Saturday, June 16, 200711 comments
Did you know that for every 10,000 books published in North America, there are 42,000 published in South America and only 6,500 books published in the Arab world? Literary and intellectual books published in the Arab world represent only 0.08 percent of the world's output, less than those published in Turkey alone.
If these figures seem a bit surprising, than you've probably never stepped into a Barnes and Noble bookstore. Recently while in the States, I spent a significant amount of time in Barnes and Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the United States. There's just something exciting about stepping into a huge bookstore, equivalent in size to the Safeway at 7th Circle and filled wall-to-wall with books and other reading material. I spent more than $200 on just books, and I would have spent more if the airlines afforded me a higher baggage allowance.
I have yet to see an equivalent to Barnes and Noble in the Middle East. On the contrary, the facts listed above simply reflect my personal observations: that Arabs, in general, don't enjoy or pursue reading. I've even used this observation to my advantage. In incoming packages, all I have to do is place my US-imported DVDs below a layer of books and the customs agents don't discover them. Why? Because books are like kryptonite to the guys checking the packages. (My secret is out now, but I just couldn't resist using it to make a point.)
The sad fact is that this trend is having a negative effect on the professional success and educational growth of the Middle East. According to UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammad Ben Rashid Al Maktoum, "There is a wide knowledge gap between [the Middle East] and the developed world in the West and in Asia." This gap is affecting areas such as scientific research and scientific academia. The Arab world spends only 0.02 percent of its GDP towards scientific research, compared to developing countries spending between 2.5 and 5 percent. And in the Arab world, for every 10,000 people in the workforce there are 3.3 academic scholars, while the developed world has 110 for every 10,000. According to Sheikh Mohammad, "Our only choice is to bridge this gap as quickly as possible, because our age is defined by knowledge."