Faust in the Middle East: I’ll Give You Oil Wells If You’ll Give Me Brain Drains

Here’s a little statistic buried in a long article at the ResetDOC (Dialogue on Civilizations) website on efforts to bring science to (Islamic) regions that are otherwise anti-freedom of thought:

[T]he governments of Arab nations (led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt) are investing in new projects in higher education and scientific training . . . It will, however take time, years and perhaps decades, before Arab nations will be able to once again boast the same ancient splendours [as Spanish Cordoba in the Middle Ages]. The main cause has been the brain drain, with 45% of young Arabs who have studied abroad not returning home after graduating. The result? Western states are the main beneficiaries of the scientific production by young Arabs with high academic qualifications.

No, the main cause is not the brain drain itself, but the way that contemporary Islam is practiced, which leads to the brain drain. The brain drain is the effect. What Muslim nations are discovering is that, in the 21st century, a nation’s greatest asset is not its natural resources—such as its oil wells—but the ability to plug brain drains and produce gathering places—or mind wells (like research universities)—where smart people are free to think anything and experiment with ideas, tools, and rules for making a nation’s workers more efficient in the global economy. Without this asset there is no progress. It’s the main reason why a country like Japan, though resource poor, is rich, and a country like Saudi Arabia, though resource rich, is poor (that is, the vast majority of its populace is poor).

It’s much, much better to have mind wells than oil wells.

Though both would be nice.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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