diet coke for breakfast

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Posted by Jake
Rob Sobhani on Qatar & Education on National Review Online

The emir and his wife, who heads Qatar Foundation, firmly believe that in order for the Arab-Muslim world to protect its rich culture and prevent Islam from being hijacked by extremists, a major investment in and commitment to education is essential. They believe that the soul of the Arab world can only be reinvigorated if it recreates the environment that existed 1,000 years ago, during the golden age when Arabs and Islam flourished. While Europe suffered through the dark ages, the Arab world experienced an explosion of creativity marked by an openness to knowledge and science.

As the emir is fond of pointing out, the first word revealed to the Prophet Mohammed was 'read.' Unfortunately, reading beyond the holy Koran is not something that has been a priority in the Arab world in recent times. Currently in North America the gross domestic expenditure on research and development is 2.5 percent of GDP; in Japan, 2.3 percent; in Western Europe, 1.8 percent; in Latin America and Sub Saharan Africa, 0.3 percent. In the Arab world is it 0.2 percent.

The emir's objective is for Qatar to take a leading role among Arab nations in the transformation of this dismal picture by dedicating a significant portion of its GDP to education. If Arab countries such as Qatar embrace Western educational values, the emir reasons, then Arabs can preserve their core religious, historical, and cultural values while simultaneously stimulating economic progress and political reform. This ally of President Bush in the global war on terrorism believes that if democracy is to take root in the Arab world, a long-term investment in the people of the region must be the starting point. Qatar has now begun this effort.

The tenants of Education City, a 24,000-acre multi-institutional campus, are leading American institutions and think tanks. For example, the Rand-Qatar Policy Institute will help build a base for independent policy analysis with local scholars. Furthermore, Rand has been putting together a plan to revamp primary and secondary education in Qatar. Unlike the Saudi model, tolerance of other cultures and ideas is the cornerstone of this new education system.

The Qatar branch of Cornell Medical School will give students from around the region, as well as from the U.S., the opportunity to complete an educational program leading to a Cornell University medical degree that is taught by Cornell faculty.

The latest tenant of Education City is Texas A&M University, one of America's leading engineering schools. Qatar Foundation has entered into a ten-year agreement with Texas A&M to bring quality engineering education and research to Qatar.

1) Islam and democracy and modernity are not incompatible. Muslims had a thousand years of "Western" culture under their belts when we were still living in the plague-filled dark ages. Their variation will be different than ours, but the values will be the same.

2) Qatar is a good counter example to the argument being forwarded by Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria that countries with lots of oil wealth are much less likely to become democratic. That is true in a lot of cases, but it is not the wealth that is doing it -- it is mismanagement, war and extremism. Qatar shows that if you invest your wealth towards good ends you will thrive.

3) I have always been fascinated with the idea of living in the Middle East. I think I would like to see the great democratic experiment of our generation in action. Maybe I will try and teach in the Cornell branch in Qatar.

Brian -- I probably won't do it justice, but a couple of years ago, I think about a month or so after 9/11, there was a column in the WSJ that hazarded an alternate explanation of the Arab World's decline. Rather than education, the article blamed the pattern of theocracy. The West came out of those plague-filled Dark Ages as secularization progressed, while the Arab world never experienced a similar process. This seems to make a little more sense to me than the above theories because many of the terrorists we talk about so often are highly educated, often in Western society.


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