Fundamentally, the answer would have to be no. In fact, it is one of the most endemic problems facing many developing countries, and particularly those in the Middle East. Faced with external threats and internal strife, bonded by the vestiges of colonialism, the inhibition of discourse and exchange is a systemic problem. The problem has been highlighted a number of times, never as clearly as the UNDP Human Development Report for the Arab world starting in 2002. At the outset, fostering a necessary level of interaction, requires a knowledgeable population firstly that has the literacy to pursue interactions, be they cultural, academic, economic, social, political or otherwise, and secondly an economy that is managed well enough to allow for trade, and industrial and economic collaboration and learning.
The Arab world specifically has failed to deliver on this promise. A telling graph is that of Egypt and South Korea's economic development. In 1968, Egypt's GDP per capita (in this graph nominal) both in nominal an real terms exceeded that of South Korea. Yet, since that time it has been a story of opposite directions, as the graph demonstrates. Today Egypt's economy is still in its primitive stage, and the population as a whole whole is unprepared to participate in a global knowledge-based economy, given the level of only 71% having basic literacy.
It is easy to dwell on the past and castigate the socialist policies of Gemal Abdelnasser or the inert leadership of Hosni Mubarak. It is harder to contemplate what needs to be done in order for 'ideas to have sex' in the Arab world, and to a large extent, many Muslim developing countries. Yet, a starting point has to be literacy and enrollment in education. This is an issue I will revisit in this blog, but let me leave you with a stark excerpt from the Arab Knowledge Report of 2009:
Many key problems still form a major obstacle to the establishment of the knowledge society [in the Arab world], perhaps the most prominent among them being continuing illiteracy. Around one third of the adult population is unable to read and write, meaning that there are still some 60 million illiterate people in the Arab countries, two-thirds of them women, and almost 9 million children of elementary-school age outside school, most of them in the countries that have not solved the illiteracy problem. It is impossible to realise the ambition of setting up the knowledge economy and society as long as the regional gross enrolment ratio in upper secondary education remains below 55 per cent for males and females alike, when the industrially advanced states and those of Central Asia have achieved enrolment rates around 84 per cent.