Meanwhile, Muslims – who, if you haven’t heard it lately, number somewhere around 1.5 billion, a good 25% of the planet’s population – have racked up only two Nobel Prizes in the sciences. One of these winners, Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail, got his Ph.D. in the U.S., where he’s also done most of his research. The other, the late physicist Abdus Salam, who studied in Britain and spent much of his career outside of his native Pakistan, wouldn’t even count as a Muslim in the eyes of most adherents of that religion, since he belonged to the relatively peaceable, tolerant, and civilized Ahmadiyya sect, whose members are (in Pakistan and many other Islamic countries) officially considered infidels and are the subjects of brutal persecution.
Last week, in an article for the Times of Israel, an Irish writer named Derek Hopper noted that when two Israelis, Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt, were announced as the winners of this year’s chemistry prize, it was “the fourth time Israelis have won it since 2004.” (Warshel is also a U.S. citizen, while Levitt holds U.S., U.K., and Israeli passports; their co-winner, Martin Karplus, a citizen of both the U.S. and Austria, is Jewish too, having fled the Holocaust at age eight on the Ile de France.) Hopper took the occasion to offer some pointed comments on the increasingly widespread boycotting of Israeli products by Western consumers. The thrust of his remarks was straightforward: while it’s easy enough to forgo Israeli potatoes or olives, truly sincere and consistent haters of Israel should also elect not to avail themselves of the innumerable medical, scientific, and technological advances that have come out of the Jewish state in the last few years – more than a few of which have saved lives – and should declare in advance, moreover, their refusal to make use of any of the (very likely) even more remarkable discoveries and developments that Israeli scientists will be giving to the world in the years ahead. (Hopper might well have mentioned in this context Stephen Hawking, whose announcement last May of his support for an academic boycott of Israel was followed hard upon by the revelation that the very system he employs to communicate such pronouncements runs on an Israeli-designed computer chip.)
To Hopper’s spot-on call for ideological consistency on the part of Israel-haters I would add a single modest observation: namely, that it’s not entirely fair to measure Israeli or Jewish success against Muslim success on the basis of achievements in a handful of categories like chemistry and physics, which, from a certain perspective, may seem almost arbitrarily chosen to tilt the scales in favor of countries like Israel and against, say, Yemen. Such a narrow view of civilizational accomplishment is quite simply (as anyone with a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern or postcolonial studies could explain to you at length) culturally biased – founded on a callous indifference to the distinctive strengths and values of Islamic civilization and an unjust propensity to exalt all things Western. And that this prejudice is perpetrated in the name of Alfred Nobel, of all people, is particularly egregious, given that it was Nobel, after all, who invented dynamite. And let’s face it: if there’s one area of expertise in which Islamic culture has distinguished itself in recent decades, it’s the field of explosives.
So why not an annual Nobel Prize for, say, the most innovative, imaginative, and/or effective use of explosives? Granted, such an accolade wasn’t provided for in Nobel’s will, but then again neither was the award for economics, which didn’t come into being until 1969. Imagine the harvest that Muslims would have reaped in Stockholm over the decades if there’d been an Explosives Prize! It’s enough to blow your mind (no pun intended). In recent years, the category would’ve been a clean sweep for the Islamic world. Think of all the Muslim boys and girls who – but for the shortsightedness of the Swedish Academy – would’ve been inspired to make their own mark on society by such prominent recognition of their ambitious coreligionists!
It’s not too late to repair the damage, however. Why not get this thing off the ground right away? The criteria are easy enough to work out. Some prizes could be bestowed for outstanding specific accomplishments, such as the bombings in and around Atocha station in Madrid in March 2004 and the London bombings of June 2005, both of which demonstrated impressive timing and coordination, not to mention, of course, all-around ruthlessness and brutality. Other prizes could be presented to those responsible for particularly creative, if not ultimately successful, efforts – such as “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, whose December 2001 attempt to blow up a plane from Paris to Miami didn’t quite come off, ingenious and bloodthirsty though it unquestionably was. Or the award could be given for a body of work, such as that of the southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, which is considered to be responsible for a wide range of significant actions over a period of many years, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing, the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta, the 2005 Bali bombings, and the 2009 Jakarta bombings. Clearly, we’re speaking here of an award category that’s long overdue, given the Kingdom of Sweden’s otherwise manifestly wholehearted commitment to cultural relativism, especially in regard to Islam.
To be sure, although the Nobel Prizes are governed by time-honored procedural rules, some of them would have to be altered slightly in order to account for the distinctive nature of this new decoration. For example, it’s not permitted to award Nobel Prizes posthumously, but an exception would have to be made in the case of the Explosives Prize, because to do otherwise would be to unfairly exclude from consideration the many gifted suicide bombers who have done so much important work in the field. Similarly, while the Nobel laureates in every category but the Peace Prize are presented with their medals and diplomas at a lavish royal ceremony in the heart of Stockholm, Swedish authorities might well find it more advisable, in the case of this honor, to hold the awards ceremony in, say, an open field well outside the city center, and to have a well-trained bomb squad on hand instead of the royal family. But these minor adjustments would be well worth the gain in social justice and in global respect for the true scale of Islamic accomplishment that the introduction of the Explosives Prize would secure.
Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book “The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind” is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.
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