Interview About House of Wisdom 2.0

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Within Ideas beyond Borders, there is the initiative for translation on amass scale in the long term. What is the project? How are you executing it? Why is it important?

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar: The name of the project is the House of Wisdom or Bayt al-Hikma 2.0. I will start with the last question. It is something that needs to be highlighted. The Arabic language is one of the least languages translated to. There was a report from the UN in 2002.

He said that there are more books translated to Spanish in one year than into Arabic in 1,000 years. Maybe, the statistics have change. There have been recent statistics from the MIT language Lab. It is probably now 700 to 1 [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Mutar: Things are progressing. It represents a really big problem. There have been reports and this has been verified by numerous people. Books like Mein Kempf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are some of the bestsellers in the Arab world. That also bothers me.

I think that the dictators and Islamists and authoritarian regimes have been trying to shelter the Arab speaking world from being exposed to the ideas of human rights, women’s rights, of scientific development, because they do not want to be challenged.

Now, with the existence of the internet, there is a huge opportunity to spread these ideas into the Arab speaking world. I have done research on many of the social media pages that exist in the region speaking on science and human rights.

Combined, it is up to 40 million people. What that confirms is that there is a huge curiosity within many of the young population new ideas, I think many of these young people will be exposed to some of these ideas.

That itself can build some sort of view that the world is not black and white. That itself can build a counternarrative to extremism. Extremism flourishes on this idea that the world is black and white. There are good guys and bad guys.

People are being exposed to all of these uncertain types of ideas. Many of them are dangerous. We are trying to provide these good ideas a platform. It is necessary of multiple levels. From a purely educational level, it is important for students to be exposed to different ideas and make up their minds.

Also, it is important to provide a platform to give a different counternarrative to the extremists. Also, we are working for the legal rights of the authors. We are lucky there are authors like Steven Pinker, Maajid Nawaz, Sam Harris, and others, decided not to take any money for this, they really care about the cause.

Dr. Nadia Owediat, Academic Advisor

Academic Advisor

Dr. Oweidat is currently an Assistant Professor at Kansas State University, teaching classes on Islamic thought and history and security of the modern Middle East. She is also a Non-Residential Fellow at New America where she conducts research on countering violent extremism and agents of positive change in the Arab world. Dr. Oweidat, originally from Jordan, obtained a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies, focusing on Arab and Islamic thought, from the University of Oxford in 2014. Nadia has a BA from the University of Jordan in Arabic and English literature and an MA from the University of Wyoming in International Studies, with a focus on the Middle East. Prior to starting her D.Phil., Dr. Oweidat worked for several years as a research associate at the RAND Corporation in Washington DC, leading research into Arab language publications promoting tolerance and critical thinking. She also led research including analysis of the Egyptian reform movement Kefaya, the early history of al-Qaeda, salafi jihadi networks, insurgent strategies in Iraq, Iranian influence in the Arab world and the radicalization of Muslim youth.

Dr. Oweidat has appeared on various Arabic and English networks including BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera Arabic, Al-Arabiyya, BBC Arabic and National Public Radio. Most recently she was on BBC Arabic for an hour in Dunyana (Our World) show. She also participates in symposiums and speaking engagements around the world.

Dan R. Johnson, Board Member

Daniel R Johnson

Treasurer

Daniel is the Chairman and CEO of American Financial Systems and AFS Securities. He founded both companies, as well as Deferral.com, LLC (a FINRA-registered broker-dealer) and several other companies in Argentina and Mexico, all of which specialize in software or consulting with respect to the optimal funding or on-line administration of non-qualified benefit plans (409A Plans in the US).

With a background in chemistry, immunology, music, and theology/philosophy, Dan studied Japanese and East Asian economics and then business economics at Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (HGSAS). Fluent in Japanese, he has lived in East Asia and Latin America and has published research in fields from cellular immunology to finance. Dan has served many years on the Graduate School Alumni Association Council at Harvard, and frequently travels to GSAS global outreach events. He has also been an appointed director for the academic graduate school and served for many years on the Continuing Education Committee of the Harvard Alumni Association. Besides his degrees from Harvard, Dan also holds a Master’s of divinity degree and has had a life-long interest in the complex interactions of science, religious beliefs, politics, economics and the personal search for truth.

Aaron Louis, Vice-Chairman

Aaron is currently the Director of Audio Visual at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), on the Board of Directors at 3-Legged Dog Media + Theater Group, and a freelance Producer.

Producer credits include, Think Inc.’s new documentary, ISLAM AND THE FUTURE OF TOLERANCE, featuring Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz. The full feature documentary is directed by Jay Shapiro, co-directed by Desh Amila, and Produced by Desh Amila, Suzi Jamil, and Aaron Louis.

Past Producer credits include a co-production with BAM and WNYC for RadioLoveFest entitled ISLAMOPHOBIA: A CONVERSATION, a panel debate moderated by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer. Aaron was formerly the Producing Director at 3LD Art & Technology Center where credits include 3LD’s co-production with The Public Theater of THE HUMAN SCALE, written/performed by Pulitzer Prize-winning Lawrence Wright, directed by Oskar Eustis (2010 New Yorker Festival); MAKING UP THE TRUTH, written/performed by “This American Life” regular Jack Hitt; SPY GARBO, the Drama Desk-nominated off-Broadway production directed by Kevin Cunningham; and the off-Broadway run of Marielle Heller’s THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL, directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde and Rachel Eckerling, now a major motion picture.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, President & Founder

Faisal is an Iraqi-born award-winning counter extremism advocate, satirist, and speaker. He is an advocate for Universal Human Rights, enlightenment values and the free market of ideas, and is enthusiastic about the intersection of technology and advocacy. He is also the founder of multiple online platforms that together have more than 400,000 subscribers and millions of visitors.

He previously worked as a program manager for the Middle East and North Africa to assist dissidents in closed societies worldwide. In 2015, Faisal received the “President’s Volunteer Service Award” from President Barack Obama for his special commitment to education.

Faisal Al Mutar has been quoted in publications like The New York Times, CNN, The Cornell Review, BBC World News, The Spectator , The Guardian,  the Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Arab American News, ,The Islamic Monthly, World Policy Institute, WYNC,, Pakistan Today, The Nation (Pakistan), Your Middle East, Radio France International.

He has been invited to speak at venues such as Aspen Ideas Festival, Harvard University, Stanford University, Columbia University and many others to share his experiences and knowledge about living under and countering extremist organizations and dictatorships in the middle east.