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Preface to the paperback edition

Magdi Youssef
2021 / 3 / 14

 

How necessary is it to counter the present lack of balanced international cultural and scientific exchange?  That is the central question raised by this book. I think that it is implicitly or explicitly dealt with in various ways by all of its authors, eminent scholars engaged in the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, who object at the same time to the present, seemingly modern obsession with abstract research. It is an obsession that is driven by a competitive desire to surpass the latest findings of each discipline. And in fact, it is undeniable that this desire and this obsession is actually encouraged and rewarded in many ways by scientific institutions, state organizations, and also by the Nobel Prize. But it has produced the result that such research has turned away from rational consideration of the real needs of the majority of the populations of each of the world’s specific socio-cultures. Not only did it scarcely lead to the expected benefits that humanity was promised, but it also had such disastrous results as the tragedies that the world witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We all know that quantum theory and the theory of relativity that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century have unwillingly been preconditions of ensuing applications of nuclear energy in the forties and its well-known abuses.
It was not by chance that both research developments in the natural sciences took place between the two devastating world wars that occurred in the 20th century. It is not right, however, to be as pessimistic with regard to scientific research as Friedrich Dürrenmatt was in his play The  Physicists in which he portrayed Einstein, referred to ‘by himself’ as ‘Ernst Heinrich Ernesti,’ and his fellow researchers as a danger to humanity, so that they should be banned from society and kept  behind bars like dangerous wild animals. When springing from the concrete needs of peacefully interacting and mutually learning populations, the discovery of the laws of nature would only be beneficial to these populations, whereas it is obvious that such research concerning the laws of nature may lead to exactly the opposite result, that of the invention of new tools of waging war, when it is tackled in times of conflicts between peoples and populations. Bearing this in mind would constitute a code of ethics in research that is unfortunately not as yet implemented either nationally or internationally. Such an ethical code would help to promote a rational orientation of scientific research in place of every “Hippocratic oath” that is merely formally respected and yet disregarded in actual research practice in favour of the market-oriented promotion of commodities, or else indirectly heading towards satisfying such quests by merely attempting to surpass the “roof” of the hitherto achieved results of research. 
It is clear, however, that any effort aiming at the implementation of research that would be genuinely concerned about the necessity of satisfying the real needs of the majority of each of the world’s populations, must begin with a survey of the priorities of concrete local communities. This is a primordial task if we attempt to identify the main research problems that need to be resolved, and we should stick to such an approach instead of leaving the identification and definition of research problems to the prevalent, market-oriented mechanisms, or to an even more abstract tendency that encourages the perennial attempt to merely challenge and surpass the latest findings of research in a given discipline. 
Thus the alternative model presented in this book is based on reconsideration of the generalized norms and existing results of research worldwide by starting from the everyday usages and needs of the different local communities of the world which vary from those that are continually produced today by the forces of so-called globalization and reflected, as well as caused, by today’s globalized norms and the equally globalized research results they have occasioned. 
The study of Professor M. Raouf Hamed, at the outset of this book, clarifies the suggested approach that is so necessary today. It started out from the food consumption habits of the Libyan population when retesting and at the same time challenging the then dominant scientific assumptions concerning treatment of ulcers. Its findings were long rejected by the international scientific community, especially in the Eurocentric West, but they are now standard knowledge. His approach that combined reflection of local needs and local knowledge in the field of pharmacological research posed a theoretically and practically fundamental challenge to the established paradigm of globalized pharmacology, and it is therefore exemplary. Such a critical reception of otherness, as occurred when his European peers acknowledged his findings, cannot but benefit both the receiving and the received research community and their future research results whereas it never leads to any detrimental effects whatsoever, let alone conflicts between peoples and populations worldwide.   
The problems inscribed in an approach to research that remains stuck in the internal structure and logic of each discipline without considering the way research is situated in historically evolved socio-cultural contexts and faced with the needs of concrete populations in given historical periods are addressed both epistemologically and socio-culturally in this book which features concrete research in five different disciplines that are representative of all modern specializations. 
The common research approach of the five contributions presented in this volume stems from the questions posed by a specific socio-culture in its attempts to better adapt to the primary nature and to develop, at the same time, its own solutions and options with regard to the secondary (social) one. However, this does not mean at all that one would start from scratch. On the contrary! It is critically important that one would compare one’s own socio-cultural inventions with those achieved in other cultures worldwide, which would include the latest findings of research on an international scale; yet in doing so, it matters to start in the first place from the specific socio-cultural needs of local populations, as manifested in the respective attempts to find satisfactory solutions for the majority of these peacefully living populations that should be the source and recipient of truly relevant scientific advance.
This particular point of departure leads researchers to different, and indeed significant results when compared to those typically achieved today in the modern West, while we note that the western ones are nonetheless disseminated worldwide and regarded as ‘the only’ serious approach’ applicable to the solving of problems. But when the dominant western approach severs research from its supposed link to the real needs of the majority of the populations of each of the world’s socio-cultures, this has disastrous consequences that parallel those inscribed in the mechanisms of a world market that appears today, more than ever, totally oblivious of the real needs of all human societies and thus of both mankind and the ecological system as such, no matter how Adam Smith tries to justify said contradiction. 
The one-sided orientation of the dominant Western cultural mode of production and the dissemination of its research methods, research questions and research results in the “rest of the world” did not save other modern disciplines from having the same ‘destiny’ that modern physics had and continues to have, due its contradictory and even destructive potential that results from its presently dominant, one-sided orientation. The question is whether this phenomenon is healthy at all for World cultural exchange when it is obviously suppressing the particular ways of dealing with nature that each socio-culture has developed in the course of its own history.
We must add to this sceptical observation the well-known fact that the young and the middle-aged generations in many, if not most non-western countries desert their own millennial local traditions and legacies and head instead for an identification with the world market and its consumption-oriented ways of life. With the passing away of the older generations in non-Western societies, millennial legacies of local solutions and wisdoms vanish, thus leading to an impoverishment of World culture. This explains why UNESCO is concerned about those perishing old cultural legacies while trying to document them as far as it can. 
The devastating effect of the present worldwide, West-centric World-market orientation has affected research in almost all modern disciplines today. 
By presenting significant examples of research conducted in the Arab world that draws on local knowledge and respects local needs, this book provides an alternative example for other  marginalized socio-cultures that is overwhelmed by the dominant West-centrism and its worldwide effects, including those marginalized cultures that are located in the West itself, like the Irish socio-culture that has largely given up its own language and therefore, a main trait of its specific cultural identity, while identifying its “self” with the characteristic features that are dominant in the World market today. Even though some of the most prominent contributions to 20th century English literature have been made by the Irish genius, we may ask whether it is not rather questionable that not a single play in the Irish language was performed during the Irish theatre festivals of the mid-nineties, when I happened to witness these festivals and questioned it while conversing with Seamus Heaney at the time, who literally answered me by asking: “That’s a point?” Apart from recognizing this sad predicament of “Irish literature in the national language” that was already struggled with by no lesser man than James Joyce – and thus noting an estranged cultural reality that is undoubtedly linked to an unconditional openness towards the World-market, we must ask whether this did not occur at the cost of accepting the connected inability of meeting the real needs of the majority of the Irish population. The same question should of course be asked when old and venerated languages have been pushed aside by the language of former colonial powers in many countries of the world, thus most visibly (and audibly) in Africa and South Asia.  
It is clear that real needs have to be first surveyed, before one attempts to meet them by relying on the respective research that can and must be undertaken  in all disciplines, and thus by way of the means provided by the natural sciences,  but also by relying on socio-scientific research, and on the important contribution that all the artistic genres including the theatre can make.
Whereas the present book should not be taken literally as a ‘recipe’ with regard to any project that might tackle problems comparable to those identified with respect to the Irish example, we may ask whether it could present a starting point for a discussion of such issues as I have raised with respect to modern Irish society and its history of colonization by the British, or with respect to similarly marginalized entities and their social histories. And this from a decolonising standpoint, as was noted already by some Italian researchers at La Sapienza University in Rome who saw a tendency of “decolonizazione” in my work when discussing for instance my contributions on ‘’Arab Fairy-Tales in Disney-Times’’ and on ‘’the Myth of European Literature.’’ (1)
In concluding, we may ask ourselves whether the above alternative propositions that I offered with regard to a more rational and socially responsible research approach that appears to be necessary in all modern disciplines, would be worthy of an open-minded discussion and thorough verification attempt by those researchers who are really concerned about reaching out to the recipients of their research and its consequences. At the end of the day, these recipients constitute at any rate the majority of the world’s populations. And therefore, we should probably ask ourselves as researchers, as concerned scientists and responsible scholars, whether we must not finally engage in a serious and honest attempt to satisfy their sheer needs of overcoming whatever impedes them from reaping and enjoying the progress of research locally as well as internationally. But would this endeavour not compel us to finally develop a more acute awareness of the objective difference of each of the peacefully interacting socio-cultures that exists with regard to the way they are dealing with nature and everyday life?
With this book we hope to encourage all presently marginalized socio-cultures worldwide to follow suit and present their own research contributions that emanate from their awareness of  specific real needs of populations and specific societal practices that are based on a long history of interaction with nature – thus demonstrating a novel approach that entails reconsideration of the present West-centric research practices and their still dominating presence on the international scientific stage. By challenging widely unquestioned research results that ignore specificities and contribute to uncritical global homogenization (as an outcome of the dominant effects of world market dynamics and politico-economic interests of powerful “global players”), they would achieve nothing less than setting up “a new Bandung” of scientific discoveries worldwide.  To this end I have set up the book series “ Towards a Really Rational World Culture’’ while hoping to see soon its next volumes presenting in the same vein the Black-African, the Indian, the Irish, the Chinese, the Thai etc contributions to World culture in representative examples of all disciplines.
Magdi Youssef
[email protected]
Cairo/Dublin, September 2019.
 
1)      Cf: Il mito della letteratura europea, as well as : La letteratura europea vista dagli altri, both books edited by Franca Sinopoli and published by Meltemi Editore in Rom in 1999 and 2003; Una storia diversa by Armando Gnici, Rom, 2001, along with a host of papers of Italian scholars citing my study: I racconti de favole nel mondo arabo contemporaneo, which is being  published in full text at the website of Univerista la Sapienza in Rom  .




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