirical inquiry. Science flourished in the Golden Age of Islam because there was within Islam a strong rational tradition of inquiry. This tradition stressed human free will.  Under the Mut3azalah (enlightened moderation) knowledge grew. Moslim conventional Puritanism, led by Ghazali, reawakened in the twelfth century.  The Moslem puritans championed revelation over reason, predestination over free will. The Imam Ghazali described mathematics and medicine as (Fard-E-Kefaya) placing these knowledge secondary to religious knowledge.

            A few Islamic clergies are trying to introduce elements of bigotry and fanaticism in mainstream Islamic thought. Our modern day laureates depict equally a sense of great connectivity to the rich past and that has to become a standard. Most likely the Islamic Renaissance that was about to be born 1000 years ago did not. We shall never know the extent of the harm that some celebrated religious zealots caused to mankind and civilization. We are once again at the crossroads; the only ways forward is to connect with the world and help make ours a true charitable society, the only way prosperity of mind can be ensured is through pluralism of ideas.

Global Resolutions: The Bible of Global Problems

Let us consider the confirmed facts related to earth problems affecting new generations:

Fact one:  Climate and environment are quickly deteriorating.

Fact two:  Birth control is not efficient in the mostly under-developed States

Fact three:  Potable water is polluted and water for irrigation is dwindling fast.

Fact four:  The middle classes in China and India are expanding alarmingly and are more than 3 times higher than the US and Europe combined.

Fact five:  The world economy is experiencing serious deflationary period.

Fact six:  The world is going through deep financial crisis and recession.

Fact seven:  Effective military spending should have witnessed decrease after the financial crash but it is increasing alarmingly.

Fact eight:  The identity crisis around the world is destabilizing order and security.

Fact nine: The supposedly public international institutions of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have failed their missions;  decision and management transparency procedures for public on time information is not forthcoming. 

Fact One:  Climate and environment are quickly deteriorating.  The ten signs of alert are proven in the following evidences.

            Oceans are turning more acid.  At 8 kilometers of the Californian coasts shells and corals are being dissolved. In the Pacific Ocean, 30% of mussel has disappeared.  Planktons, the basic food chain for fishes, small and large, are no longer abundant; 30% has depleted since the industrial age.

            The Arctic is changing drastically. Ice field has melted by 27% in the last two decades. Temperature increased by 3 degrees in the last 5 years.  Thus, the more ice melt the larger the surface is exposed to direct sun rays and consequently the more the rate of ice melting increases. The level of oceans is increasing and covering more dry lands.

            The Amazon and tropical forests regions are drying up and liberating higher quantities of carbon dioxide.  This equatorial forest is liberating more CO2 than absorbing; absorbing CO2 was their primary function.  More trees are dying and thus liberating more CO2 by decomposition. The higher the concentration of CO2 the lesser trees “perspire” and the more reduced are rains in quantity and frequency.

            The climate in Antarctica, the main source of future potable water, is milder; temperature has increased by one degree since the fifties. Salinity of sea water in the southern globe is decreasing.  The Antarctic must be melting faster than observed.

            Seasons are in advance of schedule and migratory birds are suffering.  Spring is one week earlier in Europe: 75% of birds studied in Europe have declined in number and migrating further north and seek higher altitudes.

            Dry seasons are extending. Monsoons are rarefied; precipitations are decreasing and the desert in North Africa is expanding southward western Africa.  Deforestation might still be the main culprit but the warming up of the environment is catching up fast as the main factor.

            Methane gas, present as methane hydrate in maritime sediment, is escaping from oceans. The under layer of pergolas (pergelisol) used to act as a lid but more abundant hot water is being ejected in the Arctic seas; the concentration along the Russian coast is 200 times superior to normal.  Methane gas is far worse than CO2 (20 times more powerful in retaining heat) for the warming up of the environment.     

            Glaciers such as the Himalaya and the Quelccaya (Peru) are losing 0.85 meters in their thickness every year. Around 40 frozen lakes in Nepal and Bhutan are breaking up.

            Sea levels are climbing 3 mm every year on average; the levels in the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea are reaching the alarming climb of 20 mm a year.

            The warming up of the climate is accelerating dangerously. Temperature increased 0.6 degrees just in the last 30 years while it took a century to increase 0.2 degrees before then.  The concentration in CO2 has increased to about 400 molecules per million; it was just 270 before the industrial age.

The liberation of methane gas and the drought of tropical forests are the two major factors that show evidence in the acceleration of environmental degradation.  The fast degradation has overtaken current research data that are no longer suitable for predicting the approaching calamity.

Fact Two:  Birth control is not efficient in the mostly under-developed States.


            China and India are supposed to have gotten birth rate under control but it is not because of higher educational level and better standards of living.  There are evidence of massive euthanasia practices on females and minorities camouflaged within laws interpreted very loosely and selectively. In the under-developed States political instability, poor security for law and order, unsustainable social institutions, and lack of financial and technical supports are exacerbating an already dangerous trend.  The UN is short on money and manpower in its specialized sections to counter this scourge. Over 50% of the population in Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and Iran for example are under 15 years of age. (Global viable and alternative resolutions will be developed in a follow up article)

            In Japan and many European States the trend is reversed; over 30% of the population is elderly (above 65 years) and draining the health budgets.

Fact Three:  Potable water and water for irrigation are dwindling fast.

            Climatic changes, heavy river pollution, accelerated urban centers, high rate of birth, and the early melting of mountain tops are depleting potable resources faster than expected.  Many States rich in rivers, especially those witnessing drought seven months per year, have not be aided in erecting dams for emergency seasons.  More States conflicts are centering on equitable potable water sharing.  The criticality of water supply is one of the main problems facing people in the coming decade.

Fact Four:  The middle classes in China and India are at least three times larger than the combined numbers in the USA and Europe and growing quickly.

            China and India are experience much better increases in their GNP than the USA and Europe during this downturn.  Consequently, China and India will focus on their internal markets to grow their economies in the same manner as the USA has been benefiting for over three centuries.  Middle classes demand to have consumer goods available since they have the money to purchase them.  They certainly have this right.  The problem is that purchasing cars is the first priority for middle class citizens with investment in infrastructures and facilities to abuse of these vehicles.  China has already surpassed the USA in the number of purchased car this year. India is making available inexpensive cars marketed at $2,000 in India. The kinds of energy sources that will drive these cars will have great consequences.  Consumerism can drive economies but depletion of natural resources requires a cultural change to accommodate a sustainable earth.

Fact Five:  The world economy is experiencing serious deflationary period.

            The world economy is struggling and the downturn is expected to last for at least 5 years.  This might be the best excellent news for a sustainable world production. There is the need for drastic diminishing of redundant and irrelevant consumer goods that can be substituted easily for human survival. Globalization created economic blocks with objective of exercising political pressures on the established developed nations.  The economic or trade blocks such as South-East Asian States, the Southern Latin American States, the Gulf Arab/Iranian States, and soon a few African States are struggling to stay above water and keep up with the fast moving globalization trend.

            The International Monetary Fund extended three quarter of its resources on the already industrialized states since its inception in 1944.  The G20 decided to triple the IMF fund to $750 billions.  The G20 will extended 44% of the funds, the other developed State a third and the over 55 poorer States will cover 17%.  It was hoped the restrictions and conditions for funding projects will be reduced from 17 conditions to 5 but nothing has been materializing so far.

Fact Six:  The world is going through deep financial crisis.

            Millions of workers and employees lost their jobs in a few months and that trend is increasing faster than expected.  The infusion of trillions of dollars into banks in order to facilitate the flow of trade transactions did not save banks from declaring bankruptcy.  The meeting of the biggest 20 financial markets that produce over 85% of the world economical transactions has not reached any consensus as to the financial basket reference for money fluctuation or the control of paper money issuing rights of individual power States. Consequently, the financial crisis is opened to dangerous more frequent reversals on a downward trend.  The USA is heavily relying on China for covering its increasing debt by purchasing US Treasury Bills.  China will be facing enormous capital investment inside because of the consequences of rapid economical strategies.  The rivers in China are over polluted, drought seasons are more frequent, and over 30 millions working in urban centers have been forced to relocate to rural areas where no job opportunities are available.  The moment China decides to cut down on financing US debt the dollars will be devalued (for printing more paper money than the economy can support) and another financial crisis will loom on the horizon.

Fact Seven:  Effective military spending at the increase.

            People expected a rational decision by States in this economic and financial troubled times; people were hopeful that military budgets should decrease to balance other more needy budgets such as health, the environment, creating productive jobs, and education.  The reverse happened:  every major State that exported military hardware increased its military budget and it skyrocketed. The USA expenditure is more than double China and Russia combined and the fields of military operations expanding around the world. Societies are far more unstable and experiencing high unemployment rates and lower quality jobs for the qualified graduates. 

Fact Eight:  The identity crisis around the world is destabilizing order and security.

            After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Europe had to face up to the identity and ethnic crisis in East Europe such as ethnic and religious “cleansing” and the drive for independence of tiny States within the disintegrating Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The European Union (EU) is the best representative for projects of unification among States with identity crisis.  The EU is clearly the most advanced union in matter of forging ahead with ethical issues. 

            Gorbachev has declared recently that Europe squandered 20 years of potential opportunities for stabilizing the European continent after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of communist Soviet Union.  If we revisit the problems that Europe had to deal with in priority then Europe had plenty of excuses.  First, West Germany had to absorb the cost of the re-unification of the crumbling economy of East Germany; then the EU had to battle the consequences of the disaster of 9/11 of 2001 and the frantic pressures of the Bush Jr. Administration to rally Europe to the invasion of Iraq; then the pronouncement of the Christian Conservatives alliance of the US administration of the binary dicta “either you are with us or against us”; then the declaration of an old senile Defense Minister Rumsfeld lambasting “old and senile Europe” and getting hold of the European oil investments in Iraq.  The EU has now to come with a plan for the increased illegal immigration as the ideal destination location.  It must be that Europe was in a rejuvenation phase to have forged ahead in short time to a successful unification program.

            Global problems to whom?  These problems affect us all but the G20 “something” think that they are the only one concerned.  Solution to the G20 is lending money to more mega polluting mega projects.  So far, the UN did not propose a program to deal with global problems.  Not a single President of the G5 went public to remind us that there is such a program.  Life is going on leisurely as if dirt is swept under the carpet and that is worrisome; citizens of earth are not asked to contribute and share in the responsibilities. A follow up article will attempt to offer viable global resolution and will tackle the troubles with religious extremism and state ideologies.

Note:  This essay was inspired by the manuscript “A World Adrift” by Amine Maalouf. I added and developed on more global problems.  The style is Levantine; Bible style because the problems are established and need urgent global resolutions.  I will mentions the facts separately and then undertake the analyses of the interactions of the global problems before considering viable global resolutions.  This post will focus on the problem. The follow up post will consider viable global resolutions.




April 2010

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