Friday, July 24, 2009

The "truth" about Khaled Diab

The Guardian has today carried an article called "The truth about Arab science" by Khaled Diab, a writer with a distinct flavour to his ideology and one on whom I have made comments before. People like himself hold themselves up as paragons of scientific enlightenment and modernity, carrying the torches of freedom and civilization. Very often they know very little about science, philosophy or history and in fact are reusing phrases and ideas that other more enterprising thinkers have come up with.

His latest article gives us more of that same ideology, but in a different cloak. In it, he laments the fact that Arab minds and intellects can only thrive once they came to the West (though perhaps one cannot say the same about the writer himself). They do this because they are unable to pursue science in what he calls the "Arab science desert" and he then gives us some very credible and correct ideas about why this is the case: "The dominant patronage culture in academia, the shortage of research funding, the almost complete absence of private research, the difficulty of registering and protecting intellectual property, as well as the rote-based education system.".

So far so good, but almost immediately in the next paragraph, he begins an unexpected rant against Islam. Now perhaps I am being a little slow, but how could the causes that he identified earlier have anything to do with Islam when they are actually caused by the shambolic (and very very secular) governments of the Arab world. Even when he does concede that Muslim students, whom he describes as "fundamentalist" (perhaps he has a meter which measures the amount of fundamentotrons they emanate), do enroll on science courses in droves, he attributes this to some conspiracy to impose medieval values using modern techniques. Overall, his change in direction whilst writing is far too arbitrary to be misguided, this person is deliberately going out of their way to show us that Islam and science are incompatible.

To illustrate his point, he brings out that favourite of Orientalist topics, homosexuals. He quotes Nadia al Awady, a freelance science journalist, and then accuses her of holding "pretty unscientific views". We will assume that Mr Diab knows what a scientific view is, but where in his article does he specifically show that it is Islam and not the corrupt and secular Arab governments which are a cause for this scientific "desert" as he refers to it. Apart from reusing the tired notion of science versus faith, religion versus the modern, to frame his argument, the article tells us very little. In fact it should probably be called "The truth about Khaled Diab".

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