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44



ARAB HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2003


BOX1.5

Ahmad Kamal Aboulmagd: Towards a New Language of Faith



ing process of its formation.

THE DEMAND FOR KNOWLEDGE



This chapter has previously considered some of the economic qualities of knowledge; this section analyses in more detail the issue of the demand for knowledge, the low level of which in Arab countries is one of the most serious re­strictions on the production and diffusion of knowledge in society.

Undeniably, knowledge supply can be a real constraint in developing countries, espe­cially those where autocratic and absolute regimes restrict freedom of expression and the circulation of knowledge, ideas and informa­tion that are critical of authority. Yet there are good reasons to believe that the lack of de­mand for knowledge also curtails prospects
It is worth noting the considerable intel­lectual contributions to social reform of the pi­oneers of the contemporary Arab renaissance through three schools in Egypt, Greater Syria and Arab North Africa. The Religious Reform school: Jamal ad-Din al Afghani, Mohammad Abdou, Abdelrahman Al Kawakibi, Abdelhamid Bin Badiss, Chakib Erslan, Allal Al Fasi; the Liberal school: Refa'a al Tahtawi, Ahmad Lutfi Essayed, Qassem Amin, Taha Hussein, Keireddin Al Tunisi, Al Yazigi and Al Bustani; and the Secular school: Shibli Shmayyel, Farah Antoun and Salama Moussa.

At this point in history, Arab countries face societal obstacles to knowledge produc­tion arising from ideological conflicts between different political currents. The conflict over the Islamicisation of knowledge is an example. This is because few Arab intellectuals are will­ing to focus on substantive issues relating to history and reality at the same time. Yet sub­stantial gains would accrue to knowledge pro­duction from pursuing serious research on Sharia'a sciences, adopting a reformist scien­tific view. In fact, none of the characteristics or historical developments of Arab countries should be exempt from rational study.

Undoubtedly, there are certain structural impediments that constrict knowledge pro­duction in Arab countries. The cultural con­flict between political currents over the Islamicisation of knowledge is one example. This conflict is tied to intellectual reluctance to discuss history and present-day reality to­gether. Yet no essential characteristic or as­pect of Arab society should be excluded from a scientific perspective. The question of re­search into history and heritage and the appli­cation of scientific and reformist approaches to that work, hold one of the keys to the pro­duction of knowledge and, therefore, to the knowledge society itself. Such questions should be the subject of collaborative thinking and study, not dissension or rancour.

In the final analysis, the Arab knowledge model, or the "Arab mentality", is a project, not a fixed construct. It is a model in the process of formation and, as such, it offers an historic opportunity that should not be missed. Arab countries will do well to indi-genise science and knowledge as foundations of the Arab knowledge model in the continu-

The current language of faith separates two worlds, both of which have been cre­ated by Allah, namely the World of the Texts (The Qur'an and the Sunnah) and the World of Life, with all human and non-human beings in it.

The first key of the new language of faith is that Muslims should know that be­lief in the metaphysical world does not negate the role of the mind; that the ap­plication of Islamic law is not enough to make one dispense with addressing human problems in all their social and economic dimensions; that Islam was not built on the ruins of the heritage of mankind; and does not strive to destroy and demolish the experience of peoples. Its basic function is to add to them the el­ement of guidance and rationality and ori­ent them towards what is good for mankind. In this new language of faith, new readings of the ancient teachings must emerge.

All the texts - at the top of which are the verses of the Holy Qur'an - are not another world to be added to this one. They are indeed witnesses to Allah's cre­ation by Allah's own words. A Muslim is required to ponder on the Qur'an,, but he/she is also required to walk on the sur­face of the earth and ponder on the signs of Allah in mankind and in the furthest regions of the earth.

The law of Islam is not a system which is separate from people's ambitions and interests. It is - with all its sources -rather a means to realize those ambitions

and protect those interests. All of it is jus­tice and all of it is mercy. "Any question that goes out of justice into injustice, from fairness into inequity and from mercy to its opposite is not part of Islamic law, even if it was made part of it by interpre­tation".

Muslims are not separate from mankind at all. They are carriers of a mes­sage to mankind. As Muslims, they are witnesses to nations, but they remain on the same horizontal line with the rest of nations and peoples. Nobody owes them a favour, nor should they be haughty or conceited in dealing with others.

The comprehensive nature of Islam does not mean that the texts deal with every question of life, large or small. That is not only impossible, but also unaccept­able, considering the freedom which Islam left to the human mind to move, in­terpret and decide.

The fact that Islam is eternal does not mean a "rigidity of its law". It means that it is able to renew itself and to innovate in response to the movement of life and its changing modes. The originality of Muslims and their excellence do not mean that they should be isolated from the rest of mankind, inward-looking in a closed circuit surrounded by a wall with­out doors. It means communication with people, living with them and, through that, conveying to them the loftier values and great principles upon which the doc­trine of Islam, its law and ethical structure rest.

The "Arab mentality", is a project, not a fixed construct. It is a model in the process of formation.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: KNOWLEDGE, HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY IN ARAB COUNTRIES 45

for building knowledge societies in these countries

The price of knowledge rises with its transaction costs, which can be heavy.

It may seem surprising that problems of demand are encountered in disseminating5 a commodity whose main characteristics are that it is non-rivalrous6 and infinitely 'expan-sionabk'1, as well as aspatial -- weightiest. A closer examination of the characteristics of knowledge demand in Arab countries reveals why such problems remain widespread.

SOURCES OF THE DEMAND FOR KNOWLEDGE

Sources of demand for knowledge vary in every community. Families demand knowl­edge as a way to invest in the human capital of their members, and to make social and eco­nomic decisions within the family. The state, civil society, and business sectors, public as well as private, demand knowledge in order to perform their respective functions. This de-Figure 1.3

Correlation between Internet penetration and Internet costs - Arab

countries and comparators



6000



5000



o 4000



tu

Q.

O

o



°

3000



a

a.



!q 2000



'

Belgium



*UAE

Australia



Switzerland



, Finland



Ireland

Luxembourg Canada



'.

Germany '.Netherlands

Kuwait ".



Hungary



1000



France



Oman— ▲ i«..^,„



Saudf Arabia-

*

J

.

ordan



*

Egypt

Gabon* Ukraine Bosnia



Lebanon



-1000



Morocco



0.0%



0.5%



1.0%



1.5%



2.0%



2.5%



Internet access cost (% of GDP per capita)



Source: International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2002.

3.0%



mand grows stronger in proportion to the de­gree of rationalism in decision-making and the value placed on learning. In general, the major drivers of dissemination and demand are the institutional components of the knowl­edge system.

DETERMINANTS OF THE DEMAND FOR KNOWLEDGE

From a purely economic perspective, purchas­ing power substantially influences the demand for knowledge on the open market. Low in­comes and the high price of knowledge, or the goods and services that embody knowledge, tend to curtail demand. In the Arab world, the majority of people have low incomes, while the cost of knowledge acquisition is high, es­pecially if the commodity is directly imported or is produced locally using imported compo­nents. The price of knowledge rises with its transaction costs, which can be heavy. Rents paid to the producers of knowledge, to those who incorporate knowledge into commodities and services and to those who operate local monopolies9 all bring up its cost.

Figure 1.3 shows the effect of cost on Internet penetration, which is a major means of spreading access to knowledge. It is quite clear that, in the Arab region, as in the world at large, the high cost of accessing the Internet is inversely linked to its diffusion.

The restrictive impact of high Internet ac­cess costs on the extent of its availability is il­lustrated in figure 1.4. High costs and the relatively limited availability of personal com­puters in the Arab world are reflected in low Internet usage compared to developed coun­tries and South East Asia.

Generally speaking, demand for a com­modity is shaped by the extent to which pre­vailing consumption patterns and their prices generate an appetite for particular goods and services. Some Arab countries are noted for their conspicuous consumption while basic needs often remain unsatisfied and costly to fulfil, because governments reduce the basic

5Among the well-known examples is the limited dissemination of open-source software, such as "Linux", despite the fact that this operating system is free, effective and easily available. The impression that the software is difficult or unstable is not necessarily correct.

6Non-rivalrous means that the consumption of knowledge by one person does not reduce its availability to others.

'Infinitely 'expansionable' means that, no matter how high the cost of initial production, the cost of subsequent use is low.

8Aspatial or weightless refers to the ability of knowledge to cross borders, in particular if digitised.

9 Consider, for example, the high costs of cellular phone services.

46

ARAB HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2003


Cost in US$ per month



40

35

30

25

20

15

10

5

0

There is a widespread assumption that knowledge is not as effective as power or influence in solving social, economic or political problems.

Coercion may succeed in suppressing or containing demand for knowledge more than any economic or social impediment.
services they provide and the competition fails to provide better or more cost-effective alter­natives. Not surprisingly, demand for knowl­edge, as embodied in goods and services, is declining. Imagine, for example, how public demand for Internet access competes with de­mand for health care.

In the case of knowledge, the characteris­tics and preferences of its potential users (de­cision-makers within families, the production sector, state and civil society institutions) largely determine the extent of demand. Arab families have always put great value on educat­ing their children to the highest possible level in an attempt to raise their social status. Families have often been prepared to bear the high costs of education even if this severely strained their resources. This is evident when one considers the rising trend towards private tuition and private schooling in the region. On the other hand, in Arab countries, decision making within community institutions is often in the hands of older, authoritarian genera­tions. In taking decisions, these generations mainly rely on traditional considerations that reflect their narrow affiliations and loyalties more than the broad scientific rationalism that requires decisions based on hard knowledge. In the last three decades, this problem has been compounded by the ascendance of money and power in the structure of societal incentives.

Reference has been made previously to how knowledge system institutions create de­mand for knowledge simply by playing their natural role. A vicious spiral of deteriorating knowledge supply is set in motion in commu­nities with a poor knowledge system, curbing the direct demand for new knowledge. This is one of the most fundamental factors in the de­cline of knowledge in developing countries. The inadequacy of the knowledge system indi­rectly decreases the demand for it. Developing country decision-makers frequently complain, and rightly so, of the feeble support they re­ceive from knowledge institutions when they turn to them for help.

Another shortcoming in the societal con­text in Arab countries that constrains knowl­edge demand is the widespread assumption that knowledge is not as effective as power or influence in solving social, economic and po-

Figure 1.4

PC availability and Internet costs and penetration:



Arab countries, OECD and East Asia, 2001



Number per

1000 people



400

300

200

100

500

r



















\





Arab countries OECD East Asia

Number of Computers □ Internet access cost □ Internet users



Source: World Economic Forum, 2002.

litical problems - or that it is simply beyond reach. Hence, decision-makers end up limiting themselves to deploying "traditional" meth­ods and mechanisms. This is a further illustra­tion of the weakness of developing country knowledge systems.

Coercion may succeed in suppressing or containing demand for knowledge more than any economic or social impediment. Certainly, when freedom is curtailed, knowledge is an early casualty and those who seek it apply it sparingly or learn to live without it.

Finally, another constraint is censorship of the Internet. This global media miracle, which originally arose to transcend borders and over­come distances, has fallen under the control of the censor in Arab countries. In Iraq for in­stance, it was not possible to access the Internet until mid-2000. Even after that, ac­cess remained limited. In one rich Arab coun­try, the government closed 400,000 web sites after initially allowing access to the Internet in 1999. The increase in Arab Internet users in 2001 saw both restrictions on access and cen­sorship of the Internet grow stronger once more (World Markets Research Centre, 2002).

The brakes on knowledge demand that have been cited here will be further discussed in Chapter 8, which addresses the political and legal contexts of knowledge.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: KNOWLEDGE, HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND THE KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY IN ARAB COUNTRIES 47

About the journey towards the knowledge society



The following chapters of the report outline a cognitive journey that follows the contours of the conceptual framework briefly introduced in this chapter, a few of whose most important aspects were highlighted in their relationship to history and the Arab reality. The destination of this jour­ney is a strategic vision for building the knowledge society in the region. This vision identifies the landmarks of societal reform, which precede the establishment of the knowledge society in Arab countries (Chapter Nine). The journey to this destination passes through two waypoints. The first (Chapters Two - Five) is an assessment of the present state of knowledge acquisition, dissemina­tion and production, in Arab countries at the beginning of the 21st century. The second (Chapters Six - Eight) is an analysis of the features of the societal context affecting knowledge acquisition in the region at the present time, which considers culture, socio-economic structures and politics. Emphasis is placed on guaranteeing freedom under the rule of law, and the discussion culminates in a survey of the regional and international environment for knowledge acquisition.

48 ARAB HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT 2003

2014-07-19 18:44
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