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A shining example for the Muslim world
By Mohammed A.R. Galadari

20 September 2006

IT IS not every day that we get to celebrate the achievements of people from the Muslim world. This is why the shining example of Anousheh Ansari, the Iranian born US entrepreneur, who has become the first female space tourist is so heartening. More heartening is the fact that she is the first Muslim and first Muslim woman to go into space. Ms Ansari blasted her way into space aboard Russian Soyuz TMA-9 capsule from Baikonur, Kazakhstan on Monday.

Dear readers, it is indeed heart-warming and uplifting to see this craving and hunger for knowledge and excellence in a Muslim woman. She paid $25 million to realise her childhood dream of exploring space. There are lessons in this for all of us in the Muslim world. After all, how many Muslims can spend 10 per cent of their fortune in the pursuit of knowledge and education?

The life of Anousheh Ansari is a truly inspiring tale of following a dream through sheer hard work, commitment and infinite confidence in one’s ability to achieve the goals in one’s sight. She was born in pre-Revolution Iran and migrated to the US after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Anousheh has talked of how as a child growing up in Iran and later studying in the US, she always dreamed of going into space and exploring its infinite grandeur. Focused on her dream, she grew up to be an electronics engineer. But her life dramatically changed only when she persuaded her husband to set up a telecommunications company of their own in 1993. The Texas-based company grew to employ 250 people and was later sold for a huge fortune of several hundred dollars in 2000. The Ansaris even contributed $10 million to set up the now famous Ansari prize that is given each year for novel space exploration initiatives.

Today, Anousheh Ansari is understandably as proud of her Iranian-Islamic roots as she is of her American legacy. This is why she insisted on sporting both US and Iranian flags on her space suit, pointing out to the contribution the two countries - ironically now at loggerheads with each other - have made to her life and career.

This is as fascinating as it gets. This is perhaps why they say fact is stranger than fiction. The amazing life and career of Anousheh Ansari are also a tribute to the great American dream. Without doubt, it was the decision of her parents to migrate to the US that played a vital role in taking her to the heights of her career. It would not have been possible, if she had not taken that flight to America.

This is precisely why the US has always been seen as the most favourite destination of all dream chasers from around the world. This is what American dream is all about. If you have talent and willingness to demonstrate it, nothing can stop you from realising your dream.

This is not to belittle or underestimate the great achievement of Anousheh herself. All credit for her success of course goes to herself. If she had not chased her dream and objective tirelessly and relentlessly, she would not have achieved her goal.

This also goes to prove that there is no dearth of talent amidst us. If provided right conditions and enough opportunities, people anywhere can excel in any area. I say this with particular reference to Arabs and Muslims. Not long ago, the Muslims not only excelled in science, mathematics, medicine, astronomy and all other branches of scientific pursuit, they provided leadership in these to the rest of the world. How Europe and other parts of the world heavily borrowed and learnt from the Arabs and Muslims until the Western Renaissance is hardly a secret.

Even today the Muslims can excel, just as Anousheh Ansari has, in the pursuit of knowledge and scientific and technological research, if only their countries and host societies can nurture and harness this talent.

Unfortunately, just as a general decay has set in most of the Muslim world over the past couple of centuries, the culture of knowledge has died too. Who knows how many Anousheh Ansaris there are in today’s Iran? And who knows how many Anousheh Ansaris there are in the rest of the Muslim world - waiting to be discovered by their respective societies? We may never know, if we do not change our collective attitude to knowledge and scientific inquiry.

Bush’s return to a cause

THE speech that President Bush gave to the UN General Assembly was, I must say, excellent. I wish he gave such a speech at the start of his second term in office.

Dear readers, notably, Bush expressed optimism about the progress of democracy in the Middle East, a push that he had resolved to undertake in his second term in office, and yet a push that many thought he has left half way through, and, a push which, in the least, lost its momentum in the past two years or so. His eminent emphasis on the theme at the UN address yesterday would give us the impression that he is still serious about that pursuit.

And, when he referred to the Palestinian crisis, he made it a point to take a balanced and realistic view of the situation—that, the Palestinian people have been forced to endure “daily humiliation” because of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory; and that, on the other hand, the Palestinians have suffered from decades of corruption and violence.

In the matter of Middle East democracy, it was often felt that Bush’s advisers had convinced him that it was better to deal with “the devils you know (the dictators) than the devils you do not know (those opposed to the dictators)”. Now, in his speech, however, Bush has made it clear that he does not subscribe anymore to his advisers’ view in this respect. “The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage”, he said, adding that, instead, the region had “become a breeding ground for terror”. The situation remained, as he had said in the past as well, one of hopelessness, where people felt they had no good future.

“We know that when people have a voice in their future, they are less likely to blow themselves up in suicide attacks. We know that when leaders are accountable to their people, they are more likely to seek national greatness in the achievements of their citizens, rather than in terror and conquest. So, we must stand with democratic leaders and moderate reformers across the broader Middle East... America and our coalition partners will continue to stand with the democratic government you elected...and working together, we will help your democracy succeed”, was how he put it.

As I had told you, dear readers, when  Bush started his second term, he gave promises, which he failed to fulfill.  Instead, he linked Islam with terror, and distorted the meaning of the war on terror itself. Religion, as I often pointed out in this column, has nothing to do with terror. If he had missed this point, I had thought that he would at least push for democracy and reforms for the region. Had he done so, it would have made a major difference, most importantly to the so-called republics, where people live in want and misery.

His perceived failure in this respect apart, his speech yesterday gives the impression that he is again serious about this pursuit, and he wants to promote the cause of democracy even in stable entities in the region. Significantly, this is the first time that he has, in this context, brought up the names country by country.

Well, if  Bush is really serious about this, I am sure he will get wide support from the region, including from the media and the Muslim intellectuals.

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