23 March, 2010

Nai Subh - Science and Technology

Rajinder Sachar Committee has convincingly brought out the pathetic state of the Indian Muslim community. This column has presented no flattering picture of the Muslims worldwide either. While the Govt of India should – and may – take steps to uplift the lot of the average Indian Muslim, it is largely left to the community itself to introspect and act.

This column is an honest attempt towards self empowerment. Thus far we have discussed the condition and the myths perpetuating this. We are currently discussing harsh realities – recognitions – we need to reckon with as prerequisite to a corrective course.

The material for this column is largely derived from the author’s Urdu audio presentation, KHITAB, available from SPRAT .
In the previous issue we presented some basic everyday facts that we sampled our mohalla clergymen did not know. In this issue we shall discuss other scientific facts whose vast implications even some of our secular knowledgeable ones do not fully appreciate, although they may be reading about them in the daily papers.

Lack of appreciation of the importance of science is a tragedy whose true impact will be felt over the decades to come. Knowledgeable Muslims are deeply worried at the irreversible damage this is causing Muslims. How damaging, exactly?
Deepening Gulf

Let us consider some examples: Suppose Zaid and Jacob both have a poor eye-sight, but Jacob has got powered glasses. Who will be able to see better? If, similarly, both have a hearing problem which Jacob was able to resolve with a hearing aid, who will hear better? Or suppose they both have to examine minute objects and only Jacob has a microscope. Who will be able to detect the reality of tiny objects? Or if Jacob and Zaid need to look far, far into space but Zaid doesn’t have a telescope that Jacob has. Who will unravel the mysteries of space?

That Zaid will not be able to see or hear as well as Jacob is clear. But that Zaid will never know of the existence of microorganisms like bacteria, distant objects like galaxies, quasars and pulsars is often not so clear. That Jacob is far ahead of Zaid in knowledge today is obvious, but that this knowledge gap is going to rise in geometrical proportions is not so obvious.
For this let us assume that Zaid and Jacob, both equally industrious, start off together for, say, Powerland, but on a camel and in a car, respectively traveling at 30 and 90 KMs an hour. That within 24 hrs Zaid will lag 1440 KMs behind Jacob is understandable. But in a month they will be 45,000 KMs – and in a year 5.36 Lakh KMs – apart will appear astonishing. By the turn of the century Jacob will leave Zaid 53 Million KMs behind! That car is science and that monumental distance symbolizes the differences in perceptions, world-view, general advancement and productivity.

Marvels of Science

Science knowledge is increasing rapidly. The scientific advances of our century equal that of entire four million-year human history. Our scientific knowledge is poised to nearly double every decade. Those that are deprived of science today will be truly unfortunate. They are simply unable to fathom the true impact of epoch-making developments happening around them. Ask how many of us truly understand the implications of the following:

· Scientists can now reckon with entities as wide as a light year and as tiny as one millionth part of a centimeter and see objects as far as a million light years away.

· Chip technology uses Laser beam, that flashes 10 billion times a sec

· Parents can now determine the sex of the child, and cure quite a few genetic ailments inside the mother’s belly

· Mother’s infertility can be overcome through test tube birth or IVF. With womb-hiring working or sick mothers are having their babies born through foster mothers. Over 50,000 such babies are today alive and kicking.

· Plastic surgery can change / correct facial features. Entire jaw can now be replaced.

· Human genome project facilitated DNA mapping with vast implications.

· Cloning technique already creates exact twins for animals, without the help of parents. Theoretically it is now possible to clone human beings through somatic cell nuclear transfer [SCNT]. Remember Dolly the sheep?

· Robots can now smell, see, hear, talk, walk and partially “think”.

· Carbon dating and DNA unravels events that occurred millions of years ago. For instance a 4.4 million year old human ancestor has been discovered.

· If human landing on moon has not impressed, man has set up a permanent space-station in orbit, landed a robot on mars that is collecting and analyzing samples and images; Galileo probe has crossed the boundaries of solar system; Hubble telescope is sending from space fantastic images of visible universe. Several black-holes, galaxies, pulsars, “solar systems” and even planets have been discovered.

· Computing revolution is affecting every facet of our life; Internet and the World Wide Web are changing the way we worked, earned, enjoyed. Incredible new opportunities for comfort and empowerment are rapidly emerging. Simultaneously old trades are dying out rendering lakhs unemployed.

· Controlled nuclear reaction is both extremely promising and also threatening our very survival.

· Theories like the Relativity, Big Bang and Cosmic String Theory have profoundly affected our understanding of the world and philosophy of life.

· Researches in human behaviour, cognitive development, neural science advances, brain mapping etc. are offering incredible possibilities for understanding the sources of our joys, ambition, hate, pain and preferences, besides curing many mental ailments.

Is This True?
Not all of this may seem true to the uninitiated. They can look at the opposite. Isn’t it true, for instance, that today we find far fewer miracles and miracle makers, black magic, ghost houses, the witch and the Jinn? In ailments one may go to the Peer saheb / Bapu, but where does he go? Whose numbers are rising? Bapus’ or doctors’? Who do you wish your child to become, a miracle maker or a doctor?

In everyday life much has changed and is changing at a breathtaking speed. Your mobile model of last month is outdated by several new, exciting features this month. I can write and print this entire article without touching the keyboard, thanks to voice recognition programme. Scientists can guide surgical operations on patients thousands of miles away. Prof Kewin Warwick demonstrated how man can command machines merely by “thinking” through brain-computer connectivity [Cyborg]

Giant machines have been made that enable making gigantic buildings, bridges, roads and bigger machines. Floating airports and sky-cities no more remain the realm of fiction. Man has indeed traveled a long way from learning to ignite a fire and inventing the wheel!

A Question of Survival

So what is the point of all this? Simple: science and technology engulf our very existence. Their march is unstoppable, inevitable. We have only one choice: to embrace these willingly. The alternative is a caveman’s existence!

We need to recognize the harsh truth that unless steps are taken urgently to promote science learning and scientific temper, we will be forgotten. It is a historic cruelty that when a community becomes weak its heritage and ideology decay and die. Remember that Islam expanded as the temporal power of Muslims grew. The converse was proved, for instance, when in Gujarat mosques and dargahs were razed, Quraan was desecrated, Muslims brutalized.. and the culprits openly prided themselves for this. Even for Islam to survive in 21st century Muslims must be powerful. And this power flows from knowledge, specially of science and technology.

Science in Daily Life

How does this appreciation of science affect our daily life, improve our lot? What does a common Muslim have to gain from marvels of science?

SPRAT had occasions to survey large Muslim ghettos for health and employment. Vast pools of stagnant waters and slush were common. Several of them, ironically, were entirely manageable without the help of the municipality. Not the lack of resources as much as that of awareness of the health hazards was the culprit.
Most Muslim localities still had a sizeable presence of bapus’ and peer-sahibs that routinely write some “wazeefa” on non-sanitized paper which is swallowed by the patients. Last year one of SPRAT's CARAVAN Empowerment centres was able to save two infants that were suffering from severe dehydration and became critically sick after such stuff was forced down their throats. In the name of “jin ka saya” [shadow of a jinn] a lot of otherwise normal psychiatric patients are being chained or being mercilessly beaten by “ghost-removers”, wasting precious time of treatment, and being rendered incurable.

Computerized garages have already displaced thousands of Muslim automobile mechanics that did not grow with time. Hundreds of old crafts – such as Zari, embroidery, bharatkari brassware, locksmith et al – are being rapidly taken over by machines that make better and cheaper products. A downtown Chinese market should convince you of the potential damage to Muslim economy. After all, our everyday produce is not quality-perfect to fetch boutique pricing. In Ahmedabad alone we estimate thousands of families to be rendered workless due to this onslaught of technology.

Contrast this with the possibility of a Muslim scientific research institute that looked around for the latest in low cost technologies and promoted their use to improve manufacturing processes and to create new opportunities. CSIR labs such as botanical and leather research laboratories provide such useful intervention virtually for free.

Consider promoting tiny industries making products such as domestic use gadgets, toys and decoration pieces using bones, leather, plasma, small electronic components etc. Indeed how about a research institute that merely studied and cautioned the community about trades and crafts that are apt to die out soon? SPRAT itself wishes to promote a finishing school for our hereditarily trained craftsmen to be retrained in the use of modern accessories and design.



? Is it true that “Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabi Bahu Thi” is a popular TV show in Afghanistan?

£ Yes, it is dubbed in the vernacular. Shows that seeking entertainment – in whatever form one can afford – is inherent to human nature and cannot be subjugated for long.

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