The Islamist's Dream Obituary
by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET)
October 14, 2011
What would you do differently in life had you the benefit of reading your own obituary before you died? Such an event was instrumental in changing the world’s perception of a man who died 115 years ago.
The Nobel Prize, named for Alfred Nobel in 1901, was established by him to honor those exhibiting tremendous creativity in the sciences and other fields. At the time of his death in 1896, Nobel held 355 patents—most notably for dynamite. Interestingly, his decision to will his vast fortune—an amount equal to 250 million in today’s dollars—for this purpose arose only after he read his own obituary!
Eight years before Nobel’s death, his brother died in France. Under the mistaken belief it was Alfred, a French newspaper wrote the inventor’s obituary. Claiming “the merchant of death was dead,” the article went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." The comments disheartened Nobel, causing him to reflect on the legacy he would leave behind.
Originally, five Nobel prizes were awarded annually for discoveries in the fields of physical science, chemistry, medical science or physiology; for literary work “in an ideal direction;” and for rendering the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity—i.e., peace. A sixth category was established in 2001 at the request of Noble’s great grandnephew to recognize the economic sciences as well.
A key reason for Nobel’s success as an inventor stemmed from his education. Born in Sweden, he studied in the United States. He spoke six languages, which sharpened his creative skills as he had access to an abundance of information. Coming from a fairly open society, he enjoyed the many freedoms necessary to stimulate one’s creative spirit in the search for knowledge.
It should come as no surprise that throughout the history of the awards, the greater number of Nobel Prize recipients have come from societies inspiring greater creativity—i.e., those possessing greater human right freedoms. Nor should it be surprising that many such recipients come from two countries where human right freedoms reign paramount—Israel and the US. It is expected, therefore, that those societies least tolerant of human rights and least open to information access will continue to yield the fewest Nobel Prize recipients.
Interesting too is that the Nobel Prize category where most awardees appear, representing the least tolerant societies, is the category requiring the least amount of creativity. The sciences require major discoveries, such as 2011 Nobel Prize in chemistry recipient Israeli Dan Shechtman’s research leading to a new chemical structure (quasicrystals). They recognize awardees for contributions made over an entire career rather than a single year. Not to take anything away from the Nobel Peace Prize (which this year, very deservedly, went to a Yemeni and two Liberian women for their fight for equality in male-oriented societies), but this is where most of the least tolerant societies leave their mark as less creative talent is required. Historically, this award is to make a political statement. Some less tolerant society nominees, such as Adolf Hitler in 1939 (later withdrawn), and some awardees, such as Yasser Arafat in 1994, demonstrate how ludicrous some nominations can be.
It is interesting to compare two societies representing the extremes of tolerance, such as Israel, and intolerance, such as the Muslim world, and examine the number of Nobel Prize recipients each has generated. An analysis of the period 1948—the year Israel was established—through 2010 is revealing. Today, the population of the Muslim world outnumbers Israel’s by a ratio of about 230-to-1; yet there are more Israeli than Muslim Nobel Prize recipients. And, if one factors in non-Israeli Jewish recipients as well from the inception of the Nobel Prize in 1901, the figures become even more pronounced in favor of tolerant states.
This is imbalance is not a fluke created by the Nobel Prize committee selection process. It is borne out as well in examining a clear indicator of any society’s creativity—the number of patents its citizens file. Taking the period of 1980-2000 and comparing the number of patents filed in an evolving democracy such as South Korea to those filed by the Arab block with a population six times greater, Korea held over 15,000 patents while the Arab block recorded a mere 400—only 45 more patents than Nobel filed in a lifetime.
What is sad is that the contributions to mankind reflected by the Nobel Prizes might be much more balanced if the award process went back centuries in time. During the 8th through 15th centuries, Islam was known for its tolerance, when it bestowed, what Nobel intended centuries later with his Prize, “the greatest benefit on mankind.”
It was an era when Islam made its greatest contributions to mankind in a range of fields—mathematics, science, astronomy, agriculture, architecture, music, etc. It was an era when Islam nurtured the quest for learning and information access. It was an era when, the Prophet Muhammad’s words, “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr” were given their true meaning.
There is irony in the fact while tolerant societies have nurtured the creativity evidenced by the large number of Jewish and American Nobel Prize recipients contributing to the betterment of mankind during the 20th and 21st centuries, less tolerant societies have succeeded in using the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as a tool for claiming just the opposite. Created in 2006, the UNHRC has been obsessed with condemning Israel—on which more than 80% of its country specific resolutions focus—while ignoring much worse human rights violations elsewhere. In 2010, Israel was cited six times more than the brutal regimes of North Korea and Sudan. The UNHRC has also targeted the US. The hypocrisy evident in naming two countries yielding so many Nobel Prize recipients is understandable when one considers it is the less tolerant states, yielding so few recipients, which control UNHRC’s vote.
Ali Saleh, a Muslim terrorist, depicted in clouds in his obituary in the Summer 2011 edition of Al Qaeda’s “Inspire” magazine.
Unfortunately, there is one area in which Muslims excel in creativity. A Nobel Prize for Creatively Hiding Explosives would win nominations for Richard Reid (the 2001 shoe bomber); Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the 2009 underwear bomber); Abdullah Hassan Tali al-Asiri who, in 2009, sought to kill Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef by detonating an explosive device hidden in his rectum; and Mohammad Masoom who, using what is becoming a popular tactic in Afghanistan, hid an IED is his turban to assassinate former Afghanistan president Burhanuddin Rabbani last month.
Having read his premature obituary, Alfred Nobel was concerned enough about the personal legacy he might leave behind to change it. Ironically, while he sought to distance himself from an obituary accusing him of “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before,” it is just such a legacy and obituary the Islamist dreams about leaving behind.