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ISIL: The “Bastard” Son of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism

September 7, 2014

ISIS is the acronym for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, aka ISIL for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Levant is the ancient area covering Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, as well as some parts of Cyprus, in the past, and now the name is analogous to Syria alone. And recently, after the declaration of Caliphate in Mosul/Iraq, ISIL has been reduced to IS, denoting the Islamic State. The Arabic acronym for ISIL is DAESH.

Who are they?

ISIL consists of two Sunni Muslim Takfiri groups ((Takfiri is an Arabic term akin to a Muslim who accuses another Muslim (or a member of any Abrahamic religions) of apostasy)). These groups are located on the Iraqi/Syrian border; one on Iraqi side and another on the Syrian side. The two jihad militias originally defected from Al-Qaeda on the wake of the second Gulf War, precisely after the onset of the Syrian civil war and its chaotic aftermath. These two groups united to form a single power that shares an ideology based on the literal interpretation of the holy book, Quran, and the tradition of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. The goal of this unity was to rebuild the Islamic Caliphate and resurrect the defunct empire system, walking on the footsteps of their ancestors, to pick up where they’ve left off in conquering the world and spreading the Islamic faith by the sword, as they religiously believe to be their duty.

Ever since the dissolution of the Ottoman empire in 1923, and its dissection into smaller regions with boarders drawn by imperial and colonial powers, and the establishment of  laws to govern the citizenry and  the sovereignty of each region, Arab and Muslim tribes who were used to the nomadic style of inhibiting a mainly vast land, where they roamed freely without any restrictions or laws, were constantly  prompted by their politicians, who saw opportunities of power and wealth, to rebuild their empire under a national flag or a common identity that united them, seizing every opportunity to become a world power.

In the process, the biggest two ideologies emerged; one was the Arab Nationalism, aka Pan-Arabism; a socialist movement that espoused the unification of all the countries that spoke the Arabic language, spreading from North Africa to West Asia; from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea. This movement gained gigantic popularity that exceeded all expectations in the 1950’s and the 1960’s among Arabs. The other movement was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB); a discrete, fraternity style, and religiopolitical group with a goal that extended beyond Arabism, seeking Muslim unity for the purpose of rebuilding the Islamic empire. And although the latter movement predated the former, where it was founded in 1928; a mere five years period after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it didn’t resonate much with the Arabs, at the beginning, as did Pan-Arabism movement.

In comparison, there were also other smaller and more localized movements. One of these was the Arab Nationalist group, aka Arab Ba’ath socialist party or movement, which was founded by the Syrian activists Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar in 1947. This movement espoused a unified Arab state with the motto, “Unity, Liberty, and Socialism.” Its main declared objective was to fight against imperialism. And although this movement found fertile grounds in Syria and Iraq, (Both Bashar al-Assad and his father before him, as well as Saddam Hussein, were members of this party), it never had the chance to spread beyond that region. A main reason for that, I believe, is because of the infamous reputation of the party in terminating its opponents; their history is replete with bloody assassinations.

Another movement was the Wahhabi movement, aka Salafism (literally translated as the ways of the ancestors); a radical, orthodox and religiously zealot Islamic movement, with an ideology based on the literal interpretation of the scripture and the tradition of Muhammad, handed down by Ibn Taymiyyah (1328-1263).  It was founded by a ruthless Jihadi warlord with the name of Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, hence the name of the group, in the eighteenth century Arabian Peninsula. The objective of this movement was to subjugate all Muslims under the power of the sword to rebuild the Islamic Caliphate, imposing the Salafi cult’s ideology, and annihilating all who they deem dissenters of Islam, as they find ordained by their doctrine of faith.

But when this movement, for many reasons, failed to sprawl beyond its boundaries, it remained localized in Saudi Arabia, especially after the alliance of Muhammad ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, who was then the head of one of many tribes in the area, with Abd al-Wahab. Realizing the power of such ideology in recruiting members of other tribes, Ibn Saud grabbed the opportunity to establish his kingdom, hence the name. In return Abdb al-Wahab got to enforce the Hanbali school of Fiqh, which is the laws of Sharia according to Ahmad Bin Hambal, in Saudi Arabia (Sunni sect is governed by four schools of Figh; Hanbali, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanafi.) This unity formed the basin that cultivated the vanguards of faith out of each and every citizen, whose first duty became to forbid any sign of modernity, like smoking cigarettes, or practicing “mythical rituals” such as visiting cemeteries, and consider them blasphemous or even idolatry.

All these ideologies held a natural resentment to colonialism and imperialism, this hate was later extended to include capitalism. Or in other words, everything that the West represents. And although the Arab Nationalism, or Pan-Arabism trend, was short lived, especially after the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis, and the controversial opinions it raised amid Arab and Muslim peoples, the Islamic movements gradually prospered, mainly because of the region’s monarchs’ alliance with the Islamist groups, not as much for the ruler’s orthodoxy or reverence, but to ward off the threat of socialist power that was stretching its limbs beyond the boundaries of these countries. The alliance with Islamist groups was the monarch’s mean to stop the crazy spread of the Pan-Arabism as an ideology in their countries; they assessed, rightly, that nothing can defeat an ideology but a counter ideology.

This alliance proved ruthlessly effective in sustaining political Islam in the region particularly when the GCC countries ( acronym for the Gulf Cooperation Council, consisting of the six oil-rich countries on the Arabian/Persian Gulf; Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), gave safe haven to MB members who fled Egypt in the sixties, after being hammered down by the then Pan-Arabism leader and Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdel-Naser, who fiercely fought to weed all his MB opponents out by killing some, imprisoning some, and causing others to flee for their lives. These countries, upon their monarchs’ orders, not only gave the fleeing MBs money and lodging, they also widely opened the doors of all government institutions for them. This included state education facilities and school curriculum, jurisdiction and courts, finance ministries, oil and banks (Islamic banks became the tycoons that threatened other banks), the official media of the State, as well as successive  endowment ministries, through which welfare is monitored and distributed, without any auditing by its part. And before they knew it, their locally sowed seeds of MBs, grew and climbed the social ladder to the second class in these countries after the monarchs, competing with the merchants’ class.

But up until the Afghan War against the Soviet Union, the MBs and Salafis were kept under control, especially because they are considered the traditional opponents, in competition within the same Sunni sect. Their rivalry is so fierce that if left alone, they’d sure annihilate one another. But the war in Afghanistan united them against a common enemy that both had no doubt about its infidelity, and whose destruction as kafir (atheist) is ordained by Quran, regardless of the sect or faction. And so the MB members, led by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, joined forces with the Salafis, led by Osama Bin Laden, and the two groups formed a power that got military training and logistics from the United States, financed by the GCC countries to wage wars by insurgents from all Arab and Muslim volunteers, who were steered to become Mujahideen, before being veered from their path to attack their mentors.

There is an Arabic proverb that goes like, “An intelligent foe is better than a dumb friend.” And when the United States used the Islamist groups to fight its proxy war between the then two super powers in Afghanistan, and drafted the Arab and Muslim Mujahideen (who most of them were losers in their countries), in cooperation with the GCC monarchs and GCC people’s donations to fight the atheist Russia, neither she, nor the GCC leaders, or even the well-meaning peoples of the region knew that the world has to pay a dear price at the consequence of creating Frankenstein, who’d soon turn against them and cause much more misery to humankind.

For the first time in the Islamic history the two fronts of MB and Salafis unite to fight side-by-side as Mujahideen, enjoying power, money, men and military-gear, as well as the universal approval and heroic cheer. If by this freshly acquired power they were able, in no time, to dissolve a superpower and break it down to its smaller components in 1991, what can, then, obstruct their path to fulfill their prophecy of rebuilding the Islamic Caliphate, especially that they got legitimacy from the Islamic scripture to fight evil, impersonated by the West and the GCC leaders, who allowed for the existence of the unclean American military bases on the holy land of the Arab Peninsula, in the first Gulf war to liberate Kuwait in 1991?

After their initial dispersion upon their victory in Afghanistan, some of the Mujahideen returned back to their countries and created small cells preaching the Salafi ideology and the military strategy of jihad in the footsteps of Bin-Laden.  Others migrated to the West, who adopted them in its philanthropy programs after being expelled from their own home towns. Although in diaspora, these ex-Mujahideen managed to create their own cells, using mosques and madrasas (Islamic schools) that the Saudi Arabian king built for them in Europe, mainly to get them occupied in preaching, and to ward off their danger. Soon these cells regrouped again under the organization of Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the rhetoric of Bin Laden, hence, Al-Qaeda was born.

This power had its mastermind on Afghanistan/Pakistan Boarder, and its cells all over the world (Shabab in Somalia, Boco Haram in Nigeria, Al-Nusrah in Syria, and so forth.) But it gained more strength after the end of the second Gulf War in 2003, when some Sunni individuals in the defeated Saddam Hussein’s armed forces and republican guards joined Al-Qaeda.

Finding themselves suddenly without jobs or lodges after an eight year war period with Iran (1980-1988), and seven months invasion of Kuwait (2 Aug.1990- 28 Feb. 1991), the Sunni troops in the 100 thousand Iraqi armed forces under the toppled Saddam Hussein regime became easy prey for Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda presented a tool for the Sunnis of Iraq, through which they hoped to regain power in Iraq, after being systematically excluded by the Shiite authoritarian Government. It also gave pro-Saddam individuals the chance to avenge the West that defeated them. And the opportunity was up for grabs, especially after the break of the civil war in Syria and the chaos it created, facilitating the recruitment of the Syrian insurgents to join Al-Nusrah from the bordering Iraqi cell in their battle against the rebels as well as the Alawites.

These murky waters in Syria provided the fertile ground for ISIL to grow. The unity of the Iraqi and the Syrian Al-Qaeda cells created a power that prompted them to dissect from their mentors and form a sovereignty, especially after seizing the northern areas bordering the two countries and pillaging more than 500 million dollars from the Iraqi Christian-dominated city of Mosul. ISIL then removed the borders, declared the onset of the Islamic state, and announced the Syrian historical city of Al-Rigah as its capital.

What facilitated this union is the fact that both the Iraqi and the Syrian cells have common natural roots in Al-Bath ideology, sharing its bloody ways in terminating their opponents. And when the leaders of ISIL felt that they could dispose of Al-Qaeda, they did, but not before acquiring its strategic style in world-wide organization and blatantly using religious rhetoric to subjugate people and drag them in their lust for acquisitiveness.

Why do these movements succeed in raising public support?

Today we witness the ISIL flags on streets all over the world; Arab networks and social sites are replete with the symbol of Raba’a (a black colored hand, raising four fingers with the thumb resting on the palm, against a yellow background. It was popularized after toppling Morsi, in support of his party, the MBs of Egypt). Saddam Hussein’s pictures as well as Osama Bin Laden’s can still be seen in some demonstrations, as were the pictures of Gamal Abdel-Naser and Abdel-Kareem Qasim before them. What gives these iconic figures such popularity when almost everyone knows that most of them cunningly exploited people’s natural propensity for patriotism and faith for personal gains?

There are many reasons indeed, but one of the most important reasons, I believe, is the fact that Muslims in general, and Arabs in particular, are naturally rooted in harsh, nomadic environments, endowing on them social dispositions to subordinate their personal interest to that of the group. In such societies totalitarian customs and traditions as a means of survival have the upper hand, therefore, aspiration for a leader to follow becomes natural. Being legitimized, canonized and indoctrinated earnestly by the Islamic scripture and religious orations, totalitarianism was strengthened even more. Following the lead of Muhammad, as one of the most important commandments of Islam, the hero figure became even more in demand after his death.

To add insult to injury, this tradition, in which the interest of the group preceded that of each individual, became even more intense in the past few decades with the dawn of what came to be known as the Islamic awaking era. Basic human rights, like the right to live, have a proper education, freedom of expression and so forth became, not only a threat to the community, but also took different meanings than its universal counterpart; wearing the “ordained” veil by women, for example, became freedom of choice; her right to decide her fate as a citizen (like driving a car in Saudi Arabia) became a shameful trait miring her people’s honor; individual creativeness in all fields of art became sin and vandalism; expressing personal opinion, especially if it diverts from the collective opinion became defection, treachery, heresy or even a blasphemy worthy of execution.

In fact, the intense exposure to religion in these societies made each individual a personal vanguard of faith. Life became so worthless that sacrificing it for a promised one in the hereafter became nobility and ascendancy; killing oneself or other innocent souls for a piece of land became highly valued as an act of gallantry and martyrdom. Examples of this are too many to even bother to present.

Islamic orthodox indoctrination and religious sermons and orations, as well as the bloody history, created miserable people plagued with boredom and despair on one hand, and opportunists quick with abuse on the other. It created societies that sanctify death, prompting individuals to keep on procreating and reproducing, not to live, but to presents sacrifices on the altars of their beliefs. Blinded by faith and the portrait of a savior, these people sacrificed themselves and their children as human shield to protect mercenaries, cloaked in the garb of religion.

Neither death nor torture moves them. Except when the torturer is an outsider, one doesn’t find much empathy from their side to the pictures of their own people’s tortured bodies when the offender is another Muslim group. On the other hand, they are quick to use those pictures as a media propaganda for gaining universal support when the offender is Israel or USA. Ironically, every war their leaders entrap them in, they hail victory, regardless of their death toll or the damage in their property! And instead of taking them to justice for the carnage they caused, these people revere their leaders even more! They ascend the terrorist, not only to the post of a hero, but also to the point of creating an emblem or an idol out of him.

It comes, then, as no surprise when a former debaucher – according to the Islamic definition of debauchery – like the Bathist Abu Bakr Al-Baqdadi, becomes a respected Imam and proclaims himself the new Caliph without any opposition from his followers. All he had to do is grow a beard, wear a cloak, climb a pulpit, stand under the “no God but Allah” flag, and declare war on the dissenters to convince the assenters that he’s worthy of obedience. For when he does that he is talking on Allah’s behalf, and they are no more than Allah’s slaves.

What is ISIL doing?

Islamist groups in general, and MB, which is currently the biggest politico-Islamic movement and the most organized worldwide, in particular, excel in fishing in murky waters and hijacking revolutions. If you notice, all Arab Spring revolutions were hijacked by MB cells. This group, as well as Salafi group on a lower scale, have succeeded in the past in directing the collective public opinion to their benefit, especially after the alliance of MB cells in the GCC countries with its rulers for decades. This alliance opened the doors of vast opportunities, allowing their intrusion into all walks of life, especially those that have long-term effects in reaffirming their ideology and loyalty in the society; like changing and auditing school curriculum, giving mosques sermons, as well as preaching through the official media, not to mention offering free summer camps for the youth at all levels, in a culture that is already accustomed to inculcation.

These GCC government, where the MB financial center is located, showered the cells of this group with the petrodollar money by offering them free lands in best locations to build their welfare facilities. Some governments made them in charge of the official endowment authority, without any supervision on her part (when US government reports criminalized the MB and Salafi welfare organizations in Kuwait for financing terrorism, many prominent, some liberal, figures in the Kuwaiti government were quick in falsifying these reports.) And the new generation that was molded by the group grew through her mediation to climb the highest social ladder. This pampered generation formed later an important element in directing the politics and economy of the state.

And so MB became a giant octopus, with its head in Egypt, and its limbs scattered all over the world, including the United States (the so called “moderate” Swiss Islamic activist from an Egyptian background, Taiq Ramadan, is an MB member, and so is Turkey’s president, Recept Tyyip Erdogan and his party. CAIR –the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the United States is also another branch of MB…etc.)

As soon as some Middle Eastern rulers were toppled, mostly for their history of corruption and ill management of the resources, MBs, who had become the second power in these countries, naturally took control through democratic means. The very Western process that they detested in the past and called un-Islamic, democracy now appealed to them, after realizing that it too could be temporarily used until they settle down, seize control, then dispose of it, after gradually applying the Caliphate system of Shura. And that was exactly what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. And were it not for other factors that intervened, the same would’ve happened in Syria and the rest of the Arab countries through Arab Spring. In other words, MBs were much closer to the Islamic Caliphate than anyone would’ve imagined. A better name for this period would’ve been MB Spring, and not Arab Spring.

MBs’ success formula lays in their excellent organizational skills. This skill depends at large on its utmost secrecy. Like the Freemasonic movement of the fourteenth century Europe, most MB members work in small groups; the members of one group don’t usually know about the members in another group. And even when they know, none admit loyalty to the other.

Kuwaiti members of MB, for example, never admitted loyalty to the Egyptian group, but as soon as Morsi was toppled in Egypt, all their masks were shuttered. Hamas also never admitted its blind devotion to its master in Egypt. But when the first Palestinian/Israeli conflict during Morsi’s ruling period in 1913, with Egypt’s mediation, was solved within days, and rocket fires from Gaza into Israel sharply declined, the world was in awe to a point that the United States, naively assessed that the generation-long conflict is taking its last breath under the MB rule.

Gaining MB’s organization skill, and Bath’s excessive brutality in terrorizing and terminating their enemies, as well as fathoming Islamic history’s lessons in the feasibility of terror, ISIL was able to utilize the social media on the Net and YouTube in recruiting fighters from all over the world, including the Western countries (it has been estimated that 3000 Westerners joined the Mujahideen in Syria, of which not less than 100 are American and 500 are British). As a strategy, ISIL uses terrorism and rumors of grandeur and ruthlessness as a tool to cause the people it conquers to flee without a fight. Much like what it’s directed in the scritute (And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and the steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy… Al-‘Anfal, verse [8:60]). These rumors created a Godzilla that people feared it would crush all who dare to cross its path.

They did this in Syria when they conquered Al-Rigah, as well as in Mosul/Iraq, where they killed more than 1500 individuals and tossed hundreds of bodies into Tigers River, without proper Islamic or other burial rituals, to engender terror in the hearts of the residents (this is exactly what Saddam’s troops did to Kuwaiti resistant groups during the invasion of Kuwait, when they mutilated the corpses of the dead and tossed then in front of their family houses, banning any burial before they rots. It also can be clearly seen in the brutality of Saddam’s troops when they sprayed the Kurds in Helebce with Chemicals in 1988, killing more than 5500 people).

By using this fear inducing strategy, ISIL was able to scare away all adherents of other religions, leaving behind their land and property.  As for the Arab tribes who confirm to their ideology, ISIL recruited them by deception; it helped them clean their areas, share the booty from the stolen goods, and provide security at the beginning. And many Sunni tribes welcomed them, partly out of fear and partly to revenge the Shiite government in Baghdad which disappointed them. But soon the predator exposed its claws by applying the Sharia law to assure its hegemony and fulfill its member’s insatiable want of wealth and women. And the Jihad Fucking Fatwa (that is the literal translation of the name of the Fatwa, no pun intended) that was issued by their clergy, for forcing single women to be sexually consummated by the Mujahideen is only one example.

Why does it matter?

It’s very important to understand the mentality of ISIL, or their mentors to know how to deal with them properly, before they gain power in the Middle East area, use its oil and riches, collaborate with other traditional dictators to vanquish the world and civilizations, and drag everyone else into bloody wars. If allowed to have its way, ISIL would not settle until it conquers the whole world, for conquest and slavery are the backbone of the pirates’ economy. Also we have to keep in mind that ISIL’s ideology is not akin to Iraq and Syria; they have affiliated cells all over the world. And this geographical dispersal is a natural impediment for any attempt to tackle it if these cells assimilate and unite in supporting each other.

On the other hand, the Islamist groups, even under single Sunni sectarian division- not even mentioning the historical schism between Sunni and Shiite sects- are different factions with different political world view. Each faction holds the other to be inferior to themselves. Sunnis, for example, do not constitute a single group, but rather many groups of which ISIL is only one. And although all Sunnis agree on most of the basics of the Islamic rituals, they differ vastly in their moral codes, to a point of excommunicating each other, or probably even annihilating one another. And by putting these factions’ historical schism and competition for dominance into account, which was in fact the most important aspect in the dissolution of the Islamic Caliphate in the past, we would be able to discover ISIL Achilles’ heal.

In contrast, what strengthens ISIL and other Islamic factions is their unity against a common enemy. And nothing seems to be as powerful as the existence of an external enemy- even if that enemy was an imaginary one- that could make the populous avert their eyes from ISIL savagery to unite against that enemy. There is an Arabic proverb that goes like, “Me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against the outsider”. In these tribal societies, where the Arabs are rooted deep into Kinship culture, which is reinforced and canonized by the holy scripture, survival is not measured according to the real inflicted danger, but rather to how close or distant is the offender.

Let’s look at the general situation of the MBs, the legitimate parent of ISIL, in the Middle East prior to the latest Israeli/Palestinian conflict in Gaza. This period marked the toughest period for this group in the Middle East (ME) region:

– Morsi was toppled in Egypt and his party members were brought to courts of justice.

-Turkish rebels carried a prolonged revolution against their MB government.

– MB cells in the GCC countries, were put under GCC governments’ close surveillance, and some of their age-old welfare businesses were brought into a halt.

-United Arab Emirates, one of the GCC countries, accused some prominent MB members (of which some are Kuwaitis) of treason and stressed on bringing them to justice.

– GCC countries turned against one of its six members, Qatar, ending their diplomatic representation and condemning its Al-Jazeera official TV station for its role in supporting MB members.

– ISIL dissolved back into two opposing cells, one in Syria and one in Iraq, fighting over the post of caliph, after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s self-proclamation of the said post, and sending troops to fight its brother Al-Nusrah in Syria. This move prompted Al-Qaeda to disown ISIL, accusing it of “being a takfiri group” as if Al-Qaeda is not made of the same fabric.

– And most importantly, Hamas’ dire loss of Egypt’s empathy and support, after brutally killing Egyptians in Sinai, right after Morsi’s topple. This added to Hamas’ already lost support of other Arabs, especially in Lebanon, Iraq and Kuwait, for its historical misconduct towards the peoples of the said countries.

In a nutshell, this period awakened the delusional Muslim of the ME who was misled by Islamists’ logo of “Islam is the solution” to all their problems. It uncovered MB’s dirty exploitation of everything, especially religion, for personal gains. For others, this period tolled the bells of danger of Islamists’ rising to power, and the incompatibility of Sharia law that is extracted from the literal interpretation of scripture with life in the twenty-first century, especially when dealing with women’s rights, slavery, and tolerating other faiths.

One thing can unite all these factions, Shiite included, as Hamas, the right arm of MB, infers, and that’s the start of a holy war in Palestine, where the conventional enemy already exists (and historically hated), on the land that is considered sacrThat in addition of the fact that Gaza is already an overpopulated city, where it’s very hard to target missiles without having some civilian casualties.ed for all the adherents of the three Abrahamic faiths.

To divert world attention away from all the brutalities taking place in Syria and Iraq, it was enough for Hamas to provoke Israel, the outsider, and put Gaza into the global focus of the media. This is not the first time that Hamas or other Islamist groups use this tactic (Hezbollah, the Shiites Lebanese did the same many times in the past) and here is how the repeated “scenario” goes:

-Provoke Israel.

-Use civilians as human shields.

-Post civilian pictures, preferably children’s (more now with the Internet), and create a media propaganda.

– Then seek an agreement for seizing fire after claiming victory no matter what is the cost.

And every time Israel falls into this trap by retaliating disproportionately (Gaza is already an over populated city, where it’s very hard to target missiles without having civilian casualties). And the Palestinians gain public sympathy that prompts GCC countries, represented by individual organizations, individuals or rulers to open their banks for and compensate for the losses, while Hamas uses this to reconstruct its war gears and rebuild its underground tunnels for future provisions, with the leftover after they fatten their leader’s bank accounts.

It is amazing how this scenario works every time. But surprisingly, not this time.

Albeit true that Hamas succeeded in raising universal sympathy for Gaza’s civilians and children, and in uniting the different religious factions against the disproportionate Israeli retaliation, but the world was in shock to find that the Arab populous who were by now accustomed to the conning of Hamas, seemed this time to have diverse controversy about Gaza, especially in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and the GCC countries. In contrast to the Westerners who rallied the streets in protest against Israel and despite of them, Arabs living in ME knew of Hamas’ tactics in exploiting everything to blackmail the ME countries into succumbing to its wishes, not for a just fight for the holy land, nor for the innocent lives that Hamas itself put at stake, but to empower their masters, MB leaders.

But in their wildest dreams, Hamas leaders didn’t expect this kind of reaction from the Arabs. This reaction that was so palpable in the rigid speech given by King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, at the end of Ramadan 2014, when the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was at its zenith. In his speech, the king condemned the Islamist groups without directly addressing each group, shaming their actions and calling them a disgrace to Islam. Against all expectations, the king didn’t even give a slight hint to the said conflict, although the media was replete with the pictures of mutilated Palestinian children, and antisemitism rallies! In doing so, the king in fact brought world attention back to its rightful place, focusing on the danger of the expansionist ISIL next door, the very events that Hamas tried to overshadow.

But the king was not the only Arab who said “No” to Hamas. The universal pressure exerted on the Egyptian president, Al-Sisi, to open Rafah gates for the Palestinian refugees, as a humanitarian gesture, didn’t make him flinch. Moreover, Al-Sisi refused to mediate in any settlement as long as Hamas remained the sole representative of the Palestinians.

At the same time both cells of ISIL, in Iraq and Syria (now IS), continued their expansion plans, not giving any heed to what Hamas is doing. Fearing the backfire of the evil they created, MBs around the world were caught off guard with panic; Turkey, whose stand was clear against the Western intervention in the area, started blaming Obama’s government for not taking any action against ISIL. And Al-Jazeera TV station, which never spared any profane language, or even insolence, during the first and second Gulf Wars to humiliate the GCC leaders for allowing Western intervention in the area, did the same!

One lesson, at least, can be deduced from history, and that is the fact that Islamist group need to be left to confront each other alone without direct Western intervention in their internal affairs (aid them with arms, and air attacks, but no boots on ground). These groups are historically bred to hate each other. If left alone, they would make sure to annihilate each other in genocidal wars.

As inhumane as these wars may sound, but it’s inevitable. They may take many years and sweep away many precious lives. But nothing can change status quo until the peoples of the region realize the importance of secularism and the vitality of implementing democracy that is built on institutionalized secularism. Building systems in which no clergymen are permitted to intervene in the political, social, educational, or any aspect regarding the internal affairs of modern state, is a tedious affair that requires hard work. But prior to that, it needs re-engineering of Muslim mentality.

Not until realizing the necessity of realizing the prerequisites of each occupation, i.e. preachers preach in the mosque and teachers teach in schools, can these people reach the social justice in protecting individual rights, regardless of their religion, sex, or ethnicity. These principles can’t be indoctrinated or inculcated. Nor can they be imposed by the West, who had to pay dearly for a bloody thirty-year war experience to achieve or adapt such moral codes (go figure why democracy failed in Palestine, Iraq and Egypt). Being imposed by the West, democracy was doomed to fail when applied by the people who are inflicted with myopia, that doesn’t allow them to see the dangers of applying it side by side with Sharia.

Democracy should go hand-in-hand with secularism and not with theology. Religious groups should not form political parties, nor have a say in the state policy. A clergyman’s place should be limited to the mosques, temples, synagogue and churches, not government agencies, schools, and official media.  Same goes to a physician whose place is a hospital and not an auto garage. If these basic principles are not well understood, then no hope of peace can be achieved in the whole ME area.

Democracy, secularism, and human rights are earned principles. They are inseminated gradually and naturally through human experiences, and not endowed as donations, nor imposed on others. Otherwise it’s susceptible to create a power that can be exploited, and abused to demolish its very essence of modernity, recessing into an atavistic throwback into ancient and preceded ways. The region, then, is doomed to continue its never-ending circle around autocracy and theocracy, inherited by those whom at the core are greedy dictators, no matter in what attire, clergymen cloaks or Western suits, they present themselves.

Modern countries requires modern management, based on human experiences, secularism and science, not on social circumstances, force, or the commandments of the ancient scriptures, even if the latter was suitable to its ancient times. It requires secular constitutions based on social justice, and written by locals, in which the crème du la crème of human experimental journeys are explored and included, and not cut to fit a specific religion, sect or ethnicity. Human being everywhere is the same, and their rights are universal. To fathom this, the long bereaved peoples have to pay a toll. And in the process they have to change their religious orations and mosque sermons, after realizing the danger in the literal interpretation of the scripture, and the dire consequences of applying them on the twenty-first century; not it in politics, nor in the media, and most importantly, not in school curriculum, the very tool that programs generations to come.

It takes ideology to fight ideology, not drones or war gears. Although the latter may facilitate winning a battle, but winning a war needs a long time planning and consistency.

* ((like this tradition: Nu’ man bin Bashir (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever. Riyad Al-Saliheen))

MB: Muslim Brotherhood

GCC: Golf Cooperation Council

ME: Middle East

 

Prespective

November 13, 2010

From: The Astronomical Society of the Pacific

390 Ashton Avenue

San Fransisco, California94112

415/337-1100

San Jose Mercury News, Sunday morning May8, 1988

Why astrology believers should feel embarrassed

By Andrew Fraknoi

Recent revelations that first lady Nancy Regan consulted astrologers in arranging the president’s schedule have generated snickers in some quarters. Unfortunately, belief in the power of astrology is much more widespread than many people realize. A 1984 Gallop Poll indicated that 55 percent of American teen-agers believe that astrology works. Astrology columns appear in over 1,200 newspapers in the United States; by contrast, fewer than 10 newspapers have columns in astronomy, the scientific study of the heavens. All around the world, people base personal, financial, and even medical decisions on the advice of the astrologers.

Furthermore, astrology is only one of a number of pseudoscientific beliefs whose uncritical acceptance by the media and the public has contributed to a disturbing lack of skepticism among youngsters ( and apparently presidents) in the United States. Life is complex these days, and it is tempting to look for simple solutions to the challenges we face. But instead of encountering healthy doubt and critical thinking in our children, we are raising a generation that is welling to believe just about any far-fetched claim printed in the newspapers or reported on television.

Youngsters (and adults) who want to practice skeptical thinking might enjoy asking few embarrassing question about astrology:

For those who follow newspapers or magazine columns on astrology, how likely is it that 1/12 of the world (more than 400 million people for each sign of the zodiac ) will have the same kind of day? This question sheds some light on why astrology columns are always so vague that they can be applied to situations in almost everyone’s life.

Why is it the moment of birth, rather than the moment of conception, which is the critical one for calculating a horoscope? To figure this one out, it’s helpful to know that when astrology was first set up thousands of years ago, the moment of birth was considered a magic time. But today, we understand that birth is the culmination of roughly nine months of complex, intricately orchestrated development inside the womb. Many aspects of a child’s personality are set long before the time of birth.

Therefore we must ask how the mother’s thin layer of skin and flesh “protects” her unborn baby from the influence of the planets and the stars? (And could one perhaps postpone the beginning of some unpleasant astrological effect by surrounding a newborn with a thin wall of steak for few days?)

I suspect that the reason the astrologers still adhere to the moment of birth has little to do with astrological “theory”. The simple fact is almost everyone knows his or her moment of birth, but it is difficult (and perhaps embarrasing ) to find out one’s moment of conception.

“Serious” astrologers claim that the influence of all the major bodies in the solar system must be taken into account to arrive at an accurate horoscope. they also insist that the reason we should believe in astrology is because it had led us to accurate predictions or personality profiles for many centuries.

But wait. The most distant known planets, Neptune and Pluto, were not discovered until 1846 and 1930, respectively. So why aren’t all the horoscopes done before 1846 incorrect, since the astrologers were not including two important planets? Moreover, why did the problems or inaccuracies in early horoscopes not lead astrologers to “sense” the presence of these planets long before astronomers discovered them?

Even after thousands of years of study and perfecting their art, different schools of astrology still violently disagree on how to cast a horoscope and especially on how to interpret it. You can have your horoscope cast and read buy different astrologers on the very same day and get completely different predictions, interpretations, or suggestions. If astrology were a science-as astrologers claim- you would expect that the same experiment or calculation would always give the same result.

But even if we put all these nagging thoughts aside for a moment, one overriding question still remains to be asked. Why would the position of celestial objects at the moment of our birth have an effect on our characters, lives, or our destinies?

What force, what influence, what sort of energy would travel from the planets and stars to all human beings and affect our development and fate?

One can see how the astrological world view might have been appealing thousands of years ago when astrology first arose. In those days humanity was terrified of the often unpredictable forces of nature and searched desperately for regularities, signs, and portents from the heavens that would help them guide their lives.

But today, when our spacecraft have traveled to the planets and have explored them in some detail, our view of the universe is very different. We know that planets are other worlds and the stars other suns-physical bodies that are incredibly remote and mercifully unconcerned with the daily lives of creatures on our small planet. No amount of scientific sounding jargon or computerized calculations by astrologers can disguise this central problem with astrology- we can find no evidence of a mechanism by which celestial objects can influence us in so specific a way.

Let’s take an analogy. Imagine  that someone proposes that the positions of all the jumbo jets in the world at the moment that a baby is born will have a significant effect on the child’s personality or future life. Furthermore, for a fee, a “jetologer” with a large computer might offer to do an elaborate chart showing the positions of planes at the right time and to interpret the complex pattern of the plane positions to help you understand  their influence on your life. No matter how “scientific” or complex the chart of jet positions turned out to be, any reasonably skeptical person would probably ask the “jetologer” some rather poited questions about why the positions of all those planes should have any connection with someone’s personality or with the events that shape human lives.

Greater pull

Indeed, in the real world, it is quite simple to calculate the planetary influences on the new-born baby. The only known force that is acting over interplanetary distances in any significant way is gravity. So we might compare the pull of the neighbor planet like Mars with other influences on the baby. It turns out that the pull of the obstetrician is significantly greater than that of Mars. (And the hospital building- unless the baby happens to be in its exact geometric center- has an even greater pull than the doctor. Given the situation at most urban hospitals, many children should probably have ” No Parking” as their sign.)

Some astrologers argue that there may be a still unknown force that represents the astrological influence. Suppose we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is something connecting us to the heavens even if we do not what it is. If so, astrological predictions- like those of any scientific fields-should be easily tested. If astrology predicts that Virgos And Aries are incompatible signs- to take a simple example-then if we look at thousands of marriages and divorce records, we should see more Virgo-Aries couples getting divorced and fewer of them getting married than we would expect by chance.

Astrologers always claim to be just a little too busy to carry out such careful tests of their efficacy, so in the last two decades scientists and statisticians have generously done such testing for them. There have been dozens of well-designed tests all around the world, and astrology has failed every one of them.

10 percent accuracy

In addition, astronomers Roger Culver and Philip Ianna tracked the specific published predictions of well-known astrologers and astrological organizations for a period of five years. Out of more than 3,000 predictions (including many about politics, film, stars, and other famous people) in their sample, only about 10 percent came to pass. Veteran reporters on most newspapers-can do a good deal better than this just by educated guessing.

If reading the starts has led astrologers to incorrect predictions nine times out of ten, they hardly seem like reliable guides to the uncertainties of life or the affairs of our country. I propose that we let those beckoning lights in the sky awaken our interest in the real ( and fascinating ) universe beyond our planet, and not let them keep us tied to an ancient fantasy left over from a time when we huddled by the firelight, afraid of the night.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Fraknoi

Aladdin’s Lamp/ A Book Review

June 4, 2010

Title of the book: Aladdin’s Lamp, How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World

alddin1
Author: John Freely. Was born in Brooklyn, NY, and joined the U.S. Navy in WW II. Taught physics and history of science since 1960 in Bosphorus University in Istanbul, with intervals in New York, Boston, London, Athens and Venice. He is the author of more than forty books.

Published in 2009, and of 300 pages.
Ever wonder why did Moslems have a civilization in the 9th, through the 13th century? What was their motives and what provoked their scientific advancements? And what was the reason of their decline afterwards? Why Europe of the medieval ages picked up where Moslem’s left and who or what provoked them? And who were the pioneers from Antiquity till present day, who put science (and philosophy) on its right path? And why Europe flourished after that?
All those questions and more; the relationship between religion, metaphysics, superstition, astrology, magic, astronomy and modern science, all in one bundle presented in this book of no more than three hundred paged, which makes it truly a magnificent work.
The book is an encyclopedia of information in a story-telling style that makes it very interesting, and not a bit boring. It does not only touch base with listing such information, but rather goes deep into the lives and circumstances, or environments of his actors to deduce his own conclusions bequeathed by empirical evidences and referenced by well documented sources. Actually, the book relieves the pressure off researchers’ backs, the ones who are interested in these eras, when it provides detailed information of certain events that would help in creating a wider perception.

In short; the book is a summary of events presented chronologically in a beautiful story-telling style.

I will present here two passages from the book only to give an idea:

“Islamic astronomy was dominated by Ptolemy, whose works were translated into Arabic and also disseminated in summaries and commentaries. The earliest Arabic translation of the Almagest is by Al-Hajjaj ibn Matar in the first half of the ninth century. The most popular compendium of Ptolemaic astronomy was that of al-Farghani (d.ca.870) produced a set of astronomical tables in which he introduced the trigonometric functions of the sine, cosine, and tangent, which do not appear in Ptolemy’s work.”

“Al-Kindi’s ideas on visual perception, which differed from those of Aristotle, together with his studies of the reflection of light, laid the foundation for what became, in the European renaissance, the law of perspective. His studies of natural science convinced him of the values of rational thought, and as a result he was the first noted Islamic philosopher to be attacked by fundamentalists Muslim clerics. His Letter on Banishing Sadness says that the cure for melancholia is applying oneself to the only enduring object, the world of the intellect.”

I can go on, the subject is very dense and the author did an excellent job to bring history to life and show its misgivings.

I advice all, especially Muslims to read it for it bears a lot of lessons we can learn from.

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The Greatest Show on Earth/A Book Review V

January 29, 2010

The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins
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13- Is nature as perfectly designed as it seems?

Years of false education programmed our brains to believe in the illusion that we are designed in the most perfect model. We tend to look at things in a holistic non-detail, and reductionist perception that gives us a picture of the world as if it was designed by a master engineer. Just like looking at the brightness of color layout of a building without testing or seeing the deficiencies of its room layout or sewage and electrical systems. But if we look at it through a telescope and watch the details we would be able to see that this world is not only imperfect, but it also lacks the basics for a good design. A closer look reveals that, “Eyes and nerves, sperm tubes, sinuses and backs are poorly designed from the point of view of individual welfare.” As Dawkins explains while presenting each case. Yet, he consented that ” the imperfections make perfect sense in the light of evolution.” And that “The same applies to the larger economy of nature.” He says that, “An intelligent creator might be expected to have designed not just the bodies of individual animals and plants but also whole species, entire ecosystems. Nature might be expected to be a planned economy, carefully designed to eliminate extravagance and waste. (but) it isn’t ” Therefore he explains in detail in chapter twelve why the intelligent designer is not intelligent after all. And how complexity arising from simplicity makes perfect sense in light of natural selection. And why there is no ‘theodicy’  (literally, ‘justice of God’) with nature’s arm race.”

14- Does the theory of evolution contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

“The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, although energy can be neither created nor destroyed, it can – must, in close system – become more impotent to do useful work. ‘Work’: that is what it means to say that ‘entropy’ increases. ‘ Work’ includes things like pumping water uphill or – the chemical equivalent – extracting carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide and using it in plant tissues… both can be achieved only if energy is fed into the system, for example electrical energy to drive the water pump, or solar energy to drive the synthesis of sugar and starch in green plant. Once the water has been pumped to the top of the hill, it will then tend to flow downhill, and some of energy of its downward flow can be used to drive a water wheel, which can generate electricity, which can drive an  electric motor to pump some of the water uphill again: but only some! Some of energy is always lost – though never destroyed.” as Dawkins explain the meaning of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Creationist usually claim that according to this law which states that, “almost all  the energy in the universe is steadily being degraded from the forms that are capable of doing work to forms that are incapable to do work. There is a leveling off, mixing up, until eventually the entire universe will settle into a uniform, (literally) uneventful ‘heat death’.” And therefore, complexity cannot rise from simplicity. Dawkins, on the other hand says that the ones who make this claim do not understand the Second Law of Thermodynamic, as they don’t understand the theory of evolution. He says, “There is no contradiction ( and that is)  because of the sun!” The sun is a constant source of energy. The whole system , “while never actually disobeying the laws of physics and chemistry – and certainly never disobeying the Second Law – energy from the sun powers life, to coax and stretch the laws of physics and chemistry to evolve prodigious feats of complexity, diversity, beauty, and uncanny illusion of statistical improbability and deliberate design…life evolves greater complexity only because natural selection drives it locally away from the statistically probable towards the improbable. And this is possible only because of the ceaseless supply of energy from the sun.”

15- How did evolution start in the first place?

Before going into how evolution started we have to know the difference between life and non-life. To this Dawkins answers, “The difference between life and non-life is a matter not of substance but information. Living things contain prodigious quantities of information. Most of the information is digitally coded in DNA, and there is also a substantial quantity coded in other ways.” which he explains in detail as four memories of information. As for how did it all start Dawkins says that, ” although we know a lot about evolution’s mechanics, we know little about how it all started, It could have been an event of supreme rarity. It only had to happen once, and as far as we know it did happen only once…One thing we can say, on the basis of pure logic rather than evidence, is that Darwin was sensible to say, (that life started) ‘from so simple a beginning’. The opposite of simple is statistically improbable. Statistically improbable things don’t spontaneously spring into existence: That is what statistically improbable means. The beginning had to be simple, and evolution by natural selection is still the only process we know whereby simple beginning can give rise to complex results.” Then in chapter thirteen Dawkings presents several theories presented in the scientific communities to explain how life started, whereby he assures us that there is no consensus among scientists on any of them. But he adds that he personally finds RNA World theory plausible, ” the ‘Catch -22’ of the origin of life is this. DNA can replicate, but it needs enzymes in order to catalyse the process. Proteins can catalyse DNA formation, but they need DNA to specify the correct sequence of amino acids. How could the molecules of the early Earth break out of this bind and allow natural selection to get started? Enter RNA.” And then he elaborated that, ” RNA belongs to the same family of chain molecules as DNA, the polynucleotides. It is capable of carrying what amount to the same four code ‘letter’ as DNA, and it indeed does so in living cells, carrying genetic information from DNA to where it can be used. DNA acts as the template for RNA code sequence to build up. And then protein sequences build up using RNA, not DNA, as their template. Some viruses have no DNA at all. RNA is their genetic molecule, solely responsible for carrying genetic information from generation to generation.” Then he adds, “Now for the key point of ‘RNA World theory’ of the origin of life. In addition to stretching out forms suitable for passing on sequence information, RNA is also capable of self-assembling…into three-dimensional shapes, which have enzymatic activity. RNA enzymes do exist. They are not as efficient as protein enzymes, but they work. The RNA World theory suggests that RNA was good enough enzyme to hold the fort until proteins evolved to take over the enzyme role, and that RNA was also a good enough replicator to muddle along that role until DNA evolved.”

And now that we are done with the most frequently asked questions, I would like to go to the last chapter (13) of the book where Dawkins presented a philosophical analysis (line by line) of the last paragraph in Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. there is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

And by doing this he proved that science is not callous and cold, but more grandeur in its view of life. And before I leave the subject I would like to add one more argument I personally was subjected to whenever a debate for the theory arises, and that is the claim that Darwin was a creationist. And their proof was this line in the paragraph above ‘there is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the creator into few forms or into one’. As we can see that the bold words in the line did not exist in the paragraph that Dawkins included in his book, but it does exist in the copy I have. And the reason it exists in my copy and not his, Dawkins says, is because Darwin’s book went through six editions, the first one which he has (only 1,250 copies) did not include those words because, “presumably bowing to pressure from the religious lobby, Darwin inserted ‘by the creator’ in the second and all subsequent editions.” And he included a letter of 1863 Darwin wrote to his friend the botanist Joseph Hooker regretting this ‘sop to religious opinion’. As for the word ‘breathed into’ we have to understand that Darwin knew little about how life started. In fact, much less than we know now. Besides, “Darwin didn’t discuss how evolution began in On the Origin of Species. He though the problem was beyond the science of his day. In the letter to Hooker…Darwin went on to say. ‘It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter.’ He didn’t rule out the possibility that the problem would eventually be solved (indeed, the problem of matter largely has been solved) but only in the distant future: ‘ It will be some time before we see “slime, protoplasm, etc” generating a new animal.”

Coming to the end here I have to stress that this book is a must, especially to Muslims who are not only blinded by miseducation but also by the media. I remember when Ardi was discovered in 2009, while all TV channels of the world presenting it as a discovery of one of the ‘intermediates’,  Aljazeera Channel broadcasting it as a testimony against evolution, and deliberately manipulating the translation for that purpose. Alas Dawkins is right; this kind of audience want to hear this kind of nonsense.

The End

Finished

The Greatest Show on Earth/A Book Review IV

January 18, 2010

The Evidence for Evolution, by Richard Dawkins
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11- Where is the ‘missing link’ or the ‘intermediates’ between fossils?

This question always pups up whenever the subject of evolution is debated, I personally heard someone saying that the only problem with evolution is the fact that it has many ‘missing links’ or lacking the ‘intermediates’. This question in fact is misleading and is an indication that the questioner does not understand how evolution works, as Dawkins says. If by the term ‘missing link’ he means that, what Dawkins termed, ‘hairpin’ or the base of the fork of which two species or more evolved into different lines, then there are plenty of those available and Dawkins presented many examples in chapter 6* . And I would add to his collection Ardi; the undeniable intermediate between حumans and apes. And I’m pretty sure that if Dawkins’ book was delayed till her discovery, she would have been included in the book as well. Yet, Dawkins believes that this question does not inquire about intermediates, it goes much deeper than that; it portrays the creationists’ mindset,”Underlying much of the fallacious demand for ‘missing links'” Dawkins says, ” is a medieval myth, which occupied men’s minds right up to the age of Darwin and stubbornly confused them after it. This is the myth of the Great Chain of Being, according to which everything in the universe sat on a ladder, with God at the top, then archangels, then various ranks of angles, then human beings, then animals, then plants, then down to stones and other inanimate creations…But it was the alleged hierarchy within the animal kingdom that had the greatest capacity to muddy the water when the idea of evolution burst upon the scene. It seemed natural to suppose that ‘lower’ animals evolved into ‘higher’ animals. And if this were so, we should expect to see ‘links’ between them, all the way up and down the ‘ladder’.” And then Dawkins goes on with the suggestion that there is no higher or lower animals, only differently developed animals depending on the environment in which their DNA had better chance to survive and therefore spread in the gene pool. And so he moves on to show that “the entire ladder myth is deeply misconceived and un-evolutionary.”

12- What would be evidence against evolution?

Dawkins quotes the geneticist and evolution biologist J.B.S. Haldane saying, ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian !’ when asked to “name an observation that would disprove the theory of evolution.” What Haldane meant is that there is no fossils in the era that they did not belong to as per the theory of evolution. Or as Dawkins asserted, ” No such rabbits, no authentically anachronistic fossils of any kind, have ever been found. All the fossils that we have, and there are very very many indeed, occur, without a single authenticated exception, in the right temporal sequence. Yes there are gaps, where there are no fossils at all, and that is only to be expected. But not single solitary fossil has ever been found before it could have evolved.” And that is an assurance that evolution is a sound theory, “A good theory, a scientific theory, is one that is vulnerable to disproof, yet is not disproved.” Then Dawkins take this argument further by challenging anyone who would come up with a fossil that does not belong to its era in the evolution period.

13- How new species are born?

“Every species is a cousin of every other species. Any two species are descended from an ancestral species, which split into two.” Dawkins says. And the reason why they took different routes to develop is that they ” somehow separated from each other, most likely by geological barrier such as a strip of sea separating two islands, or separating an island from mainland. It could have been a mountain range that separated two valleys, or a river separating two forests…all that matters is that the two populations were isolated from one another for long enough so that, when time and chance eventually reunited them, they found they had diverged so much that they couldn’t interbreed any more.” But “even if conditions on either side of the barrier are identical, two geographically separated gene pools of the same species will eventually drift apart from one another, to the point where they can no longer interbreed when geographical isolation eventually comes to an end. Random changes in the two gene pools will gradually build up, to the point where, if a male and a female from the two sides meet, their genomes will be too different to combine to make a fertile offspring. Whether by random drift alone, or with the aid of differential natural selection, once the two gene pools have reached the point where they no longer need the geographical isolation to stay genetically separate, we call them two different species.” Therefore, ” An earthquake opens up an impassable gorge, or changes the course of a river, and a species that had been a single breeding population finds itself severed in two. More usually, the barrier was there all along, and it is the animals themselves that cross it, in rare freak event.” which brings to mind last month’s mystery of the disappearance of sea lions of San Fransisco’s Pier 39.

14- Did the earth move?

Dawkins elaborates in chapter nine on the theory of continental drift that was first “championed by the German climatologist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930)” who proposed that “All the great continents of the world…had once been joined up in a gigantic super-continent, which he called Pangaea.” and that “Pangaea gradually dismembered itself to form the continent we know today, which then slowly drifted to their present position and have not finished drifting yet.” And although Wegener was right in his theory of drift, yet not right in its mechanics though, as Dawkins explains, “I have to make it clear that this hypothesis of continental drift was significantly different from our modern theory of plate tectonics.” where he spent the rest of the chapter explaining how moving of earth plates causes continents to drift away from each other . And the most interesting information, for me at least, was a picture he presented with this caption ‘The San Andreas Fault, a great gash up the length of California.’ Where ‘one day the western part of the state, with Baja California, will be an island in the Pacific.’ Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis like the one that hit Indonesia not long ago are caused by tectonic plate movements. And it is happening all over the earth indifferent to human affairs. So yes, the earth moved and still is moving, there are ” modern evidence that entire continents move over the face of earth.” as Dawkins says, and this “provides by far the best explanation of certain major facts of animal and plant dispersion, especially of fossils. For example, there are similarities between the fossils of south America, Africa, Antarctica, Madagascar, India and Australia, which nowadays  we explain by invoking the once great southern continent of Gondwana, uniting all those modern lands.”

15- How did the discovery of DNA add evidence to the theory of evolution?

“just as the vertebrate skeletons is invariant across all vertebrates while individual bones differ, and just as the crustacean exoskeleton is invariant across all crustaceans while the individual ‘tubes’ vary, so the DNA code is invariant across all living creatures, while the individual genes themselves vary.” Dawkins explains, and he asserts that, ” This is a truly astounding fact, which shows more clearly than anything else that all living creatures are descended from a single ancestor. Not just the genetic code itself, but the whole gene/protein system for running life…is the same in all animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, archaea and viruses. What varies is what written in the code, not the code itself. And when we look comparatively at what is written in the code – the actual genetic sequence in all these different creatures – we find the same kind of hierarchical tree of resemblance. We find the same family tree – albeit much more thoroughly and convincingly laid out – as we did with vertebrate skeleton, the crustacean skeleton ( he explained them thoroughly in the book), and indeed the whole pattern of anatomical resemblance through all living kingdom.” Then he elaborates that, “If we want to work out how closely related any pair of species is – say, how close a hedgehog is to a monkey – the ideal would be to look at the complete molecular texts of every gene of both species, and compare every jot and tittle, as a biblical scholar might compare two fragments of Isaiah.”

* Some examples of the intermediates:

Fish/Amphibian evolution

Eusthenopteron
Ichthyostega
Acanthostega
Tiktaalik

Whale evolution
Click Here

The ancestor of modern seals
Puijila darwini

Human/Ape ancestors
Java Man
Peking Man
Mrs. Ples
Lucy
Ardi

To be continued
An Update
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The Greatest Show on Earth/A Book Review III

January 15, 2010

The Evidence for Evolution By Richard Dawkins

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5- How many millennium do we have available to use in accounting for the whole history of life? Or from the time when fish emerged on to the land?

It is very important for us to know what is the age of our earth so that it would be easier for us to grasp the huge time it took for all forms of life to develop upon her face. Dawkins said that “The measured age of our planet is about 4.6 billion years.” and the time “that has elapsed since the common ancestor of all today’s mammals walked the earth is about two million centuries (200,000,000). A century seems a pretty long time to us. Can you imagine two million centuries, laid end to end? The time that has elapsed since our fish ancestors crawled out of the water on to the land is about three and a half million centuries: that is to say, about twenty thousand times as long as it took to make all the different-really very different- breeds of dogs from the common ancestor that they all share (less than 1000 years).” 4.6 billion is a humongous number if compared to three and a half million, but if we consider the age of the universe since the big bang ( which is estimated to be no less than 13.5 billion years), according to the late astronomer Carl Sagan, then the whole period of any form of life on earth to appear is but in the last few minutes on the Cosmic calender, baring in mind that the 13.5 billion years is equal to one cosmic year. So when we are taking about evolution we are talking about deep geological time and not a change that happens overnight or something that is clear and palpable in each generation.

6- How do we know the age of any particular rock? How do we know the age of the earth?

In chapter four, Richard Dawkens presents a variety of geological clocks and he shows how they work. He presents radioactive clocks for dating volcanic rocks and shows the mechanics of  deducing their age. The atoms in these rocks change the number of their electrons with a regular emission over fixed time frames and become atoms that belong to other materials close to them in the periodic table. In other words the material keeps changing over specific time rate to another.  A sample of these rocks can be tested for the ratio of the original material and the new material to which it changed and therefore deduce the time it was solidified from lava, with an error ratio of only one percent. And thus estimate the age of the formation of that rock.  Another natural clock Dawkins presented was counting tree rings. Trees withstand seasons of variable weather conditions that affects the outer layer of its trunk. It even tells a story of years of good rain and years of drought. Coral reefs have annual growth rings as well which have been used to detect the age of ancient earthquakes. The same principals are used with Varves which are layers of sediments laid down annually in geological lakes . Carbon dating is used to deduce the age of a fossils. Every living organism, including plants contain two types of Carbon; Carbon 14 and Carbon 12 with a specified ratios when alive. And when dead this ratio changes. From this ratio we can deduce the time of death and consequently the age of the layer it is buried in. In fact, we are fortunate that nature has provided us with a vast variety of natural clocks to choose from. And as Dawkins said, ” praise be, nature has provided us with just the wide range of clocks that we need. What’s more, their ranges of sensitivity overlap with each other, so we can use them as checks on each other.” In other words the process is not just an estimated guesses; it is a measured process that is constantly subjected to mathematics and auditing.

7- Does evolution take course only over a long period of time that we can’t witness?

“Although the vast majority of evolutionary change took place before any human being was born, some examples are so fast that we can see evolution with our own eyes during one human life” as Dawkens said. He then elaborated on that by providing some examples in nature where he presented a statistical chart to show the reduction of the Ugandan elephants’ tusk weight over thirty-three years period (1925-1958). The reason for this reduction Dawkins said is human hunting for elephants with bigger tusks while leaving the ones with smaller tusk to reproduce. And as a consequence bigger tusk elephants went extinct in a mere 33 years. He also presented experiments done in nature as well as in controlled labs where he showed how the lizards of Pod Kopiste, an islet off the Croatian coast, developed differently over thirty-seven years period when moved to another islet off the same coast called Pod Mrcaru . And in the controlled lab he presented the Lenski’s forty-five thousand generations of evolution of bacteria over twenty year period (and still ongoing), divided into twelve jars and manipulated differently where some were frozen and then brought back to life for the sake of comparison.  But  the most interesting part was when he demonstrated the evolution of an embryo especially in the early stages of pregnancy, starting with the development of the first fertilized cell, and so onto divided cells to show the mechanics of the process and the role of genome which carries the history of hereditary traits and how it is misleading to say that they work as blue prints, but more like a recipe (where the production of the dish is subjected to local laws  and the final dish depends on many factors like chef”s taste etc.), and how the cells work in the same way abiding to local laws while developing in the womb ( hereditary traits turned on and off like a toggle switch)  to show that evolution can take place under our own eyes over a nine-month period. ” One of the surprising things we learned about evolution that it can be both very fast” as Dawkins assures us, yet  “under other circumstances, as we know from fossil record, very slow. Slowest of all are those living creatures that we call ‘living fossils’. They are creatures that “changed so little since their remote ancestors that it is almost as though they were fossils.” And therefore evolutionary change is not proportional to elapsed time for all creatures. “Animals are inconsiderate enough to evolve at different rates, and might even be inconsiderate not to evolve at all.” as Dawkins said.

8- Did humans descend from monkeys?

No, humans did not descend from monkeys, we share common ancestor. “The common ancestor would have looked a lot more like a monkey than a man, and we would probably have called it a monkey if we had met it, some 25 million years ago. But even though humans evolved from an ancestor that we could sensibly call a monkey, no animal gives birth to an instant new species, or at least not one as different from itself as a man is from a monkey, or even from chimpanzee. That isn’t what evolution is about. Evolution not only is a gradual process as a matter of fact; it has to be gradual if it is to do any explanatory work.  Huge leaps in a single generation – which is what a monkey giving birth to a human would be – are almost as unlikely as divine creation, and are ruled out for the same reason: too statistically improbable.” As Dawkins elaborated.

9-  Are there  ‘gaps’ ?

“Actually”, Dawkins said, ” We are lucky to have any fossils at all, let alone the massive number that we now do have to document evolutionary history – large numbers of which, by any standards, constitute beautiful ‘intermediates’. In chapters 9 Dawkins showed that the distribution of animals on islands and continents is exactly “What we should expect if they are all cousins that have evolved from shared ancestors over very long periods”. And in chapter 10 he compared modern animals with each other, looking at the distribution of characteristics in the animal kingdom, especially comparing their sequences of genetic code to come to the conclusion that ” We don’t need fossils to demonstrate that evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution would be entirely secure, even if not a single corpse had ever fossilized.” He said that, ” It is a bonus that we do actually have rich seams of fossils to mine, and more are discovered every day”. “The fossil evidence in many major animal groups is wonderfully strong” he said, ” Nevertheless there are, of course, gaps.” And these gaps are found in the scarcity of fossils before the Cambrian era.

10- Why, on the evolutionary view, are there so few fossils before the Cambrian era?

Before going into the speculation on the reason for the scarcity of fossils before the Cambrian era, Dawkins presented the flatworm, Platyhelminthes. ” This great phylum of worms includes the parasitic flukes and tapeworms, which are of great medical importance.” As he defined them. And elaborated specifically on ” the free-living turbellarian worms, of which there are more than four thousand species: that’s about as numerous as all the mammal species put together.” He said that they are common both in water and on land, and presumably have been common for a very long time, yet they have no fossils. So “whatever factors applied to the flatworms throughout geological time to this day,” he deduced, “those same factors applied to the rest of the animal kingdom before the Cambrian.” Then he explained that, ” probably, most animals before the Cambrian were soft-bodied like modern flatworms, probably also rather small like modern turbellarians – just not good fossil material. Then something happened half a billion years ago to allow animals to fossilize freely – the rising of hard, mineralized skeletons (like shells), for example.”

To be continued

The Greatest Show on Earth/ A book Review II

January 12, 2010

The Evidence for Evolution By Richard Dawkins
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Duke's first grooming

In my last post I mentioned that I would try to present some of the frequently asked questions as was presented in the book, and summarize Richard Dawkins answers to those questions, in addition to my own opinion on some, if there were any, for those who are curious enough to know about evolution science. But before going into that, it is worthwhile to mention that no reputable scientist nor educated clergy or theologian rejects evolution, as Dawkins mentioned  (of course he’s talking about the West). The Bishop of Oxford, the Archbishop of Canterbury (remember his infamous lecture of implementing Sharea law on Muslims of Britain?) Or even the Pope has no problem with evolution. “(Western) educated clergy have given up the struggle against it after attending the evidence”, yet they continue misleading the populous, “preachers who believe in evolution do not exert efforts in educating people that Adam and Eve never existed. If pressed they’d protest that they only intended ‘symbolic’ meaning.”

1- Is evolution ‘just a theory’?

To answer this question, Dawkins dedicated the first chapter of his book to show that there is a misconception of the term “theory” when it is used in a general sense. In fact; Oxford English dictionary provides two definitions. But a theory in scientific sense is closer to a theorum, and ” Theorums often start off as ‘mere’ hypothesis .” And hypothesis is defined  as an “idea awaiting confirmation or falsification”, where Dawkin elaborated that, “an idea may even begin its career mired in ridicule, before progressing by painful steps to the status of a theorum or undisputed fact.”  And ” the more energetically and thoroughly you try to disprove a theory, if it survives the assault, the more closely it approaches what common sense happily calls a fact.” And no theory in human history was subjected to assaults  since its outset and until today as did evolution, although it has become a reality of life.  A theory becomes  a reality when humans use its application. The antibiotics prescribed by your doctor for infections, and the strict rule of its dispensing over a specified time and calculated portions  is but one of the many applications that have roots in evolution. In fact, Dawkins said, “this book is about a positive evidence that evolution is not ‘just a theory’ it is a fact”. Therefore he spent all of other remaining twelve chapters in his book  providing only some of those evidences, because, as he mentioned “we know evolution is a fact because a rising flood of evidence supports it”. And to do that he stars off by using Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a ‘fact’ as  ‘actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to what is merely inferred’ to demonstrate how this definition fits evolution perfectly.

Kenneth Miller, Brown University professor specializing in Cell Biology, and the author of many high-school biology textbooks used throughout the United States as well as being the author of many other best-sellers, mentioned while lecturing on “The Collapse of Intelligent Design” at Case Western University that evolution is as much a fact as gravity, although both are called a “theory” and not a fact. And by the way Miller is a devout Catholic, as he described himself.  

2- If humans have evolved from chimpanzees, how come there are still chimpanzees around?

This is a common mistake, modern animals do not descend from each other, but we all share common ancestors and each of us took a separate line to evolve. “The point is that for any two animals there has to be a hairpin path linking them, for the simple reason that every species shares an ancestor with every other species: all we have to do is walk backwards from one species to the shared ancestor, then turn through a hairpin bend and walk forwards to the other species.” And therefore this statement is false and the question is ridiculous, or as Dawkins said, “Evolution not only is a gradual process as a matter of fact; it has to be gradual if it is to do any explanatory work. Huge leaps in a single generation – which is what a monkey giving birth to a human would be – are almost as divine creation, and are ruled out for the same reason: too statistically improbable.”

3- Why did it take Darwin so long to get on the scene?

Although the idea of evolution has roots in Greek philosophy  ( Carl Sagan said in his book – and his famous TV show – Cosmos that Empedocles, Anaximander and  Democritus, “Clearly anticipated some aspects of Darwin’s great idea of evolution by natural selection”. Yet evolution was not brought to public attention until Darwin’s evolution ( and Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently co-discovered it) by natural selection. Why is that?

There could be many reasons as Dawkins mentions, ” perhaps minds were cowed by the sheer time it must take for great change to occur – by the mismatch between what we now call geological deep time and the lifespan and comprehension of the person trying to understand it. Perhaps it was religious indoctrination that held us back. Or perhaps it was the daunting complexity of a living organism such as an eye, freighted as it is with the beguiling illusion of design by a master engineer.” And I will add perhaps politics and politicians’ pact with theologians to keep the public in the dark for easier control, of which Islamic countries today provide a perfect ‘ living’ example.

Dawkins also added Ernest Mayr’s suspicion on essentialism, where the idea was coined as “The discovery of evolution was held back by the dead hand of Plato.” Plato was a geometer, and according to him there is a master design and all varieties of an animal in a single class are but a shadow of that design, shadows may change, but the master design is constant; i.e. rabbits might change in shape, dogs might change in type, yet they remain to be a distorted copy of the original design. This perception opposes the core idea of evolution. Evolution works in small incremental changes from generation to generation that originally sprouted out of the same seed and branched into different lines and varieties. Varieties are unique to each individually developed line. So there is no master plan for a rabbit as there is no master plan for dogs. It’s like a single tree of which each branch developed differently from the other due to different circumstances and effects ‘mutations’ .  “According to Mayer” Dawkins said, “the reason Darwin was such an unconscionable time arriving on the scene was that we all – whether because of Greek influence or for some other reason – have essentialism burned into our mental DNA.”

Before Darwin it was thought that hereditary traits passed into generations and worked like mixing colors where the result is a mixture that loses its origin;  gray is the result of mixing black with white for example. After discovering genes and the gene pools, the idea shifted to something more like shuffling cards, and that brought Darwin’s natural selection more into focus. Darwin himself did not know about genes (although the first who wrote about them was his contemporary the German monk Gregor Mendel), yet what he wrote about breeding (of dogs and birds, especially pigeons as well as orchids) in light of evolution fit perfectly with what was discovered and much researched later on. Animals carry genes, pass them and shuffle them across by natural selection, genes do not mix to produce varieties, animals carry them and spread them into generation to produce varieties. And so on and so forth from generation to generation. Some may not appear as traits in an animal but the living cell always carries them as information (genome).  Dog breeders use artificial selection to ‘sculpture’ dogs for having shorter tails and longer snouts. Same thing happens in nature only it is done naturally.  And this is the power of Darwin’s natural selection.

4- What is natural selection?

There is a common mistake in attributing the term ‘survival of the fittest’ to Darwin, this term was invented by Spencer who was Darwin’s contemporary. Apparently; Darwin never used the term to avoid the misconception it might entail. Instead Darwin used artificial selection, to show by the use of experiment how natural selection works, only without human intervention. Breading dogs is artificial selection, breeding cows for better milk, and horses for jumping competition is an artificial selection. Nature works in exact same way; only the intervention is different for each animal or plant. And here Dawkins presents a variety of examples to show the mechanics of artificial selection, as well as natural selection in action, starting from chapter two onwards.  “Artificial selection is not just an analogy for natural selection.” Dawkins assured us, “Artificial selection constitutes a true experimental -as opposed to observational – test of the hypothesis that selection causes evolutionary change.” Flowers in nature, for example,  that have better scents and more beautiful colors have better chances to survive because they have higher chances to attract insects and birds, and therefore better chances to spread their pollen and reproduce. While insects and birds that are better equipped to draw nectar from flowers have better chances to survive and pass their genes to future generation. If this process takes enough time, in a sense one becomes the sculpturing tool for the other. This is how natural selection works in general, and it is not only akin to flowers and insects or scent and vision.  The genes in the gene pool was selected over a vast period of time to sculpture who we are today. And in chapter two Dawkins showed how “the human eye (vision), working by selective breeding over many generations sculpted and kneaded dog flesh to assume a bewildering variety of forms, colors, size and behavior patterns’.  While in chapter three he embarked on “a step-by-step seduction of the mind as we pass from the familiar territory of dog breeding and artificial selection to Darwin’s giant discovery of natural selection via colorful intermediate stages” as he put it in his own words.

To be continued