When the scientific renaissance started in the Islamic world with the flow of missions to European countries such as France then Britain, Germany and the rest of the European countries and later to the United States of America, a number of Arab researchers and scientists knowledgeable about these countries emerged. However, we (as Arabs) have not invested in this knowledge the right way as we have not established research centers to deepen our understanding of Western peoples and their civilization. To the contrary, we remained dependent on them in both the intellectual and cultural fields. In addition to this, translation hasn’t been activated the way it should. The United Nations report about Human Development in the Arab World has mentioned that the works translated yearly in Greece alone are equal to those translated yearly in the whole Arab world.
Throughout the last few years, calls for intercultural dialogue have been intensifying, and we are strongly required to engage in these dialogues. However, there is a missing dimension in our dialogue with other cultures, namely the severe lack in the Arab world of specialized cadres in the other countries’ studies. Rare are the scientific centers and departments dedicated for regional studies.
This paper presents samples about other countries’ experiences in regional studies. It also gives an idea about the other peoples, their culture, history and civilizations throughout three parts. The first one is dedicated to the European and American experiences. The second one is dedicated to the Asian experiences and the third tackles the need in Arab countries for these studies and the capacities to pursue them.
Experiences of European countries and the United States
The British experience
Arab studies started in Britain since the middle of the seventeenth century with the establishment of the Arabic language chair in both Cambridge and Oxford universities in 1632 and 1636 A.D. However, in the 20th century, the importance attached to this subject intensified especially after the parliament ratified the importance of establishing a big center dedicated to other peoples’ and nations’ studies in London, namely at the University of London. For this reason, the School of Oriental and African Studies was established, becoming one of the biggest Middle Eastern studies centers in the world. Even after the British Empire’s recession, the British people kept attaching an importance to knowing about other peoples and cultures. For this reason, the British government established a committee to study the country’s needs for specialists in Oriental, African, Eastern European and Slavic studies in 1947 headed by the Earl of Scarborough.
When the British government noticed that the world situation had changed and that it should reconsider its need for these studies, it created another governmental committee in 1961 under the presidency of Sir William Hayter to examine the situation of the Oriental, Eastern European, Slavic and Northern African studies. Among the recommendations of this committee is benefiting from the American experience in the field of regional studies. The report states that: “regional studies offer a new kind of organization supported by the institutions and the government that play an important part in establishing this branch of knowledge”(Parker, 1986, 85). The report also mentions that these centers or departments receive huge financial support to carry out research, scientific travels and publications, and that they possess influence to attract personalities that are capable of carrying out fruitful research. The British government continued giving importance to regional studies, and established a committee headed by Sir Peter Parker that presented its report in February 1986. This report mentioned that despite the decrease in British political influence, the successive British governments saw the importance of preserving a global foreign policy. In addition to this, it noted that Britain depended then more than any time before, on world trade. For example, when the report was published, Britain’s exports represented 33% of its GDP while they didn’t exceed 20% of its GDP 20 years earlier. If Britain was to preserve its status on the international level, it should keep on attaching importance to language and regional studies (Parker, 1986, 3).
Britain and the United States studies
People’s studies in Britain are not only limited to Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies but extend to Chinese studies for example. Britain also attaches an importance to the United States studies. It has in fact established an institute affiliated with the University of London where a Masters’ program includes the following courses: Immigration and racism in the United States between 1820 and 1880, US constitutional history until the middle of the nineteenth century, Hollywood and the History of popular American movies and Foreign American policy after the end of the Cold War.