Arabs abhor the U.S. government—but they admire American science
and technology. We should use our labs as common ground.
Is Science the Key to the Middle East?
By Brent M. Eastwood -
Polling data from
the Middle East usually centers on angry views about the U.S.
and its foreign policy. No surprise there. However, one segment
of American society stands out—the Islamic world has very
favorable views of U.S. science and technology, its colleges and
universities, and American research and development
A 2004 Arab American Institute/Zogby International survey found
that 90 percent of those surveyed in Morocco, 83 percent in
Jordan, 52 percent in Lebanon, and 84 percent in the United Arab
Emirates have positive views about U.S. science and technology.
John Zogby, of Zogby International, along with the U.S.
Department of State and higher-education leaders see this as an
opportunity to increase U.S. goodwill and help win the war of
ideas in the Islamic world.
“This area is a valuable exportable commodity for the U.S. and
it can help form a positive American footprint for mutually
recognized needs between America and the Islamic world,” said
Zogby points toward a recent United Nations Development Program
(UNDP) report written by Arabs who admitted that the Middle East
will have difficulty overcoming its current “backwardness” in
science and technology. The blistering report cited the region’s
lack of intellectual development and its deficiencies in modern
research infrastructure, even decrying the lack of books in the
Islamic world. Zogby says political leadership in countries such
as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and Qatar remains authoritarian in
nature, but these same leaders are enlightened when it comes to
the need to educate the middle class and restore the Middle East
to parity and even leadership in science and technology.
“We closely poll an Islamic group called the ‘Young Arab
Leaders’ who are under 40, educated, reform-minded, and
cosmopolitan. This group is embittered about U.S. foreign
policy, but when we ask what would empower them to help lead
governmental and societal reform in the Middle East, they say
the ‘U.S. higher-education system,’ The U.S. is number one in
their minds in this area.”
Tom Farrell, of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education
and Cultural Affairs, says this high regard for American
universities and science and technology is paramount in the
Fulbright scholar exchange program for scientists and engineers
from the Middle East.
“Exchange programs are a significant part of our public
diplomacy efforts. Arab exchange scholars in science and
technology fields can make up their own mind about the U.S. They
learn that Americans have a deep sense of civic action,
volunteerism, and community service. They learn an aspect of
society building that is transferable to their home country’s
reform efforts,” said Farrell.
The State Department also has a program for Middle East
Fulbright students who are specifically interested in becoming
science and technology entrepreneurs. “From Lab to Market,” a
seminar held in San Jose, California in 2006, brought together
applied science laboratories, technology firms such as Symantec
and Applied Micro Devices (AMD), and venture capitalists with
visiting Middle Eastern students. The State Department believes
“From Lab to Market” is a practical application for increasing
entrepreneurship and economic development in the Middle East and
in other countries around the world. Under Secretary of State
Karen Hughes has also announced a new Fulbright Science and
Technology Scholarship available to Middle Eastern students for
study in the U.S. It is designed to maintain the U.S. as
destination of choice for international students interested in
science and technology.
The Islamic world has very favorable views of U.S. science and
technology.American higher education is also taking
collaborative research and development to the Middle East. The
Qatar Science and Technology Park hosts a business incubator and
conducts technology transfer projects from American universities
in the adjoining “Education City.” This area houses branch
campuses in Qatar from Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown,
Texas A&M, and Virginia Commonwealth.
Texas A&M at Qatar (TAMUQ) has four different undergraduate
engineering programs in electrical, chemical, mechanical, and
petroleum engineering. Dr. Mark H. Weichold, Dean and CEO of
TAMUQ, says his school’s joint research programs bring together
students and researchers from the U.S. and Middle East to solve
difficult problems in engineering. The TAMUQ program will begin
in the Fall of 2007 and possible collaborative research projects
include areas such as reservoir stimulation, down hole data
transfer, telecommunications, and water quality.
“The joint research and education programs will also bring
together students and researchers in ways that will begin to
bridge differences in backgrounds and cultures. We see success
in these aspects of the research programs as being equally
valuable as the solutions to engineering problems. National
security issues will be addressed in these research programs in
exactly the same manner that they are addressed as if the
research were conducted in the U.S.,” said Dr. Weichold.
Terrorism and counter-terrorism researchers generally agree on
the need for these types of collaborative programs, but not all
agree on how effective they are or how, if at all, public
diplomacy efforts in science and technology are part of an
overarching strategy for the Middle East. As the General
Accounting Office reported in 2005, inconsistencies in the U.S.
message to Muslims undermine the “efficiency and effectiveness
of government wide public diplomacy efforts.” Science and
technology policy is an area where the U.S. appears to have won
some battles in the Islamic World, but the war of ideas there is
far from over.
Brent M. Eastwood is an Adjunct Professor at George Mason
University School of Public Policy. He is also President of
Personal Identity Solutions Inc., a biometrics firm in Northern