Following are excerpts from a TV debate on the decline of Arab universities, with Jordanian university professor Adib Al-Zu’bi and Ahmad Al-Shater, head of the Arab Students’ Union. The debate aired on Al-Jazeera TV on November 24, 2009.
Moderator Faysal Al-Qassem: How come not a single Arab university has managed to be classified among the leading 500 universities in the world? Because our Arab universities are a reflection of the Arab reality of wretchedness, tyranny, and backwardness. How can a nation make progress if some of its leaders are semi-illiterate, who make grammatical errors? How can a nation possibly make progress, when the money it spends on its mules, its camels, its yachts, its pleasures, its entourages, and its hunting dogs exceeds the money it allocates to science and scientists, as a critic has said?
Once, an Arab teacher wanted to get married, and he asked for the hand of a young woman in marriage. Her father asked him what he did for a living, and he said he was a teacher. The girl’s father responded: “Hah! I rejected three taxi drivers, so how can I possibly accept a teacher?”
Adib Al-Zu’bi: In all these studies, the Arab universities are at the tail end of the list – both in the internal and external studies. The main reason is the lack of willpower among the decision makers to elevate Arab education to the international level. Our universities have become an extension of our elementary schools, in their teachings methods of memorization and learning by rote, and of killing and burying Arab creativity.
The Arab allocation per capita for research is four dollars per annum, whereas the general world average is about $1,000 per annum. Israel allocates approximately $972 per capita, while we allocate four dollars. My question is simple: Where is all the Arab money? Where does all the money go? It goes, as you know, to line the pockets of the top officials and to stockpile weapons in rusty storehouses, which have nothing to do with war or with defending the Arab homeland.
Ahmad Al-Shater: All the fuss that my colleague was talking about was because of a classification conducted by some company in Spain, or some British newspaper, or some university in Shanghai. None of these companies have anything to do with education and its quality. They have never visited Arab universities, and they know nothing about them. Allow me... They are publicity offices that disseminate propaganda, and are out to make a profit. These companies go to the university website, and compare how many students, doctors, and researchers it has, and it is imperative for you to have won a Nobel Prize for them to place you at the top of the list.
In my opinion, one of these days or months, some company, called Ishtir or Ikhbikh, will come and say that the Arabs are a species of dinosaur and must be wiped off the face of the earth, and they will start to annihilate us, because there are a billion people whom the Americans and Zionists want to destroy. These evaluations have nothing to do with academic quality.
The budgets of all the Arab countries and their universities in 2004 were not equal to the budget of the American Harvard University.
Faysal Al-Qassem: Why not?
Ahmad Al-Shater: Because the universities in the West are laboratories for weapons, experimented on me and you, in Iraq and in Palestine.
Adib Al-Zu’bi: They cure cancer...
Ahmad Al-Shater: They cure cancer for money, not for free. You studied there for two months, and you want to tell me who they are?! Who created the swine flu, the bird flu, the donkey flu, and the financial crisis? And now, they don’t want to give people the vaccination. These universities are against humanity. Why did they kill all those scientists? Because they were Arabs and Muslims. Why did they slaughter 4,000 Iraqi scientists? They were not slaughtered by the Americans or the Zionists, but by the death militias. After that you dare say there are no Iraqis in Arab universities?!
Faysal Al-Qassem: How do you explain the fact that the Arab countries spend billions on weapons that are scrap metal and on the children of the top officials? Half the Arab budgets, half the money that enters the Arab countries – nobody knows where it goes. They tell you about half of the money, and you don’t know what happened to the rest.
Ahmad Al-Shater: Let me respond. There is a rich Arab in Britain, who had a horse worth five million dollars. After a disagreement with the stable owner, it turned out that the horse wasn’t a horse. Turns out it was a mule – the offspring of a horse and a donkey. There are wealthy Arabs with amazing hotels all over the place, wealthy Arabs with yachts, and so on. Let them bring all those billions, which they spend in the West. One has a cat in London, living in its own wing [of a mansion]. To hell with them all.
Adib Al-Zu’bi: Soccer is more important to us than any research. The example I gave you, about the fall of the Soviet Union, when we imported all the prostitutes... There is a culture of complete humiliation in the Arab world...
Faysal Al-Qassem: What are you trying to say? What did we import?
Adib Al-Zu’bi: We imported whores, sir.
Faysal Al-Qassem: From the Soviet Union?
Adib Al-Zu’bi: Yes.
Faysal Al-Qassem: And the scientists?
Adib Al-Zu’bi: The scientists were imported by Israel and the US. They competed over them, and dragged them by the hand.
Faysal Al-Qassem: What exactly did we drag?
Adib Al-Zu’bi: In the Arab world, there is a culture of humiliation for science and scientists. Countries that invest in scientific research are the ones that rise to the rank of the most advanced countries. I don’t want to talk about the US or Israel. They can go to hell. I’d like to talk about Malaysia, about Korea, and other Islamic countries that are not part of the Arab world. Where there is corruption, there is no scientific progress, no knowledge, no scholars, no research, and no progressive culture.
Ahmad Al-Shater: This is a great campaign against Arabism and against Islam – this campaign on our universities and scientific research, because of this classification by Ikhbish, or whatever they are called, from the end of the world.
Let me finish. This Spanish office, QS, should go to Seville and to Granada, and see the archaeological remains of Arab science, in astronomy, medicine, biology, and physics, instead of evaluating Arab universities.
Adib Al-Zu’bi: There is a well-known example from an Arab country, which goes like this... A teacher asked: Who can give me the name of a creature that flies? One student said: A cow. The teacher said: You idiot, cows don’t fly. Whose son are you? The boy said: I’m the son of so-and-so, who’s a colonel in the army. So the teacher said: Cows fly, but they don’t rise up from the ground. That is the situation.
Ahmad Al-Shater: These are Zionist stories.
Adib Al-Zu’bi: Zionist, right. Whatever...
Faysal Al-Qassem: There’s nothing left but to thank our two guests – Dr. Adib Al-Zu’bi and Mr. Ahmad Ambarak Al-Shater. We will meet again next Tuesday evening. Until then, this is Faysal Al-Qassem...
Adib Al-Zu’bi: Why did you curse?
Ahmad Al-Shater: God forbid...
Faysal Al-Qassem: ... greeting you from Doha. Goodbye. Shake hands.
Adib Al-Zu’bi and Ahmad Al-Shater get up to shake hands and embrace, arguing all the while