Just passing along a press release from the US National Science Foundation on cultural differences. The study looks at ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ cultures, how they got that way, and how they sustain themselves. Interesting, for sure, and I’d like to read the full report.
Still at Economist, I come across this piece I find interesting. It’s about how people name various things, physical or metaphysical. It goes along well with my earlier post on defining terms:
A menagerie of monikers
Most labels are misleading, sometimes grossly so. Find new ones in 2010
REMEMBER the Levant? Or the Old Dominions, the Trucial States and the Far East? If so, speak softly. Labels are handy ways of sorting out countries by history or geography. But lazily conceived and out-of-date ones are offensive and misleading.
Some reek of colonialism (“Black Africa”) or lingering imperialism (“the near abroad”, Russians’ term for the former Soviet empire). Sheer diversity makes “Eastern Europe” an unhelpful way of talking about the ex-communist countries (see article). Donald Rumsfeld’s description of anti-American “Old Europe” and pro-American “New Europe” was vivid but equally wide of the mark: Atlanticism and opposition to it are present on both sides of the old Iron Curtain.
Interestingly, there are a couple of different articles today on US education assistance for Saudi Arabia and Saudis.
The New York Times is less negative about the issue than The Los Angeles Times:
U.S. Universities Join Saudis in Partnerships
Three prominent American universities â€” the University of Texas at Austin, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University â€” are starting five-year partnerships, worth $25 million or more, with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, a graduate-level research university being built in Saudi Arabia.
Under the agreements, the mechanical engineering department at Berkeley, the computer-science department and Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering at Stanford, and the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas will help pick the faculty and develop the curriculum for the new university, known by the acronym Kaust, which is scheduled to open next year with a $10 billion endowment.
Over the five years, each university will receive a $10 million gift, $10 million for research on their home campus and $5 million for research at Kaust, as well as administrative costs.
â€œThe agreement will allow us to improve our facilities here in California, and fund a stream of graduate students, without taxing our existing infrastructure,â€ said Albert Pisano, the chairman of Berkeleyâ€™s mechanical engineering department, which he said had voted 34 to 2 to proceed with the agreement. â€œWeâ€™re going to work on projects that are good for the Middle East and for California, like energy sources beyond petroleum, improved water desalination, and solar energy in the desert.â€
Despite its enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia lacks world-class research universities. In the last few years, as the Persian Gulf nations have begun to worry about the eventual need to convert from an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, they have started offering lavish inducements to American universities to bring their expertise to the region.
Christian Science Monitor has a piece that’s the other side of the coin: bringing Arab students (including those from Saudi Arabia) to schools like MIT and Harvard:
A bid to enroll Arabs in U.S. colleges
MIT students help dispel their fears and doubts about applying to American schools, where they remain a relative minority after 9/11
Tom A. Peter
Cambridge, Mass. – Like any good high school student, Lana Awad dreamed of an Ivy League education. But when the Syrian teen started applying to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and Harvard College, her guidance counselor told her to think smaller. After all, no one from her high school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia had ever gone to a college farther away than Lebanon, just across the Arabian Peninsula.
“They wanted me not to be disappointed, not to feel, you know, rejected … advising me not to aim too high,” says Ms. Awad. In the end, she got into Princeton and MIT, where she is now a freshman.
At a time when Arab enrollments in US universities are still recovering from a post-9/11 plunge, it is experiences like Awad’s that an MIT student group is trying to change. The College Admissions Arab Mentorship Program (CAAMP), whose members have just returned from their annual tour of Middle Eastern schools, aims to ensure that myths about American colleges and life in the US don’t deter Arabs from studying here. The group encourages Middle Eastern students to take advantage of US universities so they can become more effective leaders in their homeland, as well as agents of cross-cultural exchange.
Here’s a brave piece from Aaidh Al-Qarni, Islamic scholar and author of Don’t Be Sad, published as an op-ed in Asharq Alawsat. Al-Qarni writes that Saudi education, wrapped as it is in rote memorization and an over-emphasis on religious texts, does a poor job preparing Saudis for any job, including that of Islamic jurist. Worth reading in full.
Our Religious Education: A Critical Look
Dr. Aaidh al-Qarni
Religious education in our country from a jurisprudence aspect has been unchanged for the last 1,000 years.
It consists of sectarian jurisprudence texts devoid of evidence, written centuries ago that our student have to memorizes verbatim, like the “Zad al-Mustanqi” in Hanbali jurisprudence, “Mukhtasar Khalil” in Maliki jurisprudence, “Al-Taqrib” by Abu-Shuja in Shafi’I jurisprudence, and “Al-Quduri” in Hanafi jurisprudence.
These texts are written with extreme brevity in words, puzzling sentences, and a reduction of meaning. The faults in theses texts can be divided into two parts:
First: They lack all Koran and Sunnah texts. This is because they are supposed to be used for deduction using Shariaa evidence, and not the other way around.
Second: Many people understand these jurisprudence opinions to be categorical, and anything else is false, and this has led to sectarian fanaticism, and the move away from evidence. For instance, when you read the beginning of Zad al-Mustanqi you will find the phrase “The water is of three categories,” which is wrong as there are only two. Then the book says: “If clean clothes are suspected of being mixed with dirty ones, then you perform a number of prayers equal to the number of the clothes plus one;” this means if you have 20 items of clothing, then when there is suspicion you perform 21 prayers, which is wrong, because you ought to investigate and ascertain.
Usually, Arab League meetings tend to call for pussy-footing around differences, all for the sake of consensus. That explains why the AL doesn’t actually accomplish much.
But on occasion, there are fireworks. Libya and Saudi Arabia have had a few dustups, particularly when Qadhafi is representing his country. But shouting matches are rare, so this blow up between Saudi Arabia and Syria is noteworthy and so reported across the region. And all over George Bush’s visit to the Gulf…
Saud Envoy in Verbal Altercation with Syrian Counterpart
Mustapha Moneim and Mohammed Ali
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Official sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that a verbal altercation took place between Ambassador Ahmad Abdulaziz Qattan, the Saudi envoy to the Arab League [AL], and Yusuf al-Ahmad, Syria’s ambassador to Egypt and its envoy to the AL, during a meeting held earlier this week at the AL headquarters to discuss the Israeli attacks on Gaza and West Bank cities.
The Syrian envoy objected in his speech to what he called the profuse welcoming accorded to US President George Bush in the countries he visited recently and said that despite the pro-Israeli US policy some countries received him with open arms and hospitably. Qattan interposed and said he does not allow anyone to make insinuations about stands taken by his government and that the US President was accorded considerable reception because he is the President of a friendly and allied country that sent at one time half a million soldiers, 5,000 tanks, and 1,000 aircraft to protect the kingdom and expel the Iraqi army from Kuwait and had your ally at the time the Soviet Union did what the United States had done you would have welcomed the Russian leaders like conquerors in Damascus. But this is the difference between an ally and ally, between a friend and friend. The Saudi envoy added that he does not allow anyone to criticize his country’s policy in his presence otherwise the way would be open to criticize Syrian policy.
An Arab diplomatic source who took part in the meeting tried to downplay the impact or the extent of the Saudi-Syrian altercation and called it “a banter more than an altercation” and that it was no more than a strong banter between friends and colleagues. Qattan said when asked by Asharq al-Awsat about this information that he commented on his colleague Al-Ahmad’s remarks by saying: “We disagree with the Americans on some issues but we do not accept at all any insinuation or criticism against Saudi Arabia.” He added: “We received Bush with full appreciation. His country sent 5,000tanks and a huge army to expel Saddam from Kuwaiti. I asked the Syrian envoy: “What did your allies give you. But he told me after that (I did not mean anyone and I did not name any particular country).”
Eid Mubarak, wa Kullu Aam Wa Antum Bi Khayr
I’d like to wish all readers of Crossroads Arabia a Happy New Year and a blessed Eid Al-Adha!
Next week, I’m heading off for a visit to Saudi Arabia–at my own expense–to keep in touch with the country and my Saudi friends. It’s just over two years since I’ve been there and I need to see and hear for myself just how things are changing. Call it “ground-truthing” as I check that my perspectives are still accurate.
I’ll travel via London and spend a few days there, meeting with Saudi journalists and others, too. I plan to be in the UK from the 20th-25th, then the Kingdom from the 25th-31st. If Saudi or other bloggers would like to get together, please contact me at the address given on the “Contact” page of this blog and I’ll see what I can fit into the schedule.
I’d like to extend to my readers, my very best wishes for the coming New Year. 2004 has been a difficult one in many regards. I hope that 2005 will provide relief from at least some of the problems, and offer new opportunities for all.