Friday, December 31, 2004

Paving the right way into the New Year

We all have many financial commitments & I know how difficult it is to spare one more dollar to yet another cause. But I am urging you to please donate to any organization heading relief efforts for tsunami victims because they are in dire need. Let’s start the New Year on a right footing. As the NY Times editorial Our Planet, and Our Duty states: “The world is used to horror stories, but not on the stupefying scale of the macabre tales coming at us from the vast and disorienting zone of death in tsunami-stricken southern Asia…The death toll now is more than twice the number of American G.I.'s killed in all the years of the Vietnam War. Not just entire families, or extended families, but entire communities were consumed by waters that rose up without warning to destroy scores of thousands of people who were doing nothing but going about their ordinary lives…Perhaps a third of those killed were children. Many were swept away before the eyes of horrified, helpless parents…Any tragedy is awful for the relatives of those who perished. But this is a catastrophe of a different magnitude. "This," as one observer noted, "is like confronting the apocalypse." "What makes it especially frightening is that whole communities have been annihilated," said Dr. John Clizbe, a psychologist in Alexandria, Va., who, until his retirement a couple of years ago, had served as vice president for disaster services at the American Red Cross…The planet is growing smaller and its residents more interdependent by the day. We're fully aware that our planetary neighbors in southern Asia are desperately drawing upon the deepest reservoirs of fortitude and resilience that our troubled species has at its disposal. What this means is that we're the supportive community. All of us. This catastrophe would at least have a silver lining if it moved the people of the United States and other nations toward a wiser, more genuinely cooperative international posture.
William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, said: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."


A really interesting article in The Guardian attempts to seek answers from religion: “Perhaps we have talked so much about our civilisation's potential to destroy the planet that we have forgotten that the planet also has an untamed ability to destroy civilisation too. Whatever else it has achieved, the Indian Ocean tsunami has at least reminded mankind of its enduring vulnerability in the face of nature…this week provides an unsought opportunity to consider the largest of all human implications of any major earthquake: its challenge to religion…Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms. There is, after all, only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: why did it happen? As with previous earthquakes, any explanation of this latest one poses us a sharp intellectual choice. Either there is an entirely natural explanation for it, or there is some other kind…Earthquakes and the belief in the judgment of God are, indeed, very hard to reconcile. However, no religion that offers an explanation of the world can avoid making some kind of an attempt to fit the two together. And an immense earthquake like the one that took place off Sumatra on Sunday inevitably poses that challenge afresh in dramatic terms. There is, after all, only one big question to ask about an event of such destructive power as the one that has taken place this week: why did it happen? As with previous earthquakes, any explanation of this latest one poses us a sharp intellectual choice. Either there is an entirely natural explanation for it, or there is some other kind…The tsunami took place, say the seismologists, because a massive tectonic rupture on the sea bed generated tremors through the ocean. These unimaginable forces sent their energy coursing across thousands of miles of water, resulting in death and destruction in a vast arc from Somalia to Indonesia. But what do world views that do not allow scientists undisputed authority have to say about such phenomena? Where do the creationists stand, for example?… For most of human history people have tried to explain earthquakes as acts of divine intervention and displeasure.

Even as the churches collapsed around them in 1755, Lisbon's priests insisted on salvaging crucifixes and religious icons with which to ward off the catastrophe that would kill more than 50,000 of their fellow citizens. Others, though, began to draw different conclusions. Voltaire asked what kind of God could permit such a thing to occur. Did Lisbon really have so many more vices than London or Paris, he asked, that it should be punished in such a appalling and indiscriminate manner?.. Certainly the giant waves generated by the quake made no attempt to differentiate between the religions of those whom it made its victims. Hindus were swept away in India, Muslims were carried off in Indonesia, Buddhists in Thailand. Visiting Christians and Jews received no special treatment either…A non-scientific belief system, especially one that is based on any kind of notion of a divine order, has some explaining to do, however. What God sanctions an earthquake? What God protects against it? Why does the quake strike these places and these peoples and not others? What kind of order is it that decrees that a person who went to sleep by the edge of the ocean on Christmas night should wake up the next morning engulfed by the waves, struggling for life? From at least the time of Aristotle, intelligent people have struggled to make some sense of earthquakes. Earthquakes do not merely kill and destroy. They challenge human beings to explain the world order in which such apparently indiscriminate acts can occur. Europe in the 18th century had the intellectual curiosity and independence to ask and answer such questions. But can we say the same of 21st-century Europe? Or are we too cowed now to even ask if the God can exist that can do such things?”

As previously stated, I have always believed in both creationism and intellectual explanations of the world because I do not see them as mutually exclusive issues. The sermon at my mosque last night resonated with my opinion – the earthquake and the tidal waves were the effects of a geographical cause and God should not be blamed. Like the Testaments, the Qur’an too has stories about devastation brought about to punish people; however, the preacher said that after the birth of Prophet Mohammed, He promised not to destroy peoples and nations due to His respect for the Prophet and His Mercy – thus, the latest tragedy should not be seen as a punishment. It looks like the US government didn’t like being called stingy for its aid effort.

From BBC News: “The US plans to increase by 10-fold - to $350m - its contribution to help the survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami. The largest pledge so far was made just before talks between senior US and UN figures on co-ordinating aid efforts. The UN says $1.2bn in aid has been pledged so far, for about five million survivors. But relief work appears disorganised, correspondents say…US Secretary of State Colin Powell - who is to visit stricken areas on Sunday - said the ten-fold increase in Washington's aid contribution was indicative of extraordinary need…Speaking after talks in New York with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mr Powell called on all other countries to make as significant a contribution…Mr Powell said the US was working very closely with the UN…But there is still no sign of a co-ordinated relief operation for the estimated two million people who have been displaced in Aceh, says the BBC's Jonathan Head. Planes have been dropping supplies, unable to land at the nearest airport. But air distribution remains a major problem because of a total collapse of infrastructure…There is still no way of reaching outlying areas where roads have been blocked and the death toll is thought to be highest. In some areas, survivors are starving and eating leaves. In India, authorities are refusing to allow foreign aid agencies to join relief efforts in the devastated islands of Andaman and Nicobar. They say supplies are welcome but local authorities should be in charge of distributing them. In Sri Lanka - the second worst-hit country - poor infrastructure remains a problem for remote mountainous areas. Some aid is getting through to northern areas held by Tamil Tiger rebels, some of which are co-operating with the government in Colombo."