Bill Gates arrived in India amid much pomp and a great deal of show. He was given a "head of state" welcome. Such a welcome accorded to him is not new or strange. A few weeks ago he was in Europe where he met with the heads of governments and other important people. Often, not only captains of business and industry but officials, politicians and bureaucrats went out of their way to woo "William the Conqueror" as he is sometimes referred to.
The baby-face features of Bill Gates have been on magazine covers for years. A dropout from Harvard, Gates was reportedly taken to a psychologist by his mother when he was 11. She was disturbed by his laconic disposition.
Nowadays, wherever Bill Gates goes, he makes an impact. In India his visit is hailed as one of the most important events in recent history. In the United States, Bill Gates is viewed by many as equal to, if not more important than, President Bill Clinton.
He is a phenomenon, said a Gulf businessman who has followed Gates' career.
Can we Arabs have one like him? The answer is yes. There may be a dozen Bill Gateses around, but have they been discovered? And what creates them? I believe those societies which values thought, innovation and creativity produce people like Gates.
For instance, there was no stigma attached to his leaving school. There was no disgrace in not getting a college degree - unlike the craze that exists here in our part of the world nowadays. Everyone wants to be a "doktoor" or "Bash Mohandis." We end up with mediocre people because the focus is on degree and not the person. A lot of these people would be better off identifying themselves with some genuine pursuit.
Society's attitude to the individual, his aspirations, needs and goals and the chance of society's allowing these to be reached without let or hindrance make a difference. In the West, which we all love to deride, talent is encouraged. Here we stamp out the creative urges of the individual. What also holds us back is the regimentation of society. People have to be conformists. While one would agree that a semblance of order is needed, the cloning of behavior stunts an individual's capacity to brainstorm and spew out ideas that help society. It is therefore important that we educate ourselves, not just to read and write, but most importantly, to think.
Islam lays much emphasis on logic and reason. However, "Ijtihad" itself is blocked. Voices dim down any individual requests for ideas.
In many homes children are seen not heard. These are not Dickensian times, but even he would have been aghast at the attitude of elders to young people.
An important factor also is the belief in, and trust in, peoples ideas and dreams. We need to cultivate this.
As for the authorities and the bureaucracy it will be to society's benefit if they do not view the rise of people like Bill Gates with suspicions. Unfortunately, we in the Gulf have more than our share of envy. If some one is seen rising, there are many tongues that wag. It seems those who are mediocre get sadistic delight in trying to pull down the successful ones. In America people love heroes. And heroes need not be officials or government figures. They can emerge from any level of society. This is the beauty of that society - a classless one wherein success comes to all those who persevere.