I am writing this piece as a result of a conversation that occurred between a friend of mine and a professor during a bus ride. The professor stated that Jews produce geniuses while Arabs produce idiots. Now, I’m neither going to attack that professor nor claim that s/he needs to get the facts straight. I will, however, go ahead and claim that when it comes to geniuses, we have plenty. It is a matter of perspective and appreciation from our side and discipline from their side, and not our inability to produce geniuses, that led the professor to think this way.
We have a lot of Arab geniuses. I am not going to bother you by talking about the times of Avicenna and Averroes because these names are overused. In addition, people usually claim that we stopped producing great minds right after that era. There are also claims that we have talked too much about the past, that we forgot the future. However, I will present you with some of our modern-day geniuses. People like Farouk El Baz, Ahmed Zewail, Khaled Fahmy, Alaa Al-Aswany, Youssef Zidan, and Mostafa El-Sayed; these are figures that some of us have already met, interacted with, and know for a fact why they should be called geniuses. Maybe we did not stop producing geniuses because they have always been there. It is the fact that we – as Arabs – lack the discipline and sense of appreciation towards them, whether we are talking financially or by other means.
Famous figures such as Naguib Mahfouz, Ahmed Zewail and others have one thing in common; they possess a sense of discipline. They possess an appreciation towards having a certain system of personal rules that guides and organizes their workflow and production. I know that Khaled Fahmy, for example, is very active and is constantly producing articles that make you think about history and politics with a different perspective; his work is quite informative. This is also the case with Alaa Al-Aswany and Youssef Zidan. As writers, they always have something to share and their activeness is just mind-boggling. Naguib Mahfouz was also known for having a very strict schedule when it came to writing. As is the case with our scientists, those known to us as well as those unknown. Ahmed Zewail talked about his eagerness to work. The topic of discipline and how it shaped our modern-day geniuses is truly an endless one.
Appreciation is key; people work hard in order to acquire it from their communities. However, we, as Arabs, suffer from an inferiority complex since we have been living under dictatorships and corruption. This way of life has led to the lack of appreciation, be it financially or by any other means. This is the reason why if you do research, you will find numerous Arab scholars and scientists abroad holding very prestigious posts in academic institutions as well as international companies.
Discipline and appreciation clearly go hand in hand. The first helps in creating our geniuses while the second keeps them home.