Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Marie Curie


The media frenzy about the potential spread of Ebola in the United States is a typical overblown rumination on the 24/7 news cycle.   We know it spreads in Africa, because of the absence of a health care infrastructure, stable governments, and the remnants of a British, French, Belgian and German system of empire that robbed the natural resources of lands of uneducated people who had not yet entered the 19th and 20th centuries.

America participated, of course, in these colonial enterprises by importing slaves in irons on boats that would not now be worthy of transporting animals, let alone humans.

So the question we must pose, is what are the causes of such primitive civilizations and why did not the African continent spawn more advanced societies?  After all, they have had a few hundred years to do so.  The reasons for this delay has not yet been fully answered, although many have offered their opinion, including scholars who are well-versed on this topic.  Bernard Lewis, the great Princeton University scholar and author, argues that the conditions of Arab-Muslim primitivism are a result of self-inflicted wounds as a result of culture and religion and the subjugation of women rather than colonialism.

The same retrograde civilizations are now confronted with a monumental health challenge, including the prospect of 10,000 new cases of Ebola a week in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Nigeria.  This is clearly catastrophic, and could make the Black Death of Europe look pallid by comparison.  But the Black Death (bubonic plague) took place in Europe, reaching England in 1348 and killing half the population.   It was finally discovered to have been spread by flea-infested rats and originated in China, travelling across the trade routes.

Ebola can now travel through people taking airplanes, but not is as easily spread, since it requires direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.  It is not an airborne virus.   It is not at all encouraging, however, that a supposedly protected health care worker in the US has been infected by perhaps a slip-up in protocol while removing infected gear.  It is evidence that the virus can be spread easily by direct contact and a slip in sanitary protocol.  But now that so many people are potentially victims of this scourge, a vaccine may be around the corner, because big pharma can make money on it.  Ebola, although around for 13 years or so, was never enough of a threat to warrant interest.  Just a few dead Africans.  Not enough to warrant investing in a cure.

Nevertheless, people at the CDC do not expect a pandemic here in the United States, nor in the more advanced countries of Western Europe.    A person taking an airplane ride to anywhere, though, might harbor some fearful thoughts of who might be their seat mate or if they are passing a drink to a fellow passenger.  What happened to the 300 pound fatso problem in the coach seat next to you?  Seems like a wonderful experience by comparison.

This air travel paranoia already extends to underwear bombers, disappearing airplanes, homicidal maniacs, unruly passengers who are driven crazy by people reclining their seats in front of you and not to mention, poor service, surly flight attendants, and excruciatingly long lines in the airport.  Maybe the Black Death was better.  One could simply stay home and die surrounded by family and friends under the thatched roof, while warring armies fight each other over religious differences, heretics and let’s not forget heathens such as Jews and atheists.



ISIS or ISIL (synonymous) distills Islamism into a culture of violence, and gruesome snuff videos.   ISIS criminals have had whatever essence of humanity degraded into a savagery not seen since the Holocaust.  Thousands have been slaughtered in the name of religion.  Thirteen years of American training of the Iraqi army has been squandered on people who have no moral courage to stand up for what is right.   American tanks and weapons have been captured by ISIS fighters who now employ them to fight to establish a caliphate, driven by a madman-leader who seeks a world where women are slaves and those men who oppose them are beheaded online.

These actions have provoked debates whether Islam is an evil in and of itself, or a peaceful religion that has been distorted by fundamentalist zealotry.  Prominent public intellectuals have been debating this issue on television, You tube, Twitter and in the print media.   Some interpret passages from the Koran and cite examples of how it prescribes the death penalty for those who wish to leave the religion, and others maintain that such strictures occur in the misogynistic Old Testament and even in the Christian bible, quoting some calls by even Jesus to take up the sword.  All the texts are contradictory—Christian, Jewish and Islamic because contrary instructions abound in all of them.  And history shows they were written at different times, including the Old Testament.

It is hard to ignore religious persecutions throughout human history—the Crusades, the disembowelments of heretics, the burnings of witches and religious dissidents, the Holocaust, the Tutus, the Armenian slaughter, the slaughters at Srebrenica, ethnic cleansing, as exemplars of man’s basic inhumanity to man and the inability some of the people who do believe to achieve comfort from the inability of religion and prayer to have any of those prayers answered.  Perhaps in few hundred years--the time it normally  takes cultures to change--we will evolve beyond the primitive instincts of antipathy and the need of man to war with one another.  But do not count on it any time soon.