My friend and astound American academic researcher, Mark Lynch, always drives me jealous; not a month goes by without him preparing for a series workshop, a scientific, or academic forum in the United States, on the developments and transitions the Arab region is going through.
The last of these conferences —currently being set, is one on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East, organised by the International Studies Organisation in March. And as you go through the forum’s schedule, you are dizzied by the scale of proposed topics and the specialists who prepared papers to discuss, like: International Relations Theory and a Changing Middle East; issues of conflict, peace, and regional security; religion and secularism in the current stage; ethnic conflict and the Kurdish situation; the Middle East in transition; On Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and Iran; the issue of refugees… as well as other thoroughly critical political, security, social, strategic, conceptual, and anthropological issues.
Moreover, some days ago, I was reviewing headline titles of an important conference held by the Barry Rubin Centre in Israel about the future of the Arab region and the implications of current changes on regional security and Israeli positions from these developing scenarios, as well as how to deal with them.
Some readers would say we too hold such forums in Jordan and across the Arab world. And that is true, but there is a fundamental qualitative differentiation, if we are to be honest; first, the level, depth, and professionalism of these papers, and of the raised questions —whether theoretical or practical, in regards to current events. Aspects of the sort, relative to research expertise. The second difference lies in the concrete importance of these conference, and the degree to which their conclusions and recommendations are considered by decision makers and translated into actual policies and approaches.
Researchers, specialists, and research centres around the world are not considered secondary or complimentary political and epistemological instruments in the eyes of decision makers, economists, and statesmen of the west and other industrial and democratic countries, unlike the way they are viewed here; because they fully realise that knowledge is imperative to making sound political and economic decisions, to understanding internal and societal questions, and to grasp and analyse the crises and challenges on the table.
An important factor to the Arab researcher’s lack of adequate and thorough research expertise and specialist capacities is that they are generally ignored and side-lined by decision makers on many levels. Researchers and specialists are like a sports team you have prepared and trained, but then remained on the benches as all they have learnt and the skills they have developed whither with time.
In the Arab World, Jordan Included, officials and politicians feel superior to required studies, research, and expertise, and feel they do not need research and study centres, because each one of them is equipped with more knowledge than those specialised in their fields.
People, citizens —mind you, similarly; a considerable portion of them, base their judgements, positions, and views on individual predisposed assumptions in total disregard to specialty and expertise. Which is why conspiracy theories spread and we see politicians discussing massive events with outstanding conclusive superficiality. Because they do not contemplate concise concrete knowledge about events surrounding them, neither the knowledge we produce nor that which is produced by others. We have a problem of impotent reading and an essential problem with knowledge.
If we do not produce deep concise knowledge about ourselves and our societies, if academic research is such a farfetched consideration, and if we continue to insist on ignoring the value of scientific research, we will keep going in circles —indefinitely; without ever understanding ourselves, our societies, or events around us, let alone the world!