Thursday, February 09, 2006

Arab performance

Ninme has dug out a report published in 2002 by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). There's a lot in it, but one thing that stood out for me was what it had to say about knowledge (the report identifies 3 great 'deficits': freedom, knowledge and womanpower). It is the figure it gives for the number of translations made into Arabic. the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.
One of the most telling signs of a culture's growth is the quantity of knowledge it seeks, its hunger for new sources of information. The number of translations is not an infallible one. For instance, compared to many cultures, English translates little, but that is because it is the main scientific and academic language. This is not the case for the major European languages; the figure for Italian, for example, is something like 30%. It must have been similar in this country in the 16th century when we had to catch up with Italy and France, when the trickle of Latin and Greek loanwords became a flood.

The following quote is given in the same paragraph of the report summary.
“If God were to humiliate a human being,” wrote Imam Ali bin abi Taleb in the sixth century, “He would deny him knowledge.”
What sort of education is it that young Arabs receive?
From their schooldays onwards, Arabs are instructed that they should not defy tradition, that they should respect authority, that truth should be sought in the text and not in experience. Fear of fawda (chaos) and fitna (schism) are deeply engrained in much Arab-Islamic teaching. “The role of thought”, wrote a Syrian intellectual “is to explain and transmit...and not to search and question.”
via Ninme

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