Hillel Offek has written a long and interesting piece entitled “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science”. After describing the illustrious “Golden Age” of Islamic civilisation he surveys the less fertile environment of their descendants…
Muslim countries have nine scientists, engineers, and technicians per thousand people, compared with a world average of forty-one. In these nations, there are approximately 1,800 universities, but only 312 of those universities have scholars who have published journal articles. Of the fifty most-published of these universities, twenty-six are in Turkey, nine are in Iran, three each are in Malaysia and Egypt, Pakistan has two, and Uganda, the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, and Azerbaijan each have one.
There are roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but only two scientists from Muslim countries have won Nobel Prizes in science (one for physics in 1979, the other for chemistry in 1999). Forty-six Muslim countries combined contribute just 1 percent of the world’s scientific literature; Spain and India each contribute more of the world’s scientific literature than those countries taken together. In fact, although Spain is hardly an intellectual superpower, it translates more books in a single year than the entire Arab world has in the past thousand years. “Though there are talented scientists of Muslim origin working productively in the West,” Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg has observed, “for forty years I have not seen a single paper by a physicist or astronomer working in a Muslim country that was worth reading.”
The question Offek returns to is that of what’s to be done about this intellectual stagnation. Well, I’m no great thinker but it seems to me that the answer is — nothing. Western intervention – even if we set aside the death and destruction – has consistently served to radicalise and aggravate the people of nations it’s meddled with; to give them cause to feel their troubles are entirely the consequence of others; to aid them in presuming that the work of secular nations is destructive. As for the vocal platitudes that leaders like Obama offer them – well, it’s a sort of cuddly imperialism. He can’t even teach his people how big their own country is; who’s he to think he can renew the cultures of whole regions?
I don’t believe Islamic dogmatism will endure forever. People will grow sick of it. That’s not an optimistic view as such because there’s a great deal of harm that it can do while it’s around but I maintain the belief that its effects are so deleterious to the societies it grips that the fundamental self-interest of its believers will eventually cause them to reject it. Take the Maldivians: they’re doing their best to alienate their tourists – whose custom the islands depend on. If they manage to dissuade these people from returning they’re going to sit around, getting very poor, and sometime, with no one else to blame these conditions on, they’ll begin to question if the doctrine that inspired them to impoverish themselves is, in fact, all it’s cracked up to be. Then, perhaps, wherever this dissatisfaction occurs, they can look elsewhere for healthier ideas to adopt.