Whoever writes the headlines at Forbes, wrote a clever one for Tunku Varadarajan's column today about Muntader-al-Zaidi, the Arab journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush during the President's recent joint press conference in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, "The Arab Sole". Below is a brief excerpt from Varadarajan's column:
The Arabs, who once upon a time boasted Averroes and Avicenna, are now reduced to eulogizing a boorish act of agitprop as a heroic achievement. America gave us Martin Luther King; South Africa gave us Mandela; India gave us Gandhi; the Arab world gives us ... Muntader-al-Zaidi. A people who invented the zero are now reduced, themselves, to zero. Only a people who live under the boots of their rulers celebrate the throwing of a shoe at a guest.
A commenter on Varadarajan's column on Forbes's website objected that zero was actually invented by the Hindus. According to Scientific American's take on this question, by former Harvard professor of mathematics Robert Kaplan ("What is the origin of zero? How did we indicate nothingness before zero?"),
The first recorded zero appeared in Mesopotamia around 3 B.C. The Mayans invented it independently circa 4 A.D. It was later devised in India in the mid-fifth century, spread to Cambodia near the end of the seventh century, and into China and the Islamic countries at the end of the eighth. Zero reached western Europe in the 12th century.
The symbol changed over time as positional notation (for which zero was crucial), made its way to the Babylonian empire and from there to India, via the Greeks (in whose own culture zero made a late and only occasional appearance; the Romans had no trace of it at all). Arab merchants brought the zero they found in India to the West.