The second lockdown in Germany
My student told me ...
The primary educational stage that I passed through during my childhood specifically the elementary and secondary school, shaped an abstract knowledge about my identity as an Arab Palestinian through the history of Arabic culture and science that was introduced in the curriculum. This knowledge could not be grasped not because it was introduced to me in a language that I could not understand, it was in my mother tongue Arabic though, but I could not understand the fact that how this knowledge was produced by genius Arab and Muslim scientists in different fields who lived in the Middle East long centuries ago. Therefore, looking at this history, it is found to be mainly Islamic dominated as it came into being within the Middle Eastern frontiers, which is the area that witnessed the birth of Islam in the Arab Peninsula specifically where our prophet Mohammed (PBUH) set out on his journey of calling for Islamic message to be spread out not only in the place of birth but also wherever possible in this world. Later on, in the following era, some Muslim scientists showed up mostly around Mesopotamia delineating the pillars of science as they produced a unique scientific constellation, which is proved through their theories. That educational phase showed me this scientific constellation of Arab-Muslim, including Persian scientists who generated unique science and theories in different fields; medicine, chemistry, physics, optics, space, math, gravity, etc. So the accomplishment of those prolific scientists long centuries ago became part of our identity, indicating to the illuminating era of Arab Muslim scientific achievements that characterized a specific period which called the Islamic Golden Age that traditionally dates back from the 8th to 14th century. They left to us as a legacy to cherish and build on.
I remember in history materials at the above-mentioned school texts written about those scientists, what they came up with and how narrating their biographies, but without indicating to any fact that their accomplishments have been developed later on by their ancestors within the frontiers where those genius scientists lived or outside. It, therefore, turned out to be a mere task of informing ourselves on those scientists without tangible shreds of evidence that we have tirelessly worked on developing this legacy to cope with the modern scientific movement. Indeed, the following epoch until the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the 18th century and during the modern epoch, later on, Arabs had not greatly contributed to developing science to almost nothing worth cherishing or even mentioning. Since then, the science development has been characterizing the Western scientific scene. In Europe, for instance, people had managed to overthrow the church’s hegemony that had controlled the wheel of socio-cultural development during the medieval and then set off on the journey of developing science after the European mind had been liberated from the church’s control.
Therefore, modern science, as we were instructed, was developed in the West and still being developed there to the degree humankind conceive science as European or American or Canadian, etc. ignoring the fact that Arab Muslim scientists and scholars have accomplished in this modern science as well. They had to leave their homelands seeking for better opportunities to invest in their scientific capabilities and develop the scientific movement in the West where they have found a good sanctuary. It might be not that easy matter to spread out the belief that European science is originally European, and it might be not easy to convince the general public that the sophisticated scientific infrastructure in Europe for instance, is diverse consisting of scientists from different nations have contributed to developing it, or it might be unbelievable to explain to people in Europe that Arab or Muslim scientists have made their part in this scientific modernity.
Of course, might be not possible as long as the growth of this science is taking place within the Western frontiers or if extends out of these frontiers, it is still Western branded, not Arab or Muslim whose groups turned out to be consumers to this modern science. I do not want to dig deeper into how this modern science came into being after it had passed through long processes of circulating premises until it came out in its modern shape. But I want to highlight the fact that why Arabs or Muslims have not been contributing to science since the ascendance of the first cohort of Middle Eastern Muslim scientists during the Golden Age long centuries ago? Why have not they been building on the theories or the premises were shaped by them to generate new science copes with modernity?
Such inquiries did not over my head the first time I learned about those scientists in the curriculum or inquire about the reason why we are being instructed about the fact that science is Western while being encountered by the fact that there was indeed science created by Arabs and Muslims. I do remember at school a patriotic teacher who began the class not teaching English, but showing us how Arab nations are at the lowest rank after they had a chance to staunchly prosper and build on what our genius scientist predecessors of the ancient times left to us, and then he sort of reprimanded all of us including himself saying “we are a backward nation, when would we achieve something to make the other modern nations proud of us?! It is our science in our hands, why cannot we develop anything? Because we are a backward and ignorant nation gave in to its ignorance and backwardness, does not want to develop and do anything! When will we make a new Renaissance?” The same with the other history teacher who used to start the class by making such comments. At the time, I had not understood what was going on until I indeed realized what were those teachers talking about. Their provocative statements are still inscribed in my mind even though were said to me more than 16 years ago. I am therefore quite aware of this reality as an Arab and Muslim.
In the last Arabic class, my student from the UK told me in Arabic “Muslims have not been contributing to science because they believe that modern science is secular so that they avoid involving in. The other reason is that colonization prevented Muslims from pursuing higher education and developing science.”
I answered in Arabic saying the first claim is complete nonsense! I cannot believe that there are still Muslims believe so; it is a mere pretext that some people pretend that secularism does not fit into Islamic values, or because it was created by Western scientists so that it violates their beliefs. That is an unacceptable argument if it is indeed still believable and an indicator of why Muslims have not been contributing to modern science. The second claim, I said, yes there is conclusive evidence that colonizers destroyed the educational infrastructure of the colonized and so as the occupiers did so to the occupied. I, however, claimed that it should not be a reason to pretend that Muslims or Arabs have not been contributing to modernity specifically in the 21st because of colonization or occupation at all!
Why? In the current era, the physical presence of colonization has vanished, Arabs have lots of capabilities to develop science, France of the UK will not come to them asking for shutting down their universities or labs, etc. and simply command them “You Arabs do not contribute to science! It is our business.” Not at all! There are many Arabs and Muslims developing science in the West who can freely do whatever possible for that purpose in their homelands too.
That opinions sort of stirring up my feeling in a way that I felt that Arabs have not immensely been doing things for science so that they are just consumers. In the office where I am doing my internship, there are many shelves on which lots of books whose titles published under mostly Western names, I did not find any book or publication was done by Arab or Muslim authors, but later on, found very few as the center cooperates with Arabic universities. That reflects that Arabs do not enrich the scientific platforms by their creativity.
This is probably the reason why people across the Western societies do not believe that Arabs have magnificent contributions to science even though many smart Arab scholars and researchers are contributing to science in their homelands or the West. I can see that people will not spend time on searching whether Arab scientists are doing great jobs for modern science in the 21st century or not, they want to see tangible things on the ground; discoveries, innovations, inspiring projects, and so on, so that they can judge differently and change the anachronistic thoughts towards Arabs or Muslims. Otherwise, if Arabs either scientists or policy-makers do not unify their efforts for developing science and enrich the libraries in all sorts of scientific fields, that dark image will keep branding us as consuming unproductive nations.
Sadly, despite the fact that there are strenuous efforts being exerted by many aspects around the world either private pharmaceutical corporations or medical labs to manufacture a reliable vaccine, nothing has been scientifically proved thus far. Therefore, what I have been observing in many affected countries is indicative that what certain aspects who claim to have invented vaccine is camouflage or kind of anesthetic injections to make the grumpy masses quiet until further notice. Russia, for instance, has recently declared that some of its scientists had managed to discover an effective treatment in the labs, which was announced by President Putin claiming that the vaccine will be available in the international market soon, and also President Trump has shown up on several occasions claiming that U.S. scientists found the vaccine but they need more time to verify its results and so on with other aspects that have claimed the same. It turned out to be an arena where companies are competing over a certain product to register a patent, but there is no real patent in which people can trust for getting rid of the Corona Virus.
Media coverage to the dramatic developments of the virus put people under uncertainty, as these narratives became interwoven so that people ended up being confused even not believing in the novels of those officials, who from time to time show up announcing a new radical solution for the Covid-19 crisis. There is still an unreliable source to take seriously whether this virus will vanish soon or not especially nowadays there are rumors talk about the second wave of Corona on the way.
This pandemic has changed all walks of life especially the economic wheel; billions of dollars have been lost as a consequence. We can see many people got their businesses shut down and then went bankrupt; millions of people lost their jobs. In this battle, the academic field did not remain peaceful; it was significantly affected as well. The campuses were shut down, classes, lectures, and seminars turned into virtual domains. Online classes are found to be the easiest way to communicate and keep the educational process running. It is an affordable method for many people; however, it turned out to be challenging for underprivileged people who do not have the financial capacities to buy internet bundles all the time. Indeed, the recent reports proved that virtual or distance education even though has been a useful sanctuary that students had to resort to, widened the gap between the privileged and underprivileged students who do not have the opportunity to catch up with the educational process if they do not internet access at their homes. I remember when I was in Cape Town and Bangkok to do my second and third semesters consecutively -to fulfill the requirements of the Global Studies Program (GSP), an exchange international masters program provided by Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg in Germany- I learned about some underprivileged students who used come to the campus not only for attending the lectures but also to take advantage of the free provided Eduroam internet service by the university. Therefore, it is imaginable how challenging the situation for them has been during the current crisis.
|IARS Conference. Source: Private|
I have attended many online conferences since I was in Bangkok this year and most recently I attended three international conferences were organized by Jena Center for Reconciliation Studies (JCRS) at Friedrich-Schiller University, where I do my internship. The first one took place on Aug 9-10th on establishing a new association called the International Association for Reconciliation Studies (IARS), which was the first round. The following round came to continue the presentations done by participants from many countries around the globe; professors, thinkers, and socio-political actors in their communities within the field of reconciliation. Most importantly, this association came to bring scholars from the global north and global south for developing this academic field, which I found inspiring as it touches on the idea of globalizing thoughts as our program GSP aims to.
The second conference was on establishing the Academic Alliance for Reconciliation in the Middle East and North Africa (AARMENA) took place on Aug 11-14th, which has almost the same agenda of developing reconciliation studies in cooperation with universities in the Arab World. I was honored to actually attend the panel discussion at both conferences with the academic staff of JCRS and also develop the new website of this center that had been done jointly with my supervisor.
On the whole, virtual education and whatever comes under like conferences cannot be considered as an obstructive tool to the educational process but in contrast, it has been quite helpful in fulfilling the goals of this process although at some points has widened the gap between students or learners from different social classes. I could assert that virtual education is better then nothing to fend off the implications of Covid-19.
Of course, the city has a lot to offer and a lot to narrate to me as I am going to stay here for three months to do my internship. Luckily, at Friedrich-Schiller University -Jena Reconciliation Center. This university was founded in 1558 and is considered one of the most prestigious universities in Germany.
|Jentower - Jena/ Private|
The city is quite beautiful and charming not only by its nature but also by the historical fingerprints that were created since the eve of the industrial revolution in Europe in the 18th century. Many stages this city passed through to reach this a very sophisticated era in almost all fields, especially the scientific and industrious that the Friedrich-Schiller University has contributed to significantly building this platform by generating scientists and professionals in all fields who have done their best to make Jena great again in its bright facets that I can see.
What even amazes me is the fact that how this city revived after it had passed unbearable traumas the WWII, in which it was bombed by the British and the U.S. Allied Forces, including other dynamic fluctuations occurred on the ground due to the severe political transformation that is experienced when it fell in the hands of Soviet Leadership that lasted until the giant collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, which was the second trauma.
This city was under a chronic recession that affected its scientific institutions like Friedrich-Schiller Uni. Therefore, scientific development relatively declined and lost much of its productivity.
Apart from that, I can imagine that this colorful experience that I can categorize into three phases as mentioned, the people finally managed to coexist with the new reality after more than four decades under the Soviet Occupation. It's imaginable the socio-cultural even psychological change that the people here went through, especially when they found themselves open to West Germany.
But, at first glance, I did not touch upon the difference, maybe being here in 2020 makes the difference blurry or unclear anymore. This can not be uncovered unless I talk to people, but I assume the current generation under this technological openness crashed this difference.
Anyway, I am fully inspired by the city and academic, scientific, marketing, hustling-bustling components that embellished it in each corner, which I will explore. I can not wait to enjoy this experience even though we are still challenged by this pandemic Covid-19. It makes the situation precarious that it might come at anymore moment. Hopefully, the situation will be better off as I see the city right now is stable, not many infected.
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