Monday, November 10, 2014

A powerful debate and discussion between two distinguished authors , Dr. Husain Haqqani, former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States along with Dr. Ali Al Harb, Arab writer and philosopher, moderated by Ms. Aisha Al Kaabi was held at the Intellectual Hall on 7th November 2014, as part of the 33rd Sharjah International Book Fair (SBIF).

The panel was based on the title “Which side of the mind: Dialogue of the East and West”, where the two guests presented their view points with facts and references.

Dr. Husain Haqqani (on left) and Dr. Ali Al Harb (on right)
Dr. Harb believes that in today’s globalised world, Arab writers have become international writers and that even the African countries are witnessing growth. “Today, I don’t know why we are criticizing the Arab world, but I think we are all one network. We should go beyond the duality of East and West”, he said.

On the other hand, Dr. Haqqani stated “the West is about technology, but it is about moving forward, the East is about tradition, and it’s not necessarily about moving forward.”

Dr. Haqqani implied his point by giving hard facts, “In the West, there are 285 newspapers for every 1000 people being published, whereas in the East-Arab world, it is only 53 newspapers for every 1000 people.

“The Muslim world, more than a billion people have won only 11 Nobel Prizes, with 9 for Political and Social Welfare and just 2 in Science.”  He emphasized the fact that the technological innovations within the Muslim world are not moving forward.

Dr. Harb took a neutral stand, “The West is not an enemy, because whenever we seem to face a conflict, we seek the support of the West.”

He further added, “Look at this Sharjah Book Fair, it is not only for the Emiratis, but for an international audience. When I had visited Sharjah 40 years back, this place was a ‘dead town’, but now it has become a ‘globalized’ city. The globalization of the world today is because of the globalization of artists, singers, writers and reporters. We do not have any cultural barriers between the East and West.”

Dr. Husain Haqqani autographing his books for his avid readers

Dr. Haqqani clarified why the ‘East’ lags in terms of technological as well as economic factors in comparison to the West, “The day we will be able to say, that the East has fully met the West as an equal, will be the day when we will be equal in generation, absorption, transmission and the widespread dissemination of knowledge. Nor are we lagging in knowledge, but our knowledge of our own past is limited.”

His argument followed with an example, “ If you go to a library and ask someone on the ‘Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’, which apparently did not last longer than the Arab Empire, you will find several books including Edward Gibbon’s famously titled ‘ The History and the Decline of the Roman Empire’ that runs into 4,100 pages. Is there a similar book on ‘The rise and fall of the Arab Empire?’”

He disagreed with the fact that the East could be compared with the West, Dr. Haqqani continued saying, “In the next 20 years, if we can have at least 50 brands out of the top 500 that are from our region in economic terms, if our scientists will stop ‘imitating’ and start becoming inventors, if our social scientists will start adapting to the ideas of the philosophers and historians of the West in terms of culture and religious reality, we would then have made progress.”

While concluding his speech, he stated, “The Far-East countries such as China and Japan, look very different from the Europeans, yet have all the technological advantages of the Europeans, why can’t we?” leaving the audience a thought to ponder on.

When questioned by one of the audience members about why Malala Yousufzai is not treated as a heroine from the East, rather than being propped up as an American ‘agent’, Dr. Haqqani defended saying, “I really appreciate Malala’s efforts. She is just a 17 year old girl, who when at 11, simply asked why the schools were being closed… People don’t treat her like a heroine, simply because we all have this anger, blaming the West for everything.” 

The sessions concluded with the authors signing their books and meeting their avid readers one to one.  

By Sakeena Mushtaq
The writer is a first year undergraduate student from the School of Media & Communication