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I’ve edited Waseem Altaf’s piece lightly, some for style by turning “%” into the written “percent” and spelling numbers when they’re used to start a sentence, and some for online readability (“Paragraph frequently” would be my advice).  The gist is simple, a familiar “tale of two states born in 1948” — one produces a mighty ultra-modern democracy, and the other suffers along with military dictatorships and a grievous record of political corruption and violence.

In general, I argue the comparison only partially valid and otherwise deeply unfair.

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Country of Interest: Pakistan

Knowledge as a National Priority

By

Waseem Altaf

We were extremely poor yet we had books at home, said Ada Yonath, the 2009 Nobel laureate in chemistry from Israel.  Six million Israelis buy twelve million books every year, being the highest consumers of books in the world.

Knowledge comes through education and Israel has the highest school life expectancy in South West Asia with the highest literacy rate.

In Israel, education is compulsory for children between the ages of three and eighteen.

Israel also spends $110 on scientific research per year per person. Six of the best universities in the world are in Israel. For every 10,000 Israelis there are 145 engineers or scientists. On the other hand there is zero percent chance that Pakistan will achieve the millennium development goals on education by 2015.  India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are well on their way to achieving the same goals.

One in ten “out of school children” in the world is a Pakistani.

What is required is an additional spending of rupees 100 billion, a fifty percent increase over current spending.

Israel, the most threatened country in the world was spending 24 percent of its GDP on defense in 1984. Today it is spending only 7.3 percent.  The budgetary allocations have since been diverted towards productive sectors of the economy.  We on the other hand are spending around 50 percent of the net revenue receipts on defense. As a major chunk of foreign arms purchases is made through loans, there is no account of the amount of loans taken and the interest paid thereon.  As much as 50 percent  of the net revenue receipts go to debt servicing.

As a result of “love for knowledge”, deeply ingrained in the Jewish mindset, three  out of the four most influential people in the last century were Jews.  Except Charles Darwin, the others namely, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were all Jews.  Forty-five Jews have won the Nobel prize in Physics so far.  Twenty-eight received the Nobel prize for original contribution in the field of chemistry.  Fifty-two of the Nobel laureates in the field of physiology and medicine were Jewish by birth.  Twelve recipients of the Nobel prize in literature and 21 in economics were also Jews.  Nine got the same prize for peace. In other words, 0.3 percent of world population received 24 percent of the Nobel prizes.

A Jewish mother would like her son to be a scientist than to be the Head of a State. Albert Einstein was offered the Presidency of Israel which he politely refused.

So it all originates in the family values.

The love for knowledge is learned as it is valued in the family.  Anything rewarded in the form of praise or other incentives within the family and for that matter in the larger social setting is reinforcing and ultimately becomes part of the national character.  A state and society which honors the knowledgeable becomes a formidable force to reckon with, as technology is based on scientific knowledge and whoever has the technology has the power.

The six day war which Israel fought against the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq resulted in the total capitulation of the Arab Armies.  Israel captured the Gaza strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and the West bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.  Some 779 Jews were killed against 21,000 Muslims.

While 24 percent of Nobel prizes went to the Jews 22 percent of humanity is Muslim. What has been their contribution in the last 800 years in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Economics?  Approximately 1.4 billion Muslims have produced almost nothing yet 14 million Jews have given so much to humanity. We simply cannot repay what we owe to Jonas Salk who invented the polio vaccine in 1955, preventing billions of Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Jews from the effects of the deadly virus.

The Nobel Foundation is awarding the prize for more than 100 years, yet during this period the 1.4 billion Muslims have produced only six individuals who won the prestigious award: Abdus Salam considered a persona non grata in his own country, because of his religious beliefs; Ahmad Zawail with an American citizenship pursued his work in the U.S.; Naguib Mehfooz, an Egyptian was stabbed in the back by a fanatic Muslim; Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist is in exile in Canada due to threats to her life in her own country; Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist was criminally charged after he made statements alleging mass killings of Armenians and Kurds during the Ottoman period; and Muhammad Yunas, an economist from Bangladesh and the founder of Grameen Bank who has also been subjected to an audit by the government for alleged wrongdoings. A number of petty cases have also been instituted against him.

At present only one percent scientists in the world are Muslims.

Today a large part of the Muslim world is taken over by forces preaching nothing but hatred and contempt for all others belonging to the out-group. Anyone can be held guilty of blasphemy if his or her views do not match with the official dogmas. The total emphasis is on the revealed truth and not on empirical knowledge. We hate to find the truth. For us truth lies in all kinds of conspiracy theories. From 9/11 to the crash of Air Blue Airliner to cricket match fixing to floods every phenomenon was the result of some kind of conspiracy against us.

In a recent survey conducted by “Newsline”, 57 percent of Pakistani youth was in favor of a non-secular state. You visit any educational institution and would find more than half the students with obscurantist views. This ideologically motivated lot is conditioned to see the world in a context which suits their strongly held beliefs reinforced by the forces of dark.

No place for empirical knowledge on the national priority list, indoctrination of hatred, intolerance, revenge, death and destruction is what leads to the collapse of civil order, civil society and finally the state.

Quest for empirical knowledge, tolerance, respect for mutual coexistence, love for all human beings regardless of their faith, are attributes of a progressive, peaceful and prosperous society and a stable state.

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Response by this blog’s author

I have seen this argument before and have to this point provided caution in relation to several assumptions and variables.

For one thing, not all Israelis (or Jews) are successful or otherwise shielded from the vicissitudes of life. About 20 percent of Israelis live in poverty; a significant number of Israelis emigrate for both economic and educational opportunity plus personal reasons, a mixed picture but one suggesting too that all is not magical in the Jewish State.

The “family values” mentioned, including their being deeply integrated into a now ancient and global ethnic and religious commune, has its own intellectual roots and evolution that starts with the Torah and its mix of origin myths, legends, illustrative stories, and admonitory rules that INVITE argument, criticism, discussion, and exegesis.  Despite the investment or expenditure of great energy in determining a good way to live (with God and with others), the Jewish experience includes horrific episodes of destruction and suffering.  Such historic tragedies tend to cleave away what  one may call “things that didn’t work” — like priests and animal sacrifice and burnt offerings.

Thirteen million contemporary Jews, fewer than half gathered in modern Israel, the rest scattered in Diaspora and sharing a common heritage in each heart comes to not even 1/100 of the Ummah’s breadth and reach involving the conquest / conversion / reversion of thousands of otherwise formerly separated peoples. 

A certain kind of social engineering story comes out in the numbers cited in relation to state-based investments split between, say, defense ware and human capital. However, another part engages with self-concept and the detection and definition of ideals and values as they may be envisioned and suspended in language and transmitted in language behavior.  The Jewish heritage has not only to do with “investments in human capital” but with the transmission across generations of the core monotheism, i.e., faith in one God,  a concomitant investment in the guidance inspired by the study of the Torah, and, finally, the integration of that conversation into Jewish customs, laws, and traditions that have radiated outward into larger global societies, making, for example, the Romans who once destroyed Jewish life in Jerusalem, Christians, millions of whom promote the Jewish return to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

As seen in the last century, neither customs nor ethics served to defend mine from German barbarism, but both having informed a greater surrounding civilization — having more of humanity with it, literally — prevailed in that round. 

It doesn’t take much light reading in, say, linguistics to realize how wild a species we are — just as we are biological and have to wrestle with all implied by that — and I’ve inclined to think that civilizational efforts are essentially minority affairs, i.e., with many contributing “moral entrepreneurs” everywhere (from many walks) working with language across time and through the species but slowly and with time to be slow to effect adaptive, global, and positive change, but not monolithic change. 

In essence, I believe an evolving, modernizing humanity will strive to improve its felt qualities of living, but it may do so while experiencing and grinding against other tendencies.

At about this point, I generally note that Moses led not only Jews but a “mixed multitude” out of Egypt, and as parable the story repeats itself but perhaps in widening circles. 

One more observation: the “compared to the Jews” message also includes as message, “Compete with the Jews!”

It’s coaches a competition where one must win (something, I guess) at the expense of the other.

However, the structure I foresee is more integrating, more binding together, more engaged with an evolving way in thought that need not belong particularly to anyone but may be more a natural expression of an evolving human consciousness.

Again, within that cosmological view, God and a small part of the world work on that emergence together and across myriad cultures and languages, while the larger part of the world passing its ages in darkness becomes with every generation itself a little smaller.

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