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Avoiding the woke trap will make the Middle East’s society stronger

Omar Al-Ubaydli

Published: Updated:

As the Middle East continues to develop, one outcome we should steadfastly avoid is woke culture, defined as “alertness to discrimination.” It will impede the process of diagnosing and solving our problems because it undermines objective scientific inquiry.

Arabs are six percent of the world’s population but have won one science Nobel Prize out of almost 600. As an Arab, I find this anomaly troubling and regard reversing it as a practical problem to solve.

If I were woke, I would attribute this anomaly to anti-Arab racism by the Nobel committee. Accordingly, the solution would be a combination of Arab quotas on Nobel prizes and social pressure campaigns against anyone seeking an alternative explanation for the anomaly.

Fortunately, as an Arab living in a non-woke country, I can still use rigorous methods to understand the anomaly and propose scientifically-based remedies. With a large enough research budget, here is a selection of questions I would seek to answer.

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First, according to the quantitative criteria used to select Nobel Prize winners (citation rates), are Arabs well-represented? If not, that suggests a problem with the pipeline rather than committee-level discrimination. In that case, trying to fix it by focusing on the top might be counterproductive because it will involve giving underqualified Arabs Nobel prizes, which could reinforce negative stereotypes against them.

Second, do we give Arab scientists the tools required to produce world-class research? Or do they have to go to a Western country and surrender their Arab nationality? This suggests that funding and freedom of scientific inquiry might be part of the problem.

Third, how does the pool of young Arabs choosing scientific careers versus other careers compare to Western countries? If the best become scientists in the US, while elites choose civil service in Arab countries, that suggests a talent allocation problem.

Fortunately for Arabs, one of the advantages of being behind the curve politically and socially is that when you are catching up, you can choose the system you want to emulate and avoid some of the errors that inevitably arise when you are on the cutting edge. (File photo: Reuters)
Fortunately for Arabs, one of the advantages of being behind the curve politically and socially is that when you are catching up, you can choose the system you want to emulate and avoid some of the errors that inevitably arise when you are on the cutting edge. (File photo: Reuters)

There are many more important questions I would look to answer, as policymakers have finite resources to effect changes. They need to know where best to allocate their limited means to address the problem of poor performance in Nobel prizes.

I am confident that anti-Arab sentiment is part of the problem. When I go to international conferences, I feel that people don’t take me seriously, especially as a Gulf Arab who – to many Westerners – is nothing more than a nouveau riche Bedouin. If my suspicion is true, then Arabs need to make people aware of the discrimination they face, including shaming those who overtly practice it.

However, as an Arab living in an Arab country, I am incredibly confident that the underrepresentation of Arabs in science Nobel prizes goes well beyond discrimination and that scientific inquiry is central to providing a definitive solution.
Unfortunately, the woke community in the West would reject my proposed research stream, affirming that the problem is exclusively caused by bigotry. They would welcome scientific papers that reinforced this view and reject as prejudiced ones that contradicted it.

For example, suppose I developed a method for objectively measuring the quality of a scientific paper before its publication. Since journal publication decisions should be exclusively based on quality, I could use this method to detect anti-Arab discrimination.

I can predict with a high degree of certainty that leading Western scientific journals would only publish my paper if they found evidence of discrimination. This is where woke culture becomes so damaging: people’s growing anti-science sentiment is partially caused by the scientific community’s unscientific behavior regarding woke issues. In areas such as climate change and discrimination, scientists are being forced to be unscientific, and this process is killing the goose that lays the golden eggs: scientific inquiry.

As a citizen of the Middle East, one related phenomenon that I have seen that woke culture rejects is strategic victimhood. Some people consciously manufacture spurious claims of discrimination to get ahead or avoid having to take responsibility for an error. I don’t know if this happens in the UK and US, but I know it happens in my region. A scientific inquiry could help but woke culture won’t investigate such possibilities.

Typically, Arab journalists like me have to write carefully, lest we upset powerful groups, while our Western counterparts can write freely. Yet, when it comes to wokeness, bizarrely, the shoe is on the other foot. I know that many of my American and British friends agree with this article but are too scared to even hit the “like” button on my Facebook post.

Fortunately for Arabs, one of the advantages of being behind the curve politically and socially is that when you are catching up, you can choose the system you want to emulate and avoid some of the errors that inevitably arise when you are on the cutting edge. To me, wokeness is a grave error that we must avoid. Thankfully, countries like France and Germany show that it is still possible to be politically and socially progressive and address discrimination without succumbing to woke culture.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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