Wednesday, October 16

Billions and Billions - Pablo pointed me to this BBC item on the re-opening, after 17 centuries, of the library at Alexandria in Egypt. I happened to catch a similar piece in April's Smithsonian Magazine. The story takes me back to adolescence, when I was a big fan of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series on PBS. The show featured a recreation of the original library both to depict the remarkable ancient knowledge of astronomy once catalogued there as well as portray the immense loss to civilization when it was burned.

The timing and symbolism of the re-opening are notable, since the rise of Al-Qaeda has reinvigorated a dialogue about the ability of Muslim nations to overcome their backwardness and rise to modern levels of education and culture. While the Islamofascists scapegoat the West and its "satans," some enlightened leaders of the Muslim world are engaging in the kind of constructive self-criticism that could help revive a part of the world that has failed to keep pace since Renaissance in Europe. It is a much more positive development than the sort of political correctness and moral relativism that typically ensnares Western elite debate about other cultures. However, the question remains whether such criticism can maintain itself in the face of authoritarian governments such as Egypt's, which has censored the contents of the new library. Some argue that the poor and illiterate masses of the Muslim world don't have the political maturity to handle such open debate, but without it, one wonders if they will ever advance. It's a chicken-and-egg problem that the West took many centuries to struggle through.