A WHILE ago, I came across a story of the world renowned physicist Albert Einstein. The story dates back to 1922 when Einstein was invited to visit Japan to give lectures after receiving the news that he won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
While he was in his room, the hotel’s bellboy made a delivery to him. It is not clear if the bellboy refused to take Einstein’s tip or that he couldn’t be tipped because Einstein didn’t have small change. Nonetheless, it seems that Einstein was keen to tip the bellboy. He hence wrote a note to him, and handed it to him, saying, “If you are lucky, this paper may be valuable.”
In 2017, that is 95 years after that incident, one of the nephews of that bellboy called an auction house and offered to put up that note for sale. That piece of paper was sold for $1.5 million. The auctioneer read out the note, which said, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”
This is perhaps the best tribute to a scientist who left a great impact on humanity. However, the contrary happened with the Iraqi Professor Abdul Jabbar Abdullah who was one of the four students taught by Einstein at the Massachusetts Institute in the United States.
After graduating and returning to Iraq, Abdullah assumed the presidency of the University of Baghdad in 1958. When Abdul-Karim Qasim overthrew the authority in 1963, this great physicist was among those who were arrested at that time with several cadres, politicians, professors and military personnel.
One of the inmates in the prison where Abdullah was placed for about a year revealed that Abdullah was always immersed in his meditations, and sometimes his tears would fall. One day he gathered enough courage to ask him why he was crying.
The great Iraqi scientist replied, “When the National Guard came to arrest me, one of them slapped me and knocked me to the ground. He then searched my pockets and took what I had. Among the items they had taken was an ink pen that Albert Einstein gave me on the day I received my doctorate, which he had signed with that pen. It was a beautiful ruby pen, and I only used it to sign the doctorate degrees of my students at the University of Baghdad. What hurt me was not the slap or the humiliating arrest, but that the one who slapped me was one of my students!”
While the Japanese bellboy honored Einstein and kept the note safe for his grandchildren such that it eventually became an item of treasure in appreciation of science and scientists, the Iraqi men of power insulted and humiliated Iraq and Arab’s Einstein and broke his pen. They turned their backs on science and education, and instead focused on creating a generation obsessed with singing, football and amusement that neither nourishes nor avails hunger and thirst, apart from contributing to the collapse of the nation.
I remembered this story when I met the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi during his visit to Kuwait recently. I wanted to narrate it to him, and then ask him if he sees any hope in changing the Arab situation, particularly the Iraqi situation. I wanted to ask about the current position of that nation – where scholars are humiliated and a student slaps his teacher – among the nations.
Our Arab reality has not changed from what it was in the era of military coups. In 2017 when Einstein’s note was sold, the World Summit of Governments was held in Dubai. On that day, the Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and the Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid listed shocking figures about the Arab situation.
He said, “There are more than 410 million Arabs, including 57 million who do not know how to read and write. About 13.5 million children are not attending school this year (2017), and 30 million live below the poverty line, to which eight percent is added annually. The cost of corruption is one trillion dollars. There are five Arab countries in the list of the ten most corrupt countries in the world. Although the Arab world represents five percent of the world’s population, it witnesses 45 percent of terrorist attacks globally.
Almost 75 percent of the refugees globally are Arabs, and 68 percent of people who die in wars globally are Arabs. At a time when Arabs produce only 20,000 books annually, a country like Romania surpasses them in this number. Arabs own only 2,900 patents, while 50 million Koreans have 2,201 patents. During the period between 2011 and 2017, 14 million Arabs were displaced, and the number of people killed in war reached 1.4 million. At that stage also, the losses of infrastructural destruction in the Arab countries amounted to about $ 460 billion, and the losses of GDP between 2011 and 2017 amounted to $ 300 billion.”
Unfortunately, not all of the aforementioned calamities have changed the Arab mentality. There are still many who ask, “Are you a Christian or a Muslim?” and “Are you a Sunni or a Shiite?”
There is no doubt that such a nation is held accountable for its intentions. The authorities in most of these countries search the minds of citizens for forbidden dreams, and are preoccupied with the creeds and sects of its citizens; it is a nation that other nations laugh at for its ignorance.
Therefore, doesn’t this make us furious and sad at the same time when we think about our situation that is brought by the evil retrogressive authoritarian mentality, which made us live in fear of falling into massacre orgies organized by ignorant people who made the nation of readers drown in illiteracy, superstition and sorcery?
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times